The strikes that began on December 5 continue in a number of sectors, particularly those related to public services. Readers living outside France should note that there has been a mobilization against the abolition of pension systems in favor of a new system that significantly postpones the effective retirement age and considerably reduces pensions, sometimes by as much as 30%. The strike continues to paralyze a large part of public transport, especially in the Paris region, despite attempts to intimidate, pressure and repress both by the management and managerial staff of striking enterprises (mainly SNCF, national trains, and RATP, metro, bus and a part of the trains in the Paris region) and the police, especially during demonstrations and picket lines. Despite government provocations and media propaganda, the movement still enjoys the support and sympathy of a majority of the population according to polls. (1)
The IGCL’s second Communiqué on the Strikes in France (January 3, 2020)
After the two weeks of Christmas holidays, the teachers will return from vacation on Monday the 6th of January. The next day, Tuesday 7, the government will receive all the trades unions. The fact that there has been no discussion or formal negotiations since December 18th shows that the government has tried to play the card of letting the strike rot, without trying to resolve the situation and the exhausting daily hardships of hundreds of thousands of travelers going to work. On the other hand it has tried to lock the strikers into a long, physically and financially exhausting strike – many have been on strike for a month, and have lost one month’s pay! It is very likely that on this Tuesday the government will grant some small concessions of a secondary nature to the so-called “reformist” trade unions, the CFDT and UNSA, so that they can call for and end to the strike with a minimum of credibility in the eyes of their “base” and of “public opinion”. If this is the case, the media headlines will be about the trade union division, the reflux of the strike and the diminishing number of strikers. On Thursday, January 9th, the trade unions “most to the left”, the CGT, FO, SUD, FSU, gathered in “inter-union” consultations, (2) are organizing a fourth day of action and “inter-professional” demonstrations. Depending on the extent of the participation in the strike, in Education in particular, or even in other sectors, and on the outcome of Tuesday’s negotiations, the ‘day of action’ on January 9 will mark the end, or the beginning of the end, of the strike and the failure of the mobilization to make the government back down, or… a redistribution of the cards, a disruption of the lines and forces confronting each other in this mobilization. But then one can think that the driving force behind the current strike, the railway and RATP workers, exhausted, will have to be assumed by one or more other sectors…
How did it come to this? What has been the course of the struggle until today and what have been the different battles, the different episodes? And what intervention did the revolutionaries make, and have to make, in function of different situations and times?
In [our] previous communiqué of 8 December (3), after recalling the international context of struggle and popular revolts we find ourselves in today, we tried to present the process that led from the massive strike at RATP on 13 September to the day of trade union action of 5 December and the beginning of the renewable strike. In particular, we recalled the importance that the extension of the wildcat strike at the SNCF TGV maintenance center in Châtillon at the end of October, that was itself preceded by a three-day stoppage of national traffic following [a railway] accident, could have taken, if it had been extended: it would have taken away the initiative and control of the struggle from the unions by anticipating the day of action on 5 December. The end of this strike, “victorious” because the management hastened to give in to local demands, closed this moment and in fact gave back the initiative to the trade unions until December 5th, and even until the day of action on December 10th. We concluded this communiqué with the following statement, that seems to have been verified to date:
“Certainly, the bourgeoisie and its unions are in control of the situation; in particular and most certainly, this will be the case between now and Tuesday-Wednesday [December 10 and 11, the second ‘day of action’ and days of meetings of government and unions]. Nevertheless, the will to fight is strong and a kind of arm-wrestling has been engaged with the government. And this can also engage the proletariat in a deadlock. The risk for the whole of the proletariat is to simply and passively wait for the transport blockade to make the government withdraw its project instead of entering openly in struggle themselves.”
From December 10 to 17…
The day of action on December 10th saw a lower level of participation in the strike and demonstrations than on December 5th (800,000 demonstrators against 1.5 million according to the CGT). In our opinion, this drop in the participation is largely due to the lack of real perspectives for the generalization of the movement beyond the sectors traditionally in struggle (the railway workers in particular). At the end of the day, it seemed that the control of the situation by the State, mainly by the government and the trade unions, had grown even stronger… until the Prime Minister spoke that evening.
