France

"On lache rien!” We do not give up! This slogan sums up quite well the mood of militant determination of the French workers’ and youth movement against the El Khomri labour counter-reform which has now entered its third month. Last week saw oil refineries, harbours, nuclear power stations on strike and fuel depots blockaded by striking workers. What stage is the movement at and what are its perspectives?

The fight against the labor law has entered a new, decisive  phase. The development of open-ended strikes and blockades in several key sectors of the economy have changed the dynamics of movement. Everything is accelerating. After a series of “days of action” in the past two months - to which the government responded with police violence and 49-3 (a special article in the constitution which allows the government to bypass parliament and decree laws,) -  the immediate logical goal of the movement has now become to paralyze the economy. This is the only path to achieve victory.

A massive protest movement in France has been taking place since February. Sparked by the announcement of a reactionary new “reform” of the labour laws, this movement is mobilising masses of youth.

We publish here an eye-witness account of Marxist students from Belgium who participated in the March 31st general strike in France, and the subsequent "Nuit debout" movement occupying squares in French towns and cities, reminiscent of the movements in North America, Southern Europe and Egypt five years ago.

With over a million demonstrators, the protests of March 31 confirmed the deep unpopularity of "La loi Travail" [Labour law] amongst the youth and workers of France. That same night, in Paris's iconic Place de la République, thousands of people - especially young people - participated in the very first "Nuit Debout", or overnight occupation of the square. A very enthusiastic atmosphere helped the protesters as they refused to go back home or even fall asleep. Every night since, the square has found itself occupied by workers and youth.

According to the French trade unions over one million people came out onto the streets on March 31 in over two hundred and fifty cities across France. One hundred and twenty thousand in Marseille, a hundred thousand in Toulouse and tens of thousands in the capital.

On March 9th half a million workers and youth took to the streets throughout France, protesting against the “socialist” government's’ unprecedented attack on the labour laws. This was followed by further protests on March 17th.

On January 12th, eight former employees of Goodyear, including five elected members of the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT, one of the largest trade union confederations in France), were sentenced to two years in prison, of which at least 9 months must be served.

The regional elections of December 6th and 13th accentuated trends already observed in recent municipal (March 2014), European (June 2014) and departmental (March 2015) elections. Faced with the economic crisis, a soaring unemployment rate and the austerity policies of a "socialist" government, the frustration of millions of voters has expressed itself mainly in two ways: abstention and voting for “le Front National”.

The year 2015 was marked by an unleashing of war and terrorism. Dozens of armed conflicts spread death and destruction in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Millions of people have been killed wounded or forced into exile. On the borders of Europe, Ukraine has descended into a civil war that, according to the UN, has killed almost 10,000 people and injured more than 20,000. The list of countries affected by terrorism has continued to grow. The barbaric events in Paris could be repeated in London, Brussels or any other European city.

The French ruling class have cynically used the recent terrorist attacks as an excuse to clamp down on any dissent whatsoever across the country. The attacks by ISIS have been used opportunistically by president Francois Hollande, the most unpopular president since the 1950s. Increasing austerity and the deepening crisis has led to tensions reaching boiling point, as seen with the recent dispute at Air France, where bosses were chased out of their offices by workers facing redundancy. Although the declared aim of the State of Emergency is to combat terrorism, the French state has wasted no time in seizing the opportunity to attack those on the left.

In the recent days a number of Departmental Unions of the French General Confederation of Labour (CGT) and at least one Federation have come out clearly against the idea of national unity promoted by French president Hollande and by the French ruling class and have rejected the state of emergency which has been declared.

The attacks in Paris have aroused the revulsion and anger of millions of French workers and youth. Three days later, these feelings are still far from dying down. The fear of new attacks is palpable. It is fed by the obvious failure of the authorities to prevent Friday’s carnage, ten months after the attack on Charlie Hebdo. This weekend the streets of France’s major cities were all but deserted, bearing witness to this collective anxiety.

Last Friday, Paris was the scene of mass slaughter in which at least one hundred and twenty-nine people, mostly young kids enjoying themselves in cafes and a rock concert, were shot down in cold blood. The killers, shouting Allahu Akbar, discharged magazine after magazine, calmly reloading before killing more defenceless people as they lay helpless on the ground.

Reactionary Islamic fundamentalist terrorism has struck again last night in a coordinated attack on different sites in Paris leaving over 128 dead and more than 100 severely injured. This is a wholly reactionary attack against ordinary working people, many of them youth, enjoying a night out in restaurants, concert halls and a football stadium. We condemn the murderous gang which carried out these attacks and we express our solidarity with the people of Paris.

In less than 24 hours, the image of Air France's director of human resources (DRH) with his shirt torn was seen around the world. The corporate world and the government has used this to bludgeon public opinion into thinking that the Air France workers are “thugs,” in the words of the Prime Minister.

The announcement of 2,900 job cuts by Air France management fell like a thunderbolt on employees. Over the past decade they have already made many sacrifices in terms of pay and working conditions. Many positions have already been cut: the company's workforce decreased from 65,000 in 2004 to 52,500 today. The frustrations of many employees  have now started to bubble over, as shown in the video below.