France: strike at the SNCF, struggles and conflicts in all sectors, students and pensioners’ demonstrations

An intervention by the IGCL (March 28, 2018)

We reproduce the leaflet that the International Group of the communist Left (IGCL) has been distributing in France before the start of the strike of April 3rd at the state railway company, the SNCF, followed by its evaluation in a communique of April 10, after a week of ‘union action days’. (AFRD)

The workers at SNCF are presently suffering a direct attack by the Macron government, meaning: by the state and the French ruling class. The difficulty for French capital is that it happens while various sectors or factories have been on strike these last weeks and months or are passing through more or less open conflicts in the midst of a generalized increasing discontent in front of the many measures adopted by the government.

After more or less secret discussions between the government and the unions, the latter (very radical in words but without any content of struggle) have planned in advance, and without having called on any workers’ assemblies to pronounce, several days of action; that is the classical union tactic in France of isolation and exhaustion of the working class struggles. Already in Paris, a street demonstration has taken place March 22nd, simultaneously at two different places, with on one side the “public employees” and on the other the railway workers. And the days of action at the SNCF will be rolling strikes and they are planed until… next June! Thus the unions and the bourgeoisie in general occupy the entire terrain of the working class fight-back and it remains to the working class to… submit to this imposed tactic leading to defeat, or to rise up frontally against it and the unions. The stakes are high.” (IGCL, April 10, 2018)

For an efficient and powerful proletarian fight-back, generalization and unification of the struggle against French capitalism!

After the March 22nd demonstration, the railway workers will be on a rolling strike from Tuesday April 3rd. They will be on strike every five days and the agenda is already established until… June. Once more, the union tactic of ‘action days’ that has systematically lead to defeat in the massive mobilizations of 2003, 2007, 2010 and 2016, is served up again with the variety that the workers will make a rolling strike! If this scenario and this agenda is not questioned by the general assemblies and the strikers, not only will the railway workers be defeated but, moreover, the other struggles and sources of social conflicts won’t be able to identify and unite with them to impose a genuine relation of forces with the government and French capitalism. Yet, the working class discontent is expressed almost everywhere: in the health sector, in the public services, at Air France, but also in the private sector: in the threat of mass redundancies at Ford and at various other companies all around the country, or still among the pensioners and the students at the faculties – often children of proletarians and future proletarians themselves for the most part. With the union’s ‘action days’, all these struggles will remain isolated and will then also be defeated, whereas their extension and unification would be the best means to force the government and the state to withdraw all of these attacks.

The whole working class is under attack

It is clear for all that the attack against the railway workers is also an attack, economically and politically, against all workers of this country. After the 2016 attacks against the labor contracts, the French bourgeoisie aims to impose new sacrifices on the railway workers, of course, but also to continue its offensive against the whole of the working class.

Over time and by their struggles, the railway workers have been presented as the last bastion of the working class that still resists in France. Rightly or wrongly, the myth is there and the Macron government and, behind it, the whole French state capitalist apparatus, wants to bring it down. The French ruling class also wants to definitively put the memory of the great strikes, 1995 or still 1968, and the threat this represents to it, in the drawer of past history. The time to hesitate in face of the proletariat is over if French capitalism wants “close the gap” with its rivals :

France won’t have any motive capacity if it does not have a clear discourse and a lucid look at the world. But it won’t have it either if it does not reinforce its economy and its society. That is why I have asked the government to engage the fundamental reforms which are indispensable for France. Our credibility, our efficiency, our strength are at stake. But the strength of some cannot be nourished by the weaknesses of the others for long. Germany which made its reforms fifteen years ago, notes today that this situation is not viable. My wish is thus that we can build a common force.”

(Emmanuel Macron’s interview to many European newspapers of June 21st, 2017. We translate from the Swiss newspaper Le Temps, (1) since we could not find the whole interview in English).

The discourse is clear. One must further lower the living and working conditions of the proletariat – what they call the reforms – so that French capitalism can play a role in the world imperialist and warlike arena on Germany’s side, facing the big American, Chinese and Russian rivals. Not only must the proletariat pay for the economic crisis of capitalism but, more and more, for the imperialist war as well, to which the aforementioned crisis inexorably leads. Yet it alone is able to oppose this infernal dynamic… by refusing the sacrifices through its struggles and by offering a different historical and revolutionary perspective, that of a communist society without misery and war – of which, it is necessary to recall, Stalinism has been the main and bloody gravedigger in the USSR and over the world.

Oppose the union confinement and isolation by the strike and its extension

The tactics that the unions have put in place restricts the struggle of the workers of the SNCF to the corporation in advance and locks them up in a schedule of strike days which can only draw them even more into a strike “to the finish”… This will very quickly cause division among the strikers between those who want and can strike, those who do not want to do so, or less, and those who will be discouraged.