While everyone expected him to announce some concessions – such as the withdrawal of the pivot age (4) – which the “moderate” unions would have been hasty to salute in order to call for a return to work, he reaffirmed the entire project as it stood, to the chagrin of the CFDT, who was then obliged to join the day of action scheduled for the 17th. We cannot dwell here on the possible immediate, tactical reasons, clumsiness, etc. of such an uncompromising attitude. On the other hand, we know that objectively, due to the crisis and the economic situation of capitalism, the national bourgeoisies have seen their “economic” and “financial” room for maneuver considerably reduced…
Then it seemed to us that the window of opportunity for extension [of the struggle], closed since December 5th, was reopening – albeit timidly. This is why we distributed our leaflet of December 11 “Do everything to help the private sector to engage in the strike” (5):
“To draw in, encourage and help the private sector workers to engage in struggle and strike action is the priority of the day if we want to make the government move back! Blocking transport will not be enough. The proxy strike, which puts most of the weight of the struggle on the railway (SNCF) and the Paris regional Transport workers (RATP) alone, can only lead to a deadlock and exhaustion of the strikers. The window of opportunity, the occasion, to draw in proletarians of the private sector and extend the strike is still there. At least until Tuesday the 17th and the demonstrations of that day. After that, it is quite possible that the strike, limited to railway and RATP workers for the most part, will be reduced to an “arm-wrestling” struggle with no other aim than to last as long as possible. At this game, the bourgeoisie and the entire state apparatus will be the strongest. They will control the situation, if only through the unions, and wait for the struggle to exhaust itself, as the railway workers experienced in 2018.”
Our leaflet was very well received where it was distributed (6), but we were not the only ones to put forward this slogan of extension to the private sector. In particular, many inter-professional assemblies, organized on a local or regional basis, composed largely of strikers, but also of non-strikers, adopted this orientation and tried to put it in place: picket lines (at RATP bus depots in particular), delegations and distribution of leaflets to enterprises, blocking of certain ports (Le Havre, Rouen…) or industrial zones, agitation for strikes in shopping centers, street demonstrations, either at city or neighborhood level, holding of meetings open to all, etc. Actually, an often implicit and silent, non-frontal opposition has developed in these organisms on the modalities and determination to be put in place to do everything possible for the extension to others sectors, between the base syndicalist apparatuses (as it very well also involved apparatuses) and a part of the participants in these assemblies. To a certain extent, the opposition that had emerged between the wildcat strikers at the Châtillon maintenance center at the end of October and principally the SUD trade union (see our communiqué of 8 December) has been reproduced identically: some trying to bring back the deadlines for the days of action, meaning on the syndicalist terrain, and others trying to break this syndicalist control over the high points and orientations of the struggle itself.
Nevertheless, the orientation towards “national” extension and generalization did not take place during this period and, in spite of a participation in the strike and demonstrations equally important as on December 5, the day of December 17 came, in fact, to close this open window on the generalization of the strike. Once this risk had passed by (especially since, three days later, the highly mobilized teachers were on holiday), the bourgeoisie immediately pushed its advantage: the same evening, the government announced the resumption of discussions with the unions for… January 7. The UNSA and the CFDT renewed their call for a Christmas truce, in short, to stop the strike. And the Intersyndicale fixed a fourth day of action for… January 9! The postponement of these deadlines, in particular the day of action set for January 9, were experienced as a real sabotage of the mobilization by many assemblies of strikers, which further strengthened the development of local assemblies and “inter-professional” initiatives.
The two weeks of holidays
For two weeks, the strikers found themselves almost alone, including in the media. With the teachers on school holidays for two weeks, as some of the country’s proletarians were as much preoccupied with family celebrations as they were with the mobilization, Christmas and New Year’s Day in the middle of the week, the government was able to safely and provocatively display its own departure on holiday, accompanied as it was by the disappearance of the union leaders. While the strike continued! The strikers had no other choice, no other perspective than to make it last until January 9, holding on and holding on again and again, day after day, using up a lot of energy in this fight that was locking them in a little more each day. But it is not just about the strikers. It is also the whole proletariat in France, its great masses working in the private sector, whether industry, commerce and services, who have installed themselves in the strike by “proxy”, wishing that the railway workers and others last as long as possible, even bringing them their sympathy, but unable to join them in open strike.
