The so called “Socialist” government in France is under siege, though you would never know it with the limited press coverage in Canada. Prime Minister Hollande is trying to push though changes to labour law which would undercut national agreements locally, force workers into longer hours and make firing easier for the employer. Huge demonstrations and work stoppages are taking place that are shaking the country, but workers here could only learn about it through social media.
Momentum has been building for months. After demonstrations on March 31 people began nightly occupations, Nuit Debout, of the Place de le Republique in Paris. Wide ranging discussions and debates took place and the spirit was much like we saw in the Occupy movement. There is a tremendous disillusionment with electoral politics and a very real sense that there has been a total betrayal of any democratic principles by the Socialist Party. Working people are desperate for an alternative
Labour has gone on the offensive. Newspaper workers refused to put out any paper but the left wing L’Humanite because the rest refused to print an article by a labour leader from the CGT, Philippe Martinez. Across the country oil refineries were blockaded, auto workers were in the streets. General meetings were being held in workplaces where strike votes were being held. Ferries and flights had to be canceled. 20,000 dock workers marched in Le Havre. Posters were put up stating “No Amendments No Negotiations”.
Workers were given confidence by the mass demonstrations to push for local work place demands as well such as at Peugot. It brings to mind May 1968, though the times were very different, but the coming together of students and workers is a very powerful force. Young people see their futures at stake and don’t believe the lies coming from Hollande and his ministers that this is all being done for them. The police have viciously attacked student rallies and occupations at their universities. The repression has brought more militancy and resolve from the youth, which in turn has inspired the workers.
In spite of the government trying to blame the unions, saying a minority of workers do not have the right to govern the country, the majority of the population (in a number of different polls) are backing the strikes and oppose the legislation. National elections are only one year away and Hollande is extremely unpopular. He has used some legislative trick to pass the changes without a vote which has enraged people even further.
Strikes are also happening in Belgium and transit workers are about to walk out in Barcelona. There is a mood of resistance and the fact that in France the population is siding with the workers, because they feel they are fighting for all, is hugely important. Working people and the poor are tired of the austerity agendas of governments. They are tired of the racism and sexism of the state, the homophobia, the attacks on those with disabilities, and the cuts to services that are making life so much harder for so many.
Hopefully the French workers and students will keep up the fight and push back the government which seems to be committed to bringing them to their knees. We are seeing the power of the organized working class let’s hope it will prevail and give confidence to workers everywhere.