Intervention of ICC militants in two rail workers’ assemblies

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On Monday 19 November, in a large provincial town, a small group of students who had been to our last public meeting took a delegation of older politicised workers, members of the ICC, to two railway workers' general assemblies. Since the unions had taken care to divide up the assemblies into different sectors, our comrades split up to speak at the two assemblies: one of the station staff and one of the drivers.

In both assemblies, there was a very warm reception from the railway workers. In the station staff meeting, our comrade introduced himself by saying that he was not a rail worker, that he was a retired worker but that he had come to express his solidarity, adding that, if possible, he would like to speak in order to put forward his ideas about what solidarity means. The response of the railway workers who had welcomed him was to thank him for coming and to say "certainly you can speak".

The assembly began around 11.30 and finished around 12.30. In charge of the assembly was a whole raft of union representatives: FO, CFDT, CFTC, CGT, SUD... Each one made a speech reminding us of the demands of the movement, saying that it was necessary to establish a balance of forces "at a high level", presenting the negotiations that had recently been announced as a perspective for the struggle, insisting that the assemblies must decide - but all of this in a very sectional wrapping. Not only was this an assembly for a one sector, but also any concern about the situation of the students and the public employees was totally absent from their interventions. A union delegate even insisted that the perspective was to struggle "to win reforms" and not to fight all together, because the orientation of the unions was not to "revolutionise" everything. The CFDT representative said that the regional federation was not in agreement with the national leadership which had called for an end to the strike.

Following these speeches, a young railway worker went up to our comrade and said "you can speak if you want". The union speakers, understanding what was going on, said that it was necessary to wait a bit before allowing him to speak because first they had to move on to the vote to the renewal of the strike and then listen to proposals for action, which showed that, on the eve of the demonstration of 20 November, the union representatives were being forced to ‘jump on the bandwagon', whereas in the public sector workplaces they had made no call for a struggle in solidarity with the rail workers[1].

It was evident that the unions had no desire for this ‘minority' of students to make trouble by bringing their ‘box of ideas' (on the model of the movement against the CPE in spring 2006) to the rail workers' assembly, which they see as their private property. This kind of assembly, organised, run and sabotaged by the unions did not envisage and did not allow a real debate, a real exchange of ideas. And yet there was a real discontent and militancy. Of the 117 voting, 108 rail workers voted for renewing the strike

It was only after the vote that our retired comrade was able to come to the microphone. For the unions, proposals made by ‘external elements' are not there to be discussed by rail workers. Here is the content of his intervention:

"I am not a rail worker. I am retired. But I have come to express my solidarity with your struggle. Seen from the ‘outside', today, there are several struggles against the attacks hitting the workers' living and working conditions. You who are struggling for your pensions, the students, who are future workers, and who are struggling against a reform which will turn certain universities into ‘sink' universities, the public sector workers (such as those from National Education) are going to demonstrate tomorrow because their working conditions are becoming unbearable and a lot of jobs are going to be chopped. All these struggles are the same struggle for the defence of our living conditions. Just now I hear that we had to impose a balance of forces ‘at a high level'. I agree. But how do we do that? I think that we all have to fight together. It's because there was a lot of solidarity from the wage earners towards the students that, faced with massive demonstrations against the CPE, the government had to back down in the end. Tomorrow, we have to go in large numbers to the demonstration; but I also think that it would be good if there was one banner with something like ‘rail workers, students, public employees: all united in the struggle'. And then, at the end of the demo, instead of just going home or to the café, the rail workers need to discuss with the students, with the public employees, the public employees need to discuss with the students and the rail workers. We have to discuss among ourselves because that is the how we can start to build the unity we need. The only way to defend ourselves from the attacks is to build this unity". The intervention was warmly applauded.

Before the assembly had started, our comrade had discussed a little with the rail workers about the lies of the media. These lies are obvious to everyone, except the blind and the deaf (and the Liberte Cherie counter-demonstrators). At the end of the assembly, he was able to discuss again with a small group of young rail workers. He asked them "what do you think about having a common banner?" The response of one of them had been "at the base, most would be for it, but it's the federations who are against it".

You could hardly be clearer about the divisive role of the unions. Nevertheless, despite being opposed by the unions, the idea of unity and solidarity among all workers is gradually maturing.

In the other general assembly, the drivers' one, the welcome given to our comrades who accompanied the students was also very warm. They were able to intervene to defend the same orientation as our other comrade. The students were enthusiastic about the idea of a common banner. The interventions of the students and of our comrades were well received despite the fact that the train drivers still had the illusion that they could defend themselves effectively because they can block the traffic. However, it's the unity of the workers and not just ‘blocking' which constitutes the strength of the working class. This fetish for ‘blocking' is today the new ace in the pack of the unions aimed at preventing any real extension and unification of the struggles.

Since 18 October, the task of building class unity has come up against the divisive work of the unions. But, as this small group of students said in a discussion we had with them after the assembly: "The bourgeoisie's attacks on all sectors of the working class are so widespread that this can only facilitate the tendency towards the unity of the struggles".

This small group of students has understood very well that, as a student from the University of Censier in Paris said in 2006, "if we all fight alone, they will eat us all for breakfast". And it is because they didn't want their rail worker comrades to remain isolated and end up being beaten up by the militias of capital that they went looking for the solidarity of genuine communists (some of whom had been physically attacked by CGT union goons in the 70s and 80s). But it's true that since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the CGT and the so-called Communist Party have become a lot more ‘democratic'. The students who had been able to unlock the door to the rail workers' assemblies (held in the prison of the union local) said to our comrades of the older generation: "it's great to have ‘parents' like you". This is at the very opposite pole to the ‘contesting' students of the late 60s who were so marked by the ‘generation gap' and who, in rebelling against their parents who had seen the terror of Nazism and Stalinism, came up with slogans like "put the older generation into concentration camps"[2].

The intervention of our comrades wasn't aimed at selling party cards and recruiting at any price, because the ICC, unlike the Trotskyists and other organisations of the ‘left', is not an organisation which takes part in the bourgeois electoral circus. Neither is its aim to ‘recuperate the movement', as some ‘anti-party' ideologues think.

As for those who continue to cry wolf and warn against Bolsheviks with knives between their teeth, we can only advise then to learn some real history and not just repeat the lies of bourgeois propaganda. The new generations of the working class, whether they are rail workers, or still students, are discovering the truth about real ‘democracy' and real solidarity, even if they still have illusions and can't by-pass the school of experience. The courage they are showing in beginning to challenge the directive of the union chiefs and bring alive the real culture of the working class shows that the future of humanity is still in their hands. GM, November 2007



[1] It's worth pointing out that, in many public sector workplaces (hospitals, ASSEDIC, etc) the union leaflets (especially by the CGT) calling for the strike and demonstration of 20 November arrived the day after the demo. In certain places, all leaflets on the present situation were removed from union notice boards. .

 

[2] Forty years later, it's not surprising that certain young people who have not aged well and have become zealous servants of the bourgeoisie now want to liquidate the ghosts of May 68 by gassing the students who want to dream a little, or locking then up in the jails of capital. But it is true that the edu-castrators who want to clean the windows of the universities while licking the boots of Monsieur Le Pen are a bit short on ideas.

 

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