Our leaflet and the direct intervention for the extension was becoming out of date at that time, its orientations and slogans losing any effectiveness. It was necessary to adapt our direct intervention according to the evolution of the immediate balance of power in this struggle, that is to say according to the relative success of the bourgeoisie in locking up the strikers of the SNCF and RATP mainly, albeit not only them, in the long strike.
“We reproduce here the leaflet that the ICP (PCI-Le Prolétaire) is currently distributing, dating from last night. We share the positions, the analysis of the immediate situation and the orientations of the struggle that the communists must put forward these days, during the Christmas and New Year weeks, despite the holidays and union sabotage. Particularly the call, today, at this very moment, after the episode that closed on December 17, for the organization of strike committees, inter-professional assemblies, strike picket lines, etc. to “expand and unify the movement”. We invite all those who would share its orientations to disseminate this leaflet around them and in the general assemblies and demonstrations. The IGCL, 22 December 2019.”
It seemed to us then that the weight of the intervention had to focus on “local initiatives”, such as inter-professional assemblies, to encourage the most combative workers to organize and lead the battle against the union maneuvers; or even to be able to carry out one or more local or geographical extensions. For us, the orientations put forward by the ICP leaflet corresponded to the necessities of the struggle at that very moment:
“Against this sabotage, open or not, of union apparatuses completely integrated into the bourgeois network of maintaining social order, salvation lies only in the organization of the struggle on class bases. Already in many places strike committees have been set up to lead the struggle, “inter-professional” assemblies are being held to extend and unify the movement over the differences of trade and corporation, effective picket lines are being set up, and calls for national days of mobilization are being made by the strikers to get around the blockade of the union apparatuses. These initiatives are still limited, but they point the way forward for workers in the current and future struggles against all bourgeois attacks.” (Leaflet of the ICP, December 21st 2019) (7)
For the time being, it seems to us that this orientation should be maintained at least until Monday. This period, which will end [Saturday January 4th] with “local” demonstrations called for mainly by SUD and many CGT local or enterprise sections, has seen a continuation of the mobilization and various local initiatives. At the same time, the repression both on the picket lines and in the demonstrations, just yesterday in Paris for example, by the police and the RATP management in particular, the (relative but growing) tensions between strikers and non-strikers have worsened, a sign that the bourgeoisie feels that today, with the situation under control, it can begin to think about increasing repression even more and inflicting the widest and deepest possible defeat.
Reality, difficulty and limits of strikers’ assemblies and ‘inter-professional’ ones
We have noted that a more or less open opposition has tended to emerge within the “rank and file organizations”, strikers’ assemblies, interpro assemblies, etc.,. We also noted that some of our correspondents regretted the fact that a certain criticism of the unions was put forward after December 17th and 18th in the ICP leaflet. It is indeed difficult, when the strike has been going on for a month at the cost of financial sacrifices and constant exertion, to openly question the conduct of the strike. However, the assemblies of strikers and others cannot be summed up in a succession of interventions in which each one tells that his/her workplace has been on strike at x% since 5 December, that everyone remains determined, and that the strike will continue until the end and the applause that punctuates these apparently voluntary, energetic and radical declamations. It is easy to be reassured among those that are already “convinced”. It can be comforting and warm. But it is not enough to make the struggle and the strike effective. The assemblies must discuss, debate and decide on the orientations and decisions to be taken by confronting the various proposals. Otherwise, they are left to the control and goodwill of the trade union apparatuses, including the rank and file ones. And the fact that the strike is formally voted on every day does not change anything. Here are excerpts from an interview with a striker of the SNCF published on the site ‘Paris-luttes info’ (8), which rather well points out the opposition that we noted above within the General Assemblies and the difficulties which the proletariat in struggle is confronted with even today in this mobilization.
