After years of weakness, the social movement against pension reform shows a re-awakening of the combativity of the proletariat in France. Despite all its difficulties the working class has begun to raise its head. Whereas, just a year ago, the whole social terrain was occupied by the inter-classist movement of the Gilets Jaunes, today the exploited of every sector and all generations have used the days of action organised by the unions to come onto the streets, determined to fight on their own class ground against this massive and frontal attack of the government which is hitting all the exploited.
The working class exists and “here it is”!
Whereas nearly ten years ago workers remained paralysed, totally isolated and alone in their own workplaces, these last few weeks they have returned to the route of collective struggle.
Aspirations to unity and solidarity in the struggle show that the workers in France have begun to again see themselves as part of one and the same class, having the same interests to defend. Thus, in several marches, and notably in Marseille, you could hear: “The working class exists!” In Paris, groups of protesters who didn’t march behind the union banners chanted: “We are here, here for the honour of the workers and for a better world”. In a demonstration on January 9, even onlookers on the edges of the union march sung the old song of the workers’ movement: “The International”, while students and schoolchildren behind their own banners chanted “The young with their problems, the old in their poverty!”
It is clear that in refusing to stay on its knees, the working class in France is about to re-discover its dignity.
Another very significant change in the social situation has been the attitude and state of mind of the “passengers” in the transport strikes. It’s the first time, since the movement of 1995, of a transport strike that hasn’t been “unpopular” despite the campaigns orchestrated by the media around the “difficulties” faced by “passengers” to get to work, to get home or those going away at the time of the holiday period at the end of the year. Nowhere, except in the state media, have we heard that the workers of SNCF and the RATP are taking rail passengers “hostage”. On platforms, in trains and on the suburban routes, people waited patiently. In order to get around the capital, people managed without complaining about the striking workers: carpools, motor-bikes and scooters… But even more, the support and respect for the rail workers was concretised in the donations for the strikers, given in solidarity, who had sacrificed more than a month’s wages (more than three million euros were raised in a few weeks!) who fought not only for themselves but also for others.
However, after a month-and-a-half of strikes, after daily protests bringing together hundreds of thousands of people, this movement has not forced the government to retreat.
Since the outset, the bourgeoisie, its government and its “social partners” have planned a strategy in order to get the attacks on pensions through. The question of the “age pivot” (access to full pension or not) was a card that it had kept up its sleeve in order to sabotage any response of the working class and let its “reform” go through thanks to the classic strategy of division of the “union front”.
More than this, the bourgeoisie armed its police in the name of the maintenance of “Republican Order”. Up front and in bold, the government deployed its forces of repression so as to intimidate us. The cops continually gassed and beat up workers (including females and older people) supported by the media which made the connection between the exploited class and the Black Bloc and other “wreckers”. So as to prevent the workers meeting up and regrouping at the end of the demonstrations in order to discuss together, the columns of the CRS dispersed them on orders from the Prefecture using stun grenades. The police violence wasn’t at all down to individual errors or excited and out of control members of the CRS. What it announced was the future pitiless and ferocious repression that the dominant class will not hesitate to unleash against the proletariat (as it did in the past, for example the “Bloody Week” of the Paris Commune in 1871).
How can we force the government back?
In order to be able to confront the ruling class and force the government to retreat, the workers must take their struggles in hand by themselves. They should have no confidence in the unions – these “social partners” – who have always done deals behind their backs, in secret within the ministerial cabinets.
If we continue to ask the unions to “represent” us, if we continue to stand aside and wait for them to organise the struggle in our place, then we are indeed “fucked”!
In order to undertake our own struggle, spread and unify it, we must organise ourselves in massive general assemblies, autonomous and open to all the working class. It is in these GA’s that we can discuss together; collectively decide what actions to take and form strike committees with elected delegates revocable at any time.
The experience of the young workers who took part in the movement against the “First Employment Contract” (CPE – a particular attack on young workers) in spring 2006, when they were still students or schoolchildren, should be remembered and transmitted to their comrades at work, to the young, to the older workers. How they made the Villepin government retreat obliging it to withdraw its CPE, which they did thanks to their capacity to organise the struggle themselves in their massive general assemblies in all the universities and without any trade unions. These GA’s were not closed up affairs. On the contrary, the students called on workers, active and retired, to come and discuss in their meetings and to participate actively in the movement in solidarity with the younger generation confronted with unemployment and precarious work. The Villepin government had to withdraw the CPE without any “negotiation”. Here the students, young precarious workers and future unemployed were not represented by any “social partners” and they won.
Even if we lose the battle we haven’t lost the war!
The railworkers who have been the spearhead of this mobilisation cannot continue to strike alone without other sectors themselves engaging in the struggle with them. Despite their courage and determination, they can’t fight in place of the whole working class. “Strikes by proxy” can’t make the government retreat however determined they are.
The working class is not yet ready to engage in massive struggles today; even if numerous workers from all sectors, all categories of job (essentially from the public sector), and all generations took to the streets in the demonstrations organised by the unions since December 5. What we need to halt the attacks of the bourgeoisie is to develop active solidarity in the struggle and not only through donations which help the strikers “keep going”.
The return to work which has already begun in the transport sector (notably the SNCF) is not a capitulation! To pause in the struggle is also a way of avoiding the exhaustion of the long and isolated strike which only leads to feelings of impotence and bitterness.
A large majority of the mobilised workers had the feeling that if they lost this battle, if they did not force the government to withdraw its reforms, we were “fucked”. It’s not the case! The present mobilisation and the massive rejection of this attack is only at the beginning, a first battle which announces others to come. Because the bourgeoisie, its government, its bosses will continue to exploit us, reduce our spending, drive us into poverty and into greater misery. Anger can only grow and lead to new explosions, to new movements of struggle.
Even if the working class loses this first battle, it hasn’t lost the war. It can’t give way to demoralisation!
The “class war” is made up of advances and retreats, moments of mobilisation and pause to renew the struggle at a stronger level. The fight never goes along a “straight line” where all is won immediately. All the history of the workers’ movement has shown that the combat of the exploited class against the bourgeoisie can only end in a victory that follows a series of defeats.
The only way to strengthen the struggle is to use periods of falling back in order to reflect and discuss together through a general regroupment, at work, where we live and in public areas.
The most combative and determined workers, whether active, unemployed, retired or students, must try to form “struggle committees” that cut across jobs and sector, open to all generations in order to prepare for future struggles. We need to draw the lessons of this movement, understand its difficulties to be able to overcome them in the next combats.
This social movement, despite all its limits, weaknesses and difficulties, is already a first victory. After years of paralysis, disarray and atomisation, it has brought hundreds of thousands of workers out onto the streets in order to express their will to fight against the attacks of Capital. This mobilisation has allowed them to express their need for solidarity and unity and it has also allowed them to experience first-hand the manoeuvres of the bourgeoisie in driving home its attacks.
It’s only through the struggle and in the struggle that the proletariat can become conscious that it is the only force in society capable of abolishing capitalist exploitation and constructing a new world. The road that leads to a world proletarian revolution and to the overthrow of capitalism will be long and difficult. It will be strewn with ambushes and defeats, but it can’t be any other way.
More than ever, the future belongs to the working class!
International Communist Current, January 13, 2020