Mass strikes and escalating student unrest are creating a crisis for French president Emmanuel Macron’s neo-liberal assault.
Rail workers have begun a series of national strikes, walking out for two out of every five days for the next three months—a total of 36 strike days. Services have been hit very hard with only about one high-speed train in five running.
The government wants to clear the way for privatisation, close unprofitable lines, raise fares and abolish the present rail workers’ contract. This gives them some protection against redundancies and allows earlier retirement than most workers.
If Macron beats the rail workers—regarded as the best-organised section of French workers—then he thinks it will show he can defeat any group of workers.
Rail strikers aren’t on their own. Refuse workers are holding intermittent strikes in many parts of France as they battle for national conditions. Air France workers and airport baggage handlers are striking over pay. Electricity and gas workers are fighting privatisation.
Meanwhile students are occupying and protesting against plans to make it harder to go to university.
Macron was elected as the great new “centrist” hope last year. Now he is enthusiastically tearing into workers, boosting military spending and making racist laws even harsher.
One of his key weapons is division between workers. His message is that rail workers have better conditions than others, so they must be brought down to a lower level. Teachers have more holidays than others, so they must be cut.
Oliver Besancenot of the socialist NPA said, “If as a worker, employed, unemployed or retired, we begin to think that another worker, simply because he or she has something that we do not have, is a privileged person, then sooner or later, we will be the victim of the same kind of treatment.”
The union leaders must not back off from confronting Macron.
By Charlie Kimber
Socialist Worker UK