“In the Vaires-sur-Marne depot, at the General Assembly [GA], there are quite a few of us, ranging from 50 to 200 people, we are open to other sectors in struggle, teachers, RATP, hospital workers, postal workers… We very quickly created the Vaires-sur-Marne Strike Committee which meets twice a week to propose actions, it was obvious to everyone: the strike belongs to the strikers and to no one else. This allows the strike to be animated outside of the Paris trade union demonstrations. (…). That being the case, the GA’s throughout the country, we don’t know exactly what is going on. It’s a shame, because in 1986 there was a Central Strike Committee, a national coordination that allowed us to collect all the information on the actual number of strikers, but also to coordinate the slightly more radical operations. A strike committee is now being formed in the Ile-de-France [Paris] region, but it still has a lot of limitations. (…).
– What do you think of the attempts at coordination, such as the GA interpro, which took place in Paris? I have the feeling that they remain quite largely limited to militants (Trotskyists, autonomous, trade unionists) and have difficulties to spread? [Question of ‘Paris-luttes-info’].
– Yes, as I said earlier, the Interpro GA’s and different coordinations have their limits, even if the will to give the strikers a democratic place to meet is positive. The fact is that there are always the same people, the same union, autonomous, political and other militants. The question is how can these coordinations or GA’s be widened when most people have an exacerbated distrust of co-optation and recuperation. Who benefits from this? We’ll never win anything if, no matter which organization we’re in, we can’t question ourselves and leave the initiative to others, push as many people as possible to speak up, express their ideas, have the texts come out of a common emanation, etc.” (Interview with T., railway woman and yellow vest, ‘Paris-luttes-info’, 31 December 2019).
This experience seems to us to confirm the orientation we are putting forward above, at least until this Monday. The intervention of the revolutionaries should today be concentrated in these assemblies in order, as the ICP leaflet indicated, to gather the energies and the important minorities of proletarians, strikers or not, who remain mobilized. More concretely, and with the approach of a week in which it is highly probable that the last battles will be fought, the capacity of these minorities, comprising thousands of proletarians, to consolidate and centralize at the national level would be a first step towards an alternative to the fate of this mobilization on which the unions are working. As the comrade tells ‘Paris-luttes-info’, the outline of a national coordination, or at least initially of regional, local coordinations, would allow it to make a national appeal, to adopt motions, to distribute leaflets for the extension of the strike, to march under its banner during demonstrations with its own slogans and, especially at the present time, to dispute the unions for the true leadership of the struggle.
So that is where we believe we are today, Friday the 3rd, in this proletarian struggle. In addition to the objective of informing the greatest number of people in France as well as comrades in other countries and continents, we submit this analysis of the development of the strike and the adaptation of our intervention – admittedly limited because of our weak, very weak, forces in France – according to the moments and needs of the struggle to the whole of the proletarians at large and to the communist and revolutionary groups.
The IGCL, Friday, January 3rd, 2020.
P.S. Just as this communiqué was being made public, we have learned that the Intersyndicale is adding another day of action on Saturday, January 11, two days after the 9th. “To involve private sector workers who are not on strike”, according to the trade unions. We are not able to say at this time, whether this new union day responds to a strong push by workers in the private sector, and seeks to short-circuit the local attempts and initiatives of the inter-professional and other assemblies for the extension, or whether it is simply aimed at speeding up a possible end to the strike…
(The IGCL’s translation from French has been slightly adapted)
1 These days, and according to the polls of the bourgeoisie, still more than 50% of the French population supports the strike movement, only 35% are against it, and 15% do not speak out… More than 70% of the working people support the strike!
2 The so-called Intersyndicale [Editor’s note].
3 See: Communiqué on the Strikes in France – IGCL, December 8th 2019 (Published as well on A Free Retriever’s Blog: On the pension strikes in France (December 23, 2019).
4 Everyone could retire at 62 but with a ‘lifetime’ cut of their pension of 5% for each year of missing contributions – 42 years are needed – until the age of 64. In effect, the effective retirement age is pushed back to at least 64.
5 See: IGCL, December 12, 2019: Do Everything to Help the Private Sector to Engage in the Strike!
6 Even though some told us, railway workers in particular, that at some meetings they had to endure the more or less overt hostility of the trade unionists, or even their attempt to prevent the distribution, when they reproduced it.
7 See: PCI-Le Prolétaire (ICP), December 21, 2019: France. In the Face of the Sabotage of Union Leaderships, Lead the Struggle on a Class Basis!