France: Thousands join new round of protests against anti-worker attacks

Workers protest on September 21.
Saturday, September 23, 2017

About 250,000 people joined 400 protests in cities and towns across France on September 21, the General Confederation of Workers (CGT) said, in the second round of mass protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s anti-worker laws.

This was about half the number of people who mobilised for the first round of protests and strikes on September 12. The protests came the day before a meeting of the Council of Ministers to ratify five ordinances, which will undermine the rights of workers and their unions.

If ratified, the ordinances will immediately come into effect. However, the government will still need to pass legislation to permanently incorporate them into France’s Labour Law.

Much of the mainstream media has expressed hope that the lower turnout for the September 21 protests is a sign of the movement quickly losing momentum. Left unions and parties, however, remain optimistic that the movement can continue to build and beat back the current attacks.

CGT leaders described September 21 as a success and proof “that after September 12, the movement is for the long-term”.

In a statement, the CGT said: “The Council of Ministers of September 22 must hear that the citizens overwhelmingly condemn and reject the reform of the labour law and regressive government measures for young people, employees of private and public companies, retirees and the self-employed.”

The smaller scale of the mobilisations was expected. There were several factors that made larger mobilisations on September 21 unlikely.

One factor was that it was held so close to the first day of protest. Nonetheless, holding a second day of action the day prior to the Council of Ministers meeting was important to demonstrate clear opposition to the ordinances.

A second factor, particularly in Paris, was that the left-wing group France Insoumise (France Unbowed) had called for a mobilisation against the laws for September 23. It is bussing in activists from across France for the protests on a day that allows people to demonstrate without missing a day of work.

A third factor is that, at present, the mobilisations are supported by a minority of unions — primarily the CGT and the trade union Solidaires. The other union confederations have not been supporting the mobilisations, although some federations and regional unions have backed the protests.

There are, however, signs this could be changing. In the lead-up to and after September 12, a number of French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT) federations and regional leaders expressed frustration at the CFDT leadership’s refusal to support the movement.

This frustration will have been furthered by the publication in the left-wing daily Liberation of an agreement between France’s five main confederations, including the CFDT, regarding “red lines” which the confederations would not accept the legislation crossing. The government has now crossed them, with little or no objection from the more conservative unions.

There are now signs that these unions are starting to be drawn into the movement. La Figaro reported on September 20 that after a breakdown in talks with the government, Workers’ Force (FO) and the National Union of Autonomous Workers (UNSA) have joined the CGT in calling for an indefinite road transport strike against the new labour laws.

The CGT has expressed a desire to extend the strike to waste collection, as well as passenger and urban transport.

Also on September 18, all nine union confederations represented in France’s public service announced a united strike for October 10 against pay freezes and the government’s planned cutting of 120,000 jobs. This will be the first joint strike in the French public sector for 10 years.

These developments give credence to the CGT’s hopes that the movement is on the rise.