More than 150,000 people joined protests in France on June 13 against plans by President Nicolas Sarkozy's government to make working people carry the costs of the global economic crisis.
The protests were the fifth major demonstration this year called by France's eight union confederations against Sarkozy's policies. Support for the movement has continued to grow, with polls showing 75% support the union actions.
However, protester numbers were significantly down on both previous demonstrations and on union predictions. The lower turn-out is increasing debate on the way forward for the movement.
Mass demonstrations in January and March brought out 2.5 million and 3 million people respectively. On May 1, 1.2 million took to the streets. The May 26 mobilisations, which featured hundreds of decentralised protests across France, were far smaller than the previous protests.
Following the May 26 mobilisations, AFP reported that Maryse Dumas, secretary-general of General Confederation of Labour's (CGT) Postal and Telecommunications Federation, said: "The goal is not to make this initiative highly visible, but to ensure that the movement takes root and expands."
Union leaderships, who predicted June 13 would equal the May Day protests in size, have acknowledged the turn-out was a disappointment.
Francois Chereque, general-secretary of the French Democratic Confederation of Labour told AFP: "What matters most today is to make a splash, to say before the summer and our meeting with the president that we have to go further."
The contradiction between high public support and the comparatively low turn-out has caused considerable speculation.
The mainstream media has speculated that the key causes were the strong return for Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) in the European parliamentary elections, the fast approaching summer holidays and a growing sense that the protests were not achieving anything.
The leadership of the Workers Force confederation (FO) has also questioned the effectiveness of repeated demonstrations. FO general-secretary Jean-Claude Mailly told Reuters on June 13: "If the government doesn't budge with demonstrations, we will have to move up a notch and call a day of strike action."
The other union confederations have criticised the FO's statement for breaking the united front presented by the eight confederations. FO was also criticised for failing to mobilise its own members for the June 13 demonstrations. On June 24, Liberation said that there was a contingent of just 50 FO members at the Paris march.
However, FO's criticisms echo those made by the radical Solidaires confederation. Solidaires has argued since January that to build a movement capable of forcing both the government and employers to respond to union demands, a general strike is required.
[Chris Latham edits Revitalisinglabour.blogspot.com.]