FRANCE yesterday was paralysed by a general strike called by the trade unions in response to the attempts by the government of president Macron to impose cuts to pensions and increase the retirement age for every worker in the country.
The strike is the biggest mass action by workers since a three-week general strike called in 1995 over the same issue of ‘reforming’ the country’s social security provisions.
This strike resulted in the then-president, Jacques Chirac, being forced to back down and drop his pension reforms. The strike spelt the end of his government.
Today the situation is infinitely worse for Macron. He has staked his reputation as the saviour of French capitalism on a pledge to completely dismantle France’s pension system and destroy all the legal protection French workers have against wage cutting and arbitrary dismissal by the employers.
The latest step in Macron’s war against the working class is the proposal to replace existing pension schemes with a point-based system which will drive up the retirement age while cutting the actual amount of pension workers receive.
According to unions, workers will be condemned to stay in work until their 70s before becoming entitled to a pension equal to what they receive under the old system.
This proposal has enraged workers across France, forcing the official trade unions to call a general strike which many predict will become an indefinite strike against Macron’s government.
Every section of workers including teachers, train staff, postal workers, hospital workers and pilots came out yesterday, bringing the country to a standstill.
For the first time, the Yellow Vest movement took part in the action, forging a unity between the organised working class and the predominantly youth-led movement.
In the past, the leadership of the unions have done their best to keep their members separate from the Yellow Vests, who have been demonstrating for a year against Macron’s austerity attacks, but this is impossible today as the mass movement of workers and youth erupts.
In France, gains made by workers in the past for decent pensions have meant that only 7% of pensioners are estimated to be at risk of living in poverty.
This is the lowest rate throughout the EU and compares favourably with the 19% at risk in the UK and Germany. French workers are determined that they will not see this hard-won right smashed by Macron, the ‘bankers man’, in order to prop up a French capitalist system that is sliding into recession and slump.
The issue for Macron is the same as that faced by Chirac decades ago.
If he backs down and rescinds his proposals his presidency is doomed and he will be brought down by an uprising that has the overwhelming support (polls put it at over 70%) of the people.
If he decides to fight it out using the full force of the state and its riot police, then this will rapidly turn this mass movement into a revolutionary uprising led by the working class in which the issue of the working class taking power will be posed point blank.
Already one government minister has warned in the press that ‘social movements are becoming more unpredictable and more violent’, while another said that ‘The big concern is that the unions won’t be able to control the thing.’
It couldn’t be clearer – Macron and French capitalism are so weak they are relying on the trade union leadership to control and contain this uprising, turn it away from revolution and down the treacherous path of a mere protest.
But, as the working class has shown in its determination to defeat Macron, this movement will become more and more determined and will be posed with taking power and smashing the French capitalist police state.
This general strike will inspire and be supported by the working class across Europe. French workers must go forward to kick out Macron, break with the bosses’ and bankers’ EU and join hands with the workers of Britain and Europe to go forward to the Socialist United States of Europe!