THE MASS strikes and demonstrations throughout France today mark the sharp escalation of the confrontation between French workers and the ‘bankers’ government of president Emmanuel Macron.
This confrontation started 13 days ago with a massive strike wave against the drive to push up the retirement age and slash pensions for millions of workers and has now become a revolutionary showdown between the working class and the Macron government.
Details of this plan, revealed last week by prime minister Edouard Philippe, enraged French workers with Philippe’s vow to face down the strikes and push through ‘reforms’ that mean a reduced pension for people who retire at the legal age of 62 instead of the new ‘pivot age’ of 64.
What began as a strike against pension reforms has developed in less than two weeks into a general strike to bring down Macron and his government.
All Philippe’s promises last week, that he would listen to the unions while still driving through these attacks, have been met with defiant rejection by French workers to the extent that even the right-wing Democratic Labour Confederation (CFDT) union was forced to support the strike and call its members out.
For the past two weeks the CFDT has boycotted strike action and has supported Macron’s attack on pensions but last week the CFDT leaders were forced to do a massive u-turn proclaiming that a ‘red line has clearly been crossed’ and insisting that the ‘pivot’ had to be dropped.
If Macron backs down as the union leaders hope, then it will be the end of his presidency, along with his pledge when elected to revive a French capitalist system that is mired in debt by inflicting mass austerity cuts.
But Macron is insisting there will be no retreat, the struggle will be fought out to a conclusion which places the issue of French workers kicking him out.
14% of France’s GDP is spent on pensions and with government debt standing at nearly 100% of the country’s GDP, bankrupt French capitalism has decided that pensions must be cut and workers forced to work until they are too old to be productive for capitalism.
Macron’s drive to slash government spending and drive back the gains made in the past by the working class has already decimated the French health system, with doctors warning that budget cuts, bed closures and staff shortages have brought it to the brink of collapse and put patients lives at risk.
For nine months, hospital strikes across all departments, including emergency, paediatrics and psychiatry, have been taking place with no end in sight.
Doctors are marching today, alongside workers and youth, carrying banners reading ‘Public hospitals: a life threatening emergency’, while in an unprecedented move 660 French hospital doctors issued a public letter threatening to resign if there was no government increase in health funding.
This will be all too familiar to British workers who face the exactly the same attacks from a bankrupt capitalist system that can only attempt to survive by dumping its international crisis firmly on the backs of the working class.
In Britain, Boris Johnson announced that in the Queen’s speech on Thursday he will be proposing that the Tories will introduce legislation to ban ‘all out’ strikes on the railways and public transport – a response to the ongoing month-long rail strike.
Already the courts have been used to overturn a 97% vote in favour of strike action by postal workers in defence of the postal system and their pay and conditions.
The scene is set for a massive confrontation between the British working class and this new Tory government in the coming weeks.
British workers must emulate the indefinite general strike underway in France and demand that the trade union leaders immediately organise a general strike in Britain to bring down the Tories and go forward to a workers government.
A workers government will nationalise the banks and major industries and under the management of the working class, break completely with the capitalist EU and join with the French and German working class to overthrow the EU, replacing it with the Socialist United States of Europe.