France: still an explosive situation


The wave of strikes and political actions in December brought France to a standstill. Hundreds of thousands of people were involved in demonstrations that in some cities were larger than in 1968. ARUN PRADHAN and ANNE O'CALLAGHAN spoke to ALAIN KRIVINE, a leader of the Revolutionary Communist League, about the next stage of the struggle. Question: What is your assessment of the December strikes? It is impossible to have a complete balance sheet of the strike, which in the minds of workers is not finished. The strikers don't have a sense of total victory but rather of a partial one. In France, every previous workers' strike has been defeated. Students have won before, but never workers. Now the government has been forced to retreat from many points, although the Juppé plan has not been defeated. Question: What is the next step? It is difficult to know what will happen, because the political climate has changed. At the social level, the situation is explosive. Perhaps a new strike will come from the public service; for example, if the government privatises Telecom, then perhaps others will follow. Or perhaps the initiative will come from the private sector on wages. Some trade unions have organised a second round of action on February 11. There will be protests in eight cities, with a wave of street demonstrations. There are many demands, perhaps too many. The first is for the withdrawal of the Juppé plan, then to reduce unemployment, to reduce the working week and several others. These demands have been formulated by the CGT and CFDT [union federations], both more or less controlled by the Communist Party. Other unions are involved, as well as unemployed associations, anti-fascist, women's and ecological groups. Question: What impact has the strike had on workers? There was a politicisation in the sense that the demands were immediately political. There was a strong awareness that the attack on social security was an attack on the rights of all workers. Just before the events in 1968, de Gaulle also attacked social security and provoked an almost immediate response. A cultural revolution occurs during a mass movement such as this; people change massively from day to day. There was an immediate understanding of the links between the different sectors affected by the Juppé plan. So the railway workers, who initiated the strike, went to the health workers, who went to the telecommunication workers and so on, to enlist further support for the strike. This is a new occurrence in the labour movement, and it is one which will remain. There was an absolute majority of unemployed people in support of the civil servants, which was very unusual. With the total stoppage of trains, buses and metro, hitchhiking became the norm. This even overcame France's typical racism, with Arabs and blacks often receiving lifts. There was a 25% drop in crimes against property; even pickpockets had solidarity with the strikers. A new generation was politicised, who ran and danced in the streets in a state of joy and a high level of combativity. There is a new political climate with political demands and the feeling that there is a gap between these demands and the answer of the traditional left, the Socialist and Communist Parties. It is not that these parties did not take part in these events — certainly the Communist Party militants were very involved in the struggle — but they offered no political perspectives. Many people feel that the old left is very old and that they need a new left which is more linked to the social movements. Question: Will these strikes have broader ramifications in Europe? The events will have a big impact on the rest of Europe. French strikers were aware that they were protesting against the Maastricht treaty, because Juppé justified each austerity measure on the basis of meeting the requirements of the treaty. In the press there was a lot of coverage of the events in France, but they were afraid to say it was a response to Maastricht. The French bourgeoisie is increasingly divided over questions of a single currency and other such issues relating to unification. With the politicisation that has occurred and with a partial victory already won, the situation remains explosive.