Revolt in France: Macron humiliated, but no victory for workers yet

April 24, 2023
During Macron’s speech, demonstrators gathered in front of town halls around the country to bang on saucepans and drown him out. Image: Green Left

After a 12th day of action on April 13, national trade union leaders have called for May 1 — traditionally a day of demonstration for workers’ rights — to be the time for “a tidal wave of protest”.

In the meantime, every day in different towns there are demonstrations and blockades of motorways, shopping centres, railways, universities and high schools.

Protesters invaded the headquarters of Euronext, which owns the Paris stock exchange, on April 20.

“We chose the stock exchange,” explained one protester, “because we want the richest companies to pay for our pensions, with their endless millions”.

President Emmanuel Macron has signed his pensions bill into law, and gave a live speech “to the nation” on the evening of April 17. Coinciding with his speech, demonstrators gathered in front of town halls around the country to bang on saucepans and drown out his nonsense.

All Macron had to offer was a vaporous collection of shallow slogans. He declared he needs “a hundred days” to “calm the situation down”. He promised “a new pact on life in the workplace”. No one believed him. 

Not only are 90% of employed people opposed to his idea of making us spend two years longer in the damned workplace, but those who have been following know that it was Macron who drastically reduced the power of Health and Safety Committees in workplaces and who continually attacks the rights of statutory staff representatives.

Just before Macron’s speech, we learned that only a quarter of those who regularly vote for him thought his speech would help.

Determined to show he is in charge and can “turn the page”, Macron has organised a series of symbolic visits on other issues around the country and has demanded that his ministers get out and talk to people.

Macron chose to visit a school in a small town of only 4000 inhabitants on April 20, where he planned to make some announcements about teachers’ pay. Energy workers cut the electricity off at Montpellier airport as he arrived. Hundreds of demonstrators were waiting for him, and electricity workers cut off the power at the school he was going to, obliging him to speak in the playground without a microphone.

A massive police presence stopped demonstrators from approaching Macron, and people were searched, with saucepans being confiscated if found. He announced a pay rise for all teachers, but with plenty of strings attached — one example of a series of minor concessions this week.

Five ministers visiting towns around the country, on April 21, were all met with saucepan-banging crowds and protected by tear gas. Several Macronist ministers have found it easier to simply cancel their public appearances.

Although the movement has slowed, it is still very active and extremely popular. Polls show that 64% of the population want the protests to continue and 45% want more radical actions. The refusal of the national union leadership to campaign for going beyond weekly days of action made a quick victory against the pensions attack impossible — but Macron is not out of the woods yet.

Some in the Macron camp have cynically decided that now is the time to use racism to divide us. An immigration law aimed at making it easier to deport people — shelved a few weeks ago — is likely to be presented to parliament after all.

Finance minister Bruno Le Maire alleged this week that the real worry of French people was benefit fraud, with the money from it “being sent to North Africa”. In fact, immigrants cost far less to social budgets than other members of the population, since they often arrive as adults — so their education is not paid for by France — and frequently leave France on retirement — so health costs in old age are not borne by France.

In any case, all experts agree that tax fraud by richer citizens costs about €100 billion, at least 10 times more than benefit fraud. Le Maire’s comments show he is happy to encourage the far right in order to save his government’s skin.

Macron’s “hundred days to calm things down” have been declared by electricity unions as “a hundred days of anger”. Major prestige events such as the Cannes Film Festival in May and the Roland-Garros tennis championship in June may well find that electricity is hard to come by. The first of May should be inspiringly huge.

Nevertheless, more mass strike action will be necessary to win.

[John Mullen is an anticapitalist activist living in the Paris region and a supporter of the France Insoumise.]

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