France

The bourgeois media never tire of repeating it: the French left is in crisis. Gone are the days in which the Socialist Party (PS) and the Communist Party (PCF), between them, held a clear majority of the electorate. And when it comes to France Insoumise (FI), they haven’t consolidated the success of the 2017 presidential elections, when Mélenchon got 20 percent in the first round, as we saw in the European elections last year.

The mobilisation that began on 5 December is now at a crossroads. The indefinite strike called by French rail workers is at an ebb, after over 40 days of exemplary struggle. This ebb fits perfectly into the government’s scheme. Since the month of November we have emphasised that: “If the rail workers’ strike remains isolated, the government will have one of two options: either it can make concessions contained to the isolated sections of workers on strike, or it can count on their exhaustion. In either case, the masses in general would lose.”

The battle in France over Macron’s reactionary pension reform passed its 40th day on 13 January. A fourth interprofessional strike last Thursday and follow-up protests on the weekend brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets yet again, and further days of action have been declared up until 16 January.

At the time of writing these lines, the outcome of the struggle that began on 5 December is still uncertain. The government has made clear that it will not back down on the key elements of its “reform” (a counter-reform, in reality). Faced with this, the striking workers have demonstrated exemplary courage and militancy.

For the third consecutive week, French workers from dozens of professions (train drivers, teachers, doctors, nurses, firefighters, factory workers – even opera singers!) downed tools and hit the streets, alongside hundreds of thousands of supporters, to oppose the reactionary Macron regime. While the government has been downplaying the turnout, claiming only 600,000 took part, the protests were at least as big as on 5 December. The CGT union federation claims they were even bigger, citing a figure of 1,800,000 demonstrators, which would be hands down the biggest mobilisation since 1995.

The speech delivered by Edouard Philippe (the Prime Minister) yesterday concluded over 18 months of “talks” and “consultations” with the leaders of the trade unions. Hundreds of hours of negotiation meetings culminated in this enlightening result: the government presented exactly the same reform that they would have put forward if none of the “talks” and “consultations” had taken place.

Yesterday’s interprofessional strike against Macron’s pension reform brought between 800,000 and 1,000,000 workers and youth onto the streets of France, according to the CGT. While this is a drop from the mobilisation last Thursday (which was possibly the biggest since 1995), the turnout was still high, with strong participation by transport workers, teachers, health workers and students.

The 5 December strike mobilised a number of demonstrators not seen in France since the struggles of autumn 2010 (against the Sarkozy government’s pension reform). While we do not know the exact number of striking workers, it is likely that no interprofessional strike has had such a big impact on France’s economy since December 1995.

Yesterday’s general strike against Macron’s pension reform saw a “convergence of struggles” from across French society. According to the CGT (the trade union federation at the head of the strike), 1.5 million people took part in the demonstrations, which would make this the biggest movement since the battle against Alain Juppé’s package of attacks in 1995. The spirit of the gilets jaunes can be felt on the streets, where (despite the limitations of their leadership) the workers are directing their fury, not just against the pension reform, but the government as a whole.

The latest editorial from Révolution (the French publication of the IMT) argues that Macron’s attempt to introduce a ‘universal pension scheme’ (in reality, a massive attack on pensions) must be resisted by organising a general strike. An upcoming, indefinite transport workers’ strike on 5 December presents a point of convergence for all the forces of the working class, which must be mobilised over the next two months to fight, not only to defeat this pension counter-reform, but for the end of Macron’s reactionary

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600 people occupied the Pantheon in Paris last Friday (12 July) in protest at the repression of undocumented migrants, who face racism, terrible living and working conditions; and the constant spectre of detention centres and deportation. These activists of the “gilets noirs” (black vests) were demanding (among other things) that Prime Minister Édouard Phillipe grant them documents to legally live and work in France.

On 28 May, dockers working the port at the Gulf of Fos in Marseille refused to load the Saudi cargo ship, Bahri Tabük, which was intended to carry French arms to Saudi Arabia, whose regime is waging a barbaric war in Yemen.

In France, only one-out-of-two voters went to the polls for the European elections. This is 8 percent more than in 2014 (42 percent), but it still marks a massive rejection of the EU and the political system in general.

President Emmanuel Macron made a televised address to the nation last week on 25 April, following a two-month-long nationwide “grand debate” at town-hall-style meetings all over France. Macron wants to “show he is listening” after 23 weeks of protest by the yellow vests against his government of the rich. But his speech was more of a slap in the face than an olive branch.

The fire that partly destroyed Notre Dame is a tragedy for anyone who cherishes the cultural, artistic and architectural achievements of humanity. Capitalism is undermining its own past achievements and those of previous societies, and this emerges very clearly when one takes a closer look at what happened in Paris on Monday 15 April.

The yellow vests movement strikes fear into its opponents, which incurs their aggression. In addition to violent repression (2,000 people have been wounded, 18 blinded and five have had their hands torn off), the government has responded with an unprecedented intensity of judicial repression.

The solidarity campaign for Rawal Asad (who has been held in custody since February on the scandalous charge of sedition after attending a peaceful protest in Multan, Pakistan) shows no sign of slowing down. On 4 March, comrades and supporters of the International Marxist Tendency coordinated a day of pressure against the Pakistani state by picketing, protesting and telephoning Pakistan's embassies all over the world, so the regime knows the world is watching, and we will not stop until our comrade is released. 

The power of the yellow vests movement never ceases to surprise – and intimidate – its adversaries. Of course, the bourgeois and their lackeys (in politics and the media) know that poverty exists. They hear about it, distantly, but they are totally disconnected from the real living conditions of the people, their suffering and their problems. Then, from their lofty position of privilege, with all their power and their fortune, they said to themselves: “a little more or a little less austerity, what difference will that make?” The answer hit them like a ton of bricks.