An explosive situation in France

October 16, 2010
Up to 3.5 million took to the streets on October 12 to protest the proposed reform of the pension system. Since September, three

The political situation in France is dominated by the struggle against the proposed reform of the pension system to raise the age of retirement, among other things. This reform is at the heart of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s austerity policy.

Although presented as a demographic necessity, it is increasingly opposed by the public.

The struggle has been growing since the start of the mobilisations in May and the first day of action in June. Since the beginning of September, three days of strikes and demonstrations have brought out about 3 million people on each occasion.

The General Confederation of Labour (CGT) estimated that 5 million people have taken part in the strikes and demonstrations since the campaign’s start.

Each day of action has involved more private sector workers and young people (high school students are beginning to mobilise and block their schools), and more radical demands.

The battle against the draft law on pensions also shows a huge rejection of the whole of Sarkozy’s politics. There is not only the question of pensions, many sectors are mobilising and striking over various issues, from workers in the post offices, hospitals and on the waterfront.

Faced with this resistance, the government has become more and more unpopular. These accumulated difficulties are provoking a crisis within the right.

To try to reassert his control, Sarkozy has pushing racist policies, in relation to the Roma in particular. In recent weeks, the government has also tried to make people forget the social question by playing up the terrorist danger — without much success.

Dissatisfaction is growing and the situation is explosive.

Faced with the success of the demonstrations and strike days, the government has insisted it will not change its proposal. The global financial crisis and national debt are the poor excuses to justify the reform.

The Sarkozy government wants this reform. Faced with the determination of the government, many workers know that to win it’s necessary to impose social power.

Now it is time for an all-out strike. For example, in the public transport system and oil industry, a continuing strike was possible from October 12 (when the latest national strike was held).

The idea that we can win is increasing.

It is, at the moment, a very political movement. The strike rates are strong, but not exceptional. The self-organisation of the movement is very low. General assemblies of workers in the various sectors have very low participation.

However, it is a united movement. There is an inter-union coordinating committee, which sets the calendar of mobilizations, but which is pushed by the intransigence of the government and by the very radical militant teams.

The coordinating committee involves all five national confederations, including two usually considered as being on the right. It also includes the radical confederation Solidaires, which has an important base in the postal, transport, health, education and other public sectors.

The movement is characterised by a huge public rejection of the reform, a spectacular mistrust of the powerful and Sarkozy.

But we don’t know what will be the end result of this confrontation. Anything is possible.

The New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA), which formed in 2009 and is led by popular postal worker Olivier Besancenot, is taking part in a united campaign. This involves the whole French left, including the opposition Socialist Party (PS), except for the Trotskyist group Workers’ Struggle (LO).

This united campaign is based on the demand of the right to a pension at 60 years of age for all workers and the withdrawal of the current law.

Although all the left agrees on these two demands, there are some differences.

There is disagreement over demands with the PS, in particular. The PS agrees with the demands of 60 years old as the retirement age but they defend the idea that workers must work longer to get a full pension.

They voted with right-wing parliamentary deputies for the increase of years needed to be worked to qualify for the full pension.

There are also disagreements about the strategy to force the government to withdraw the law.

There are disagreements with the PS, but also with the Communist Party of France (PCF) and the Left Party (PG).

The PS asks us to wait for the next presidential elections in 2012. The other political forces demand a referendum, turning the class struggle into an institutional question.

They are all refusing to push for the social confrontation necessary to win.

The NPA has been part of the united campaign. The NPA defends a retirement age of 60 with a pension and demands the law’s withdrawal.

Besancenot, as NPA spokesperson, has taken part in most united meetings around the country.

However, for the NPA, the main demand is the redistribution of wealth and the sharing of work. Since May, the NPA has been working in support of a huge social and political confrontation.

As the government is very unpopular, the NPA is demanding the sacking of Sarkozy and the labour minister.

[Sandra Demarcq is a member of the NPA executive committee. This article is reprinted from]

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