France: Movement builds against anti-worker measures

October 6, 2017
A France Unbowed protest against new anti-worker ordinances, in Paris on September 23.

France’s Council of Ministers approved five ordinances on September 22 that undermine union power and employment rights within France’s Labour Code, which came into effect the next day.

The government imposed these changes by using undemocratic measures in France’s constitution, which allows it to push new measures into law without passing legislation through parliament.

In the face of this, the movement against the changes continues to build. 

France Insoumise (France Unbowed, FI) held a national convergence in Paris on September 23 against what it described as a “social coup”. The protest mobilised 150,000 people — more than twice the size of the largest Paris mobilisation so far against these attacks.

FI leader Jean-Luc Melenchon told the crowd: “We were not able to discuss a single line, a single page, of the ordinances!”

The Washington Post reported that Melenchon said “we must bring forward the strength of our people in battle and in the streets”.

On September 26 the transport federations of the General Confederation of Workers (CGT), Workers’ Force (FO) and National Union of Autonomous Unions (UNSA) began sustained strike action against the changes, including blockades of oil depots and major highways. As a result, there have been widespread petrol shortages at service stations.

On September 28, there were mobilisations across France by retired workers and students. These protests targeted the changes to the labour code, but also the broader assault by President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Phillipe on social conditions.

In particular, protesters targeted the 1.7% rise in the Generalised Social Contribution (CSG) and the failure of thousands of students to receive selection advice for entry into university. The CSG contributes to the funding of France’s social security system and is paid by both workers and retirees.

Macron and France’s peak employer organisation, MEDEF, hoped that worker and union resistance would dissipate with the ordinances coming into effect. Macron has downplayed the significance of the movement, telling CNN: “I believe in democracy” and that “democracy is not in the street”.

Instead, the resistance continues to grow.

Unions have called for a joint public and private sector strike on October 10. This will be the first joint strike by France’s public sector unions in 10 years.

Unfortunately, the unity between unions within the public sector has not been replicated in the private sector. An October 3 mass meeting of 10,000 officials and activists of the conservative French Confederation of Democratic Workers (CFDT), the largest confederation in the private sector, refused to endorse strike action on October 10.

However, there was opposition to this conservative approach expressed at the October 3 meeting, which could result in more CFDT members joining the October 10 protests than occurred with the previous France-wide protests against the attacks on September 12 and 21.

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