YESTERDAY, French workers and youth took to the streets in a massive confrontation with the government of Emmanuel Macron and his plans to privatise the French National Railways and tear up the employment rights of every single public sector worker in the country.
Following the announcement last week that Macron intends to push through these ‘reforms’ using parliamentary decrees the trade unions, under pressure from the working class, have stepped up their campaign of industrial action with rail unions declaring a wave of rolling strikes up to June. Yesterday’s one-day strike by railway workers was timed to coincide with a nationwide walk out by civil servants over Macron’s drive to smash the unions and destroy the employment rights that French workers have fought for and won over decades of struggle.
Workers and youth responded to the union call to defeat Macron’s plans with mass demonstrations in cities across the country with public sector workers, including air traffic controllers and teachers, joining with railway workers. In Paris, schoolchildren marched yesterday afternoon in solidarity with workers and were met by attacks from the notorious French riot police.
Macron was elected as president last year in a run-off between him and Marine Le Pen, leader of the extreme right-wing National Front. With the complete collapse of the vote for the traditional Socialist Party and the conservative Republican Party French workers and youth either voted for Macron to keep Le Pen out or abstained.
Macron was elected on the biggest abstention vote ever recorded in French elections history. With absolutely no political legitimacy Macron has launched his austerity reforms; reforms dictated to him by the European central bankers as a necessity to reduce the enormous French national debt, and claimed dictatorial powers to push them through. Past attempts by French governments to smash the rights of workers have been pushed back by limited strike action.
In 2006, a similar attempt by the conservative government of Jacques Chirac to introduce the ‘flexibility’ of employment demanded by the bosses met with strike action from students and workers forcing the government to climb down. In 1995, attempts to impose cuts to pensions met with mass demonstrations and week-long strikes that forced the government to retreat. But these retreats in the face of mass demonstrations and strikes took place before the world crisis of capitalism broke into the open in 2008, a crisis that has devastated the capitalist economies of Europe.
This crisis is provoking in France and across Europe a showdown between the capitalist class and the working class that will not be put off by retreats or concessions but will be fought out to the finish. This was made clear last September when hundreds of thousands of protesters marched through French cities against these new labour laws only to be met with attacks from the riot police and the insistence from Macron that he would ‘not back down’ this time.
With capitalism in no position to back down, the working class is equally determined to fight. This is reflected in the decision to call yesterday’s strike on the day in 1968 when demonstrations against the then government of Charles de Gaulle first started – demonstrations that in May that year brought students and workers out in a general strike that paralysed the French state and posed point-blank the issue of the working class taking the power.
The reformist leadership of the French trade unions ran from this struggle, calling off the strike in favour of elections and today the present leadership are mindful to carry out a similar betrayal with the union leadership insisting that all they want is for Macron to back down. With Macron refusing to do this these confrontations are revolutionary and pose the immediate issue of the working class moving immediately to a general strike to bring down Macron and then going forward to seizing power through socialist revolution.
With a revolutionary wave sweeping not just France but throughout Europe the burning issue of the hour is building revolutionary sections of the Fourth International in every country to lead the fast developing socialist revolutions to victory.