TRAIN drivers and other workers at the French state railway SNFC began three months of rolling stoppages on Monday evening, as trade unions push back against President Emmanuel Macron’s Thatcherite ‘labour reforms’. The waste collection, electricity and energy sectors have also taken strike decisions, while French pensioners, students and public sector workers have already waged street rallies in recent weeks protesting against Macron’s widespread ‘reform plans’.
On 22 March, tens of thousands of teachers, nurses and other workers joined rail staff on strike – a sign of widespread and growing opposition to Macron’s plans for state sector ‘liberalisation’, that is, privatisation. Macron intends to show railworkers that the French ruling class is no longer prepared to put up with what are termed their ‘generous conditions’, including automatic annual pay rises, early retirement, 28 days of paid annual leave and protection from dismissal.
The Macron government is determined to smash French trade union power and has made no secret that his anti-working class model is based on Thatcher’s war with the miners, and then the printworkers in the 1980s. This saw civil war conditions emerge in the UK, with the state planning pitched battles with the striking miners using thousands of police and arresting and jailing hundreds of miners. French miners and railworkers, who came to the UK at the time to show their support for the miners, said then that if a French government ever tried to do a Thatcher on them, their response would be to organise a revolution. Now, after years of ruling class indecision, Macron has decreed that this time has now come.
The central aim of the Macron campaign is to smash the rail unions and de-nationalise the SNFC to introduce rail competition, that is privatisation, from 2023 as required by the European Union. The railway unions plan to strike two days out of every five until June 28, when stronger action, including general strikes, will be considered. Employees of Air France are also taking action, demanding a 6% pay rise.
Meanwhile, the entire working class, student and youth movement is simmering with unemployment at 8.9%, with 3.4 million workers unemployed, while youth unemployment is at 21.7%! After June 28, when the trade unions will have to call for more and bigger strike actions, the whole working class movement will explode into action with the unemployed, the students and youth in the lead.
The movement which erupted in May and June 1968 with massive force, saw the then President, de Gaulle, scuttle off to West Germany to get the support of the French military, then stationed there, before returning to make a compromise with the workers and students. The revolutionary movement that is emerging will eclipse the events of May and June 1968, and will rage not just at Macron and the French ruling class but also at the EU, which stands behind both, and is telling Macron that he must not retreat from smashing the French trade unions.
Local media called yesterday ‘Black Tuesday’ as only one high-speed TGV train out of eight and one out of five regional trains was scheduled to operate, causing a crisis in businesses across France.
As well as staff at Air France, garbage collectors, and some energy workers also began separate strikes in what the local media have described as the largest wave of industrial action since Macron rose to power last May.
‘We need to rid this country of its strike culture,’ said the spokesman for Macron’s Republic on the Move (LREM) Party, Gabriel Attal, as quoted by France’s Inter Radio on Monday. Workers in France are becoming more and more convinced that to keep their jobs, and to get jobs for the millions of unemployed youth, not just Macron but French capitalism and its overlord the EU will have to go.
In fact, the French and British workers are marching forward in a single battle to rid their countries of capitalism and to rid Europe of the EU dictatorship of bosses and bankers. Both must be replaced by the working class taking power and replacing the EU with the Socialist United States of Europe.