The union tactics of the action days is to be rejected. It imposes corporatist and isolated demands and struggles. Worse still, by imposing legal notices of a strike and by no longer calling general meetings in many SNCF depots – “management” and unions work together on this point in all companies – union ‘days of action’ make the strike a purely individual and not a collective decision, which weakens every will to combat and any feeling of worker solidarity, each worker being referred to his “individual” consciousness or will, including now at the SNCF by giving prior individual notice of strike.

What is to be done in face of the union impasse?

How to outflank the union’s slogans? During the strike at the SNCF from December 1986 to January 1987, and while the CGT had set up working picket lines to prevent the strike from starting on Friday, December 19, 1986, the railway workers had imposed their general assemblies and went on strike against the CGT and the other unions. This is the path that must be taken again. Imposing General Assemblies to decide on the strike where unions refuse to do so is the way. Continuing the strike in SNCF depots and assemblies after April 3rd is certainly a first step.

But albeit this is necessary, it is also insufficient. The object of the strike should not be in itself the simple blockage of the economy – capital knows how to organize itself to face and circumvent the points of blockages – but the extension of the strike the other sectors and companies. To this end, it is necessary to advance the most unitary demands possible that the other workers can take up on their own account.

Some proposals among others (for discussion, as applicable to the particular local situations): the workers of the cleaning company of ONET, who clean the Paris railway stations, are on strike. It must be maintained that they have the same working and salary conditions as railway workers – or, depending on the strength of the strike, demand the termination of subcontracting and their hiring of the workers by the SNCF. In face of the redundancies at Ford Bordeaux, maintenance of wages and the employment contract until the end of their unemployment, or even takeover by public services. Or, since the pensions of railway workers will be attacked again, advance the demand for the upgrade of all pensions, public-private, to the present level for railway workers or for public transport. Or again, in the wake of demands at Air France, increase wages and pensions for all… Everything that goes in the direction of unity has to be supported. Everything that goes in the direction of isolation has to be rejected.

In the same way, the General Assemblies must seek contacts around them to extend the struggle geographically, by their opening up to the other workers in struggle, or by sending mass delegations to the other sectors and companies, even to the so-called popular neighborhoods. The extension of the strike should not be reduced to the extension within the SNCF, especially as the main unions opposed to the strike will succeed in blocking it in the least combative deposits, while exhausting the strikers on the pretext that the entire SNCF must first strike before extending. It must be effected on a geographical basis, by district, city or region. In return, its success will convince the less militant SNCF workers to join the fight. In addition to the companies and sectors in struggle, it is also the means to educate neighborhoods and young people, and younger generations, in the class struggle against capitalism and thereby offer them real solidarity, in combat, and a perspective of class struggle. The perspective of class struggle against capitalism is the only remedy against social despair and impasse.

Regroup to fight for extension and unification

Finally, wherever possible, it is appropriate that the most combative workers, and those most convinced of these orientations, of the need to fight against syndicalist isolation and traps, come together in struggle committees or “inter-professional assemblies” – the name is not important – in order to organize and to intervene collectively wherever they can; to take up this struggle for both extension and unification against their sabotage by the trade unions. The struggle for extension and unification cannot avoid this political confrontation against the particular organs of the capitalist state that are the trade unions and the left-wing parties, because they act directly in the working class environment.

From April 3rd, in all SNCF depots, general assemblies to impose the renewable strike!

In the enterprises, the neighborhoods and the cities: extension and unification of the strike, the demonstrations and of the class struggle!

In the enterprises, the neighborhoods and the cities: bundling and organization of the most militant workers who want to fight for the extension and unification of the struggle!

The International Group of the Communist Left, March 28th, 2018 (Révolution ou Guerre)

Postscript: IGCL Communique of April 10, 2018

Since the publication and diffusion of this leaflet, the situation in France has not changed much, except that the ruling class and particularly the unions manage to control quite well the situation. This makes the already very limited potentialities for the railway workers’ dynamic to spread and generalize the struggle to other sectors strongly reduced. Now, the railway workers struggle is already almost fully enclosed within the trap of the union’s corporatism and “die-hard” strike, whereas no other sector seems, for the moment, capable to take over the lead, or be the core, of a possible general movement. Thus, according to us, unless “something”, any contingent event (spontaneous strike in another sector, violent demonstrations, etc.), comes to break the present dynamic and provides a different perspective, this episode of struggle will now certainly remain under the full control of the ruling class and its state until the planned rolling strikes run out. Consequently, if we had the forces to intervene again directly and daily in this working class mobilization, this understanding would not change for the present moment the validity of the main orientation of the leaflet: «extension and unification of the strike, demonstrations and the class combat!» and «regrouping and organization of the most militant workers who want to fight for the extension and the unification of the struggle!». But it would change the focus of the revolutionaries’ intervention from the railway workers to other sectors.

IGCL, April 10th, 2018.

Translation: IGCL, April 10, 2018. Revised by H.C., April 13, 2018