France: a new chapter of class struggles
The profits of large companies during the crisis have become unbearable in view of stagnant wages while inflation gallops. Since the first day of action initiated by the CGT in the field of health on September 22, the pressure has only increased. Some refineries are still on strike, while the pressure from the government has been high, with regard to the requisition law that forced TotalEnergies workers to go back to work under the possibility of 10,000 euros fine and 6 months in prison. As of now, only morning staff at the Normandy and Feyzin refineries continue the strike. But the heat that moved the workers and students in France is not going anywhere.
The above-mentioned refiners did not return to work after the September 29 national day of action for wages, where unions counted nearly a million strikers. Gasoline workers, claiming their due from their company’s superprofits, lit the fuse. The striking action was supported by the Nupes.
The left, which scraps in the Assembly to extract some progress on the budget, also called on citizens to mobilize on October 16, against the high cost of living and climate inaction. 140,000 people responded to the unitary call of the left-wing coalition. This only has strengthened the social and political ferment that testifies to a renewed combativeness, but also to a growing fed up with a government that remains deaf to popular suffering.
We remember Nicolas Sarkozy’s famous phrase in 2008: “From now on, when there’s a strike in France, nobody notices”.
But now the whole Europe is in turmoil:
fascists took power in Italy, the UK has just got the second business-oriented Prime Minister with no confidence in the nation, and Germany gets paid back for its colonialist and racist policies towards Eastern Europe. The balance of power can also change in France. It is taking time, but with the success of the march against the high cost of living organized by the Nupes on 16 October, and then the broad inter-union call for a national strike on 18 October for wages, in the wake of the action launched by the employees of the refineries and fuel depots, we can see the direction.
After 18 October, some unions, those of the railway workers for example, stopped the strike because they hadn’t called for a general strike. This is not a loss of steam, just a different and quite legitimate and down-to-earth tactic: the machine is slowly getting back on track after years of immobility of the working class. It’s funny to point out that leftists are the first to use this kind of anti-union argument by constantly calling for insurrection even when the context doesn’t allow it. A strike does not become illegitimate if the workers think about mobilization over time – said Pierre Verquin, the secretary of Les Jeunes Communistes de Nord.
What’s more, energy company EDF, which the French government is in the process of fully nationalizing, has also been affected by strikes at its nuclear reactors. France’s national grid operator RTE warned on Tuesday that those prolonged strikes at EDF could have “heavy consequences” for the country’s electricity supplies over the coming winter.
As the young militant from Les Jeunes Communistes de Nord, Noam Peter said:
The strikes have started since September 29 with the inter-union appeal. What happened in the refineries rather testifies to the loss of approval towards the ruling class, which brings on their part an authoritarian reaction. The arrest of the greves in the refineries does not mean the end of the movement, our glorious comrades have paved the way for a broader contestation, probably one of the last to counter the macron quinquennium. In nuclear power plants, for example, strikes have led to historic wage increases, catching up with inflation beyond! This is not all, but at least it shows the effectiveness of the union struggle, the need to have a balance of power in favor of the working class.
It is important to say that the success of a strike action is measured not only by the satisfaction of the demands, but also by the anger that its impact arouses in those who dream of a docile and resigned world of work.
In this dimension, the strikes were successful, with regard that some of the refineries went out of the strike actions.
Other, yellow unions just surrendered to the demands and propositions of the giant companies, like in ExxonMobile refineries.
In this respect [of representing the popular anger – author] the refiners’ strike proved to be very effective and disturbing, judging by the outpouring of hatred proportional to the powerlessness of the ranters in the face of employees determined to show that, without them, nothing works. Inflated salary figures, imaginary privileges, accusations of extremism and trials of illegitimacy, nothing was spared to the strikers. Are the employees of Total and Esso rich? It has since been shown that the average wage figure that was circulated – 5,000 euros per month – was purely unformed, with the sole aim of setting employees against each other and preventing the contagion of the protest action to other sectors. But, one is tempted to reply, and even if it were true that the refinery workers were well paid, so what? Should we complain about it? Where is the money from Total’s super-profits most useful, in the pockets of the shareholders or the workers? A single figure is enough to grasp the relevance of this question: the income of Total’s shareholders is equal to the group’s entire payroll worldwide, with dividends paid out in 2021 of around 9 billion euros. No amount of rhetoric about safeguarding Total’s “competitiveness” can justify such a split, when the rent that produces nothing is paid as much if not more than the group’s 100,000 employees – writes the head editor of L’Humanite Sébastien Crépel.
Now is the question of how to manage this anger, and push it into the right direction.
The CGT calls for more industrial actions in the upcoming weeks. First, on 27 October, the next one on 10t November.
We will see more teachers, more public workers, and more trade unionists on the streets. The people are angry. Macron politics, and what’s more the so-called program coalition with Le Pen, who is just a lapdog of the bourgeoisie, infuriates people of France. The last debate about the taxation of wealth, like estates, bank accounts, ended with her voting against it, just in line with the macronists. She is no representative of the working class, I can tell you that – said Gabriel, CGT member, public worker, during the demonstration on the 18th of October. And he adds – We have to learn from our comrades from the United Kingdom, they know how to be radical.
But is the Nupes coalition doing well these days? It’s hard to say. From one point of view Melenchon has monopolized the voice of the anger, calling for more action that will surely come. But the republican way of doing things is sometimes futile. Especially in light of the punishments that await workers from key sectors of the industries, as well as the monarchist-styled presidential system in France.
Of course there were some good points to raise, like the march against the high cost of living in Paris on Sunday 16 October. But this is totally insufficient. Strikes don’t happen on Sundays, nor in Paris. The march should have been the starting point for a bigger offensive against the government. The NUPES must learn to be more radical, more offensive, and to use the institutions to make the strikers’ voices heard. The “clean republicanism” that some make their standard is not acceptable when the republic is in the hands of the bourgeoisie. We have to be revolutionary – says Pierre Verquin, the secretary of Les Jeunes Communistes de Nord.
The opponents of the strike would like to gloss over this fundamental question of the distribution of wealth, because it is the basis for the convergence of all struggles for better wages.
However, as it is pointed out by the people in favor of the direct action, the national strike of 18 October showed that this convergence is taking shape, to the great displeasure of those who tried to turn the rest of the population against the refinery strikers. This is one of the successes of the mobilization. For more we have to wait till upcoming days. The struggle of France is not yet ended.
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