French workers saluted for stand

Issue 
Protest in Marseille, October 19. Up to 71% of French people oppose President Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposed pension cuts.

The following statement was released by the Socialist Alliance in Australia. Visit www.socialist-alliance.org for more information.

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Socialist Alliance salutes the millions of French workers and students who have taken to the streets in a wave of sustained demonstrations and strikes against the Sarkozy governments’ attack on pensions.

In addition to national strikes days and protests called by the major union federations, ongoing strikes by oil-workers, truckers, bus drivers, railway workers, teachers, postal workers, printers and dockers are bringing France to a standstill; the country is now running low on fuel.

Mass meetings or workers assemblies are being held in workplaces each morning to discuss the strikes and decide on further actions.

Inspiringly, tens of thousands of university and high school students have joined the protests, blockading and shutting their own schools despite violent police repression.

The strikes and protests are a response to the pension “reform” bill in the French parliament that would raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 years and raise the qualifying period that workers must work to receive a full pension.

Despite mass popular opposition (polls show as many as 71% oppose the pension cuts), Sarkozy insists it is his “duty” to ram through the “reforms”.

Faced with government intransigence and calls for further action from rank-and-file workers, French union federations have called for a further national strike on October 28 and street mobilisations on November 6.

The Sarkozy government argues that the cuts are necessary because of projected budget deficits. However, unions have pointed out that pensions could easily be funded by increasing taxes on the rich.

By cutting pensions, the Sarkozy government, which has given billions of euros of public funds in bailouts to the banks, is trying to force ordinary working people to pay for the economic crisis.

In conjunction with this full frontal attack on the rights of all French workers, Sarkozy has tried to divert social discontent with his austerity agenda by whipping up racism and fear against minorities.

This has included policies such as mass expulsions of Roma people and the passage of a law banning women wearing a “full” Muslim veil in public.

However, Sarkozy’s scapegoating tactic hasn’t worked; polls show that two-thirds of the population think strikes should continue. The protests are developing into a general rejection of Sarkozy’s policies.

These savage pension cuts are part of a wider austerity agenda. As the world slides further into economic crisis, capitalist governments everywhere are increasingly trying to foist the burden of the crisis on to ordinary working people by slashing jobs and dismantling social welfare benefits.

At the same time, they are bailing out banks and propping up transnational corporations.

Similar measures have been imposed in other European countries such as Greece and Portugal. On October 18, the British government announced enormous cuts to public expenditure that will result in at least half a million public sector jobs being slashed. Millions of people will be left without vital public services, and poverty and inequality will be driven up.

Increasingly, so-called democratic governments are being exposed for what they are: entities that rule on behalf of a tiny corporate elite, not the working majority.

Extra-parliamentary action is necessary, not only to fight for basic rights, but to win real democracy.

The example of the French workers is an inspiration to workers everywhere and shows what is possible. If working people remain firm and united in their resistance they can win!

Make rich pay for the crisis, not the workers!

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