Strikes in France: Unify our struggles against the attacks of our exploiters!

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According to Emmanuel Macron and his ministers, the December 5 strike is "a mobilisation against the end of special regimes", against "equality and social justice". It couldn't be clearer: railworkers and other sectors of workers that have a "special regime" are irresponsibly egotistic and use it to maintain their so-called "privileges". LIES! The government is trying to put us one against the other in order to divide us and render us unable to fight effectively.

All of the working class is under attack

Everywhere, in factories and offices, in every corporation, in every sector, private and public, the bourgeoisie imposes similar conditions of unsustainable workloads. Everywhere workers’ numbers are cut, a process which further increases the workload. Everywhere workers, unemployed, pensioners and youth are threatened by impoverishment. And everywhere, new "reforms" are announcing a harder future still. The attacks from the Macron government are extremely violent. Their objective is to make the French economy as competitive as possible on the international arena, in a period where competition between nations is becoming fiercer and fiercer. In order to increase productivity, the French bourgeoisie, its president, its government and its bosses are about to accelerate the pace of work, cut workers’ numbers, increase flexibility, dismantle the public sector, reduce dole money and pensions, drastically cut teaching budgets, cut social workers (school “reform”, reduction in housing benefit...). They take more and more from the workers in the name of "necessary" profitability or a "duty" to competitiveness, of "unavoidable" balanced budgets, while at the same time the incomes of the capitalists are grossly inflated.

All the working class must struggle!

Not a day passes that doesn't see strikes breaking out. In these last weeks, railworkers, hospital workers and students in precarious circumstances have raised their heads; but they are not alone. For months innumerable walk-outs have taken place. In chronological order, strikes in September have included: emergency workers, firefighters, Deliveroo drivers, Transavia pilots, bus drivers of Metz and Caen, post workers in the Alpes Mantimes and Pyrenees Orientales, Metro and bus workers, public finance, nurses, pilots, public sector, teachers of San Quentin, electricity supply workers, bus drivers in Orleans and Lorient, public sector workers again, laboratory workers, etc., etc. Some of these movements have been going on since the Spring! The phenomenon increased in October and November, hitting for example distribution networks. Yes, the strikes are numerous; yes, social anger is great; yes, it's a full-on attack! But all these struggles remain isolated the one from the others, closed in, separated by particular and corporatist demands. But, faced with a bourgeoisie organised behind its state and its government this division is destructive. In order to resist, in order to build-up a balance of force faced with the attacks that are hitting every sector, the workers must fight together in unity and solidarity.

While the government hits out, the unions divide us!

Is December 5th finally the beginning of this unity? That's what the unions say: an unlimited, national strike across all sectors.

Throughout September, the unions have broken up the movement of social contestation into multiple days of corporatist actions (RATP, public finances, National Education, Justice Ministry, EDF, firefighters). At the beginning of October, they finally promised a great day of mobilisation uniting all sectors... for the month of December. And what have they done for two months? Divided us up as they always do! They have kept workers fighting in isolation, all those on strike confined in their own box, with its own, specific slogan, whereas we are all suffering from the same attacks, the same degradation of our living and working conditions.

A caricature of this sabotage by the unions is the call by the collectives of emergency and hospital workers (entirely directed by the union centres) not to join the December 5th strike in the name of the "specificity" of health service demands, to be replaced by a union day of action on November 30; the same strategy of isolation used for the inter-union committee for the interns which has launched an unlimited strike from... December 10! However, at the general assembly of hospital workers which took place November 14 in Paris, after a day of action of the sector regrouping 10,000 demonstrators, a bitter conflict took place between the participants of the GA and the unions on the question of unity. A number of hospital workers put forward the necessity to undertake one and the same combat, beyond sectors, while the unions defended the idea that "we are a collective that is supposed to talk about hospitals", defending tooth and nail "a specific date for hospitals". On France info one could hear nurses coming out of the GA saying: "We were not able to finish because we were divided. The unions have completely disorganised this meeting", and "There is too much disagreement. December 5th is the date for the general strike and we are involved. Outside our problems at the hospital, there are also the pensioners and we will be retiring in the future. I don't see the problem of a demonstration on December 5". But the unions decided otherwise. The unions in the hospital sector, on strike for nine months now and affected by an immense anger faced with more and more untenable working conditions, call for the sector to continue fighting on their own, isolated and impotent in its struggle. And it's the same for the railworkers.

The unions pride themselves on this radicalism by brandishing the threat of rolling strikes; but these strikes remain corporatist, isolated from each other and are thus condemned to failure because they result in the exhaustion of the most combative sectors. Such is the fate that they would like to reserve, notably for the most determined workers of SNCF(railways) after December 5 and the hospital workers after the 10th: they want them to end up fighting on their own during the holidays at the end of the year. We shouldn't be naive:  why have they postponed these great demonstrations to the 5th and 10th of December? It's clear that they are betting on a "Christmas truce" in order to bury the movement in case it continues after these days of action.

The union's "convergence of struggles" is a fraud

Under the banner of "all together", the unions are in actual fact organising a real dispersion. During these days of "union unity", the workers don't struggle together. At best they find themselves one behind the others tramping the streets, sliced up by sectors and corporations, separated from each other by banners, balloons and the choice of music according to if it's railworkers, teachers, nursery nurses, secretaries, tax workers, a Renault worker, a Peugeot worker, a worker at Conforama, student, pensioner, unemployed... Everyone in their own box.

Our unity is vital: we must build it and defend it

The spontaneous strike by railworkers at the end of October showed us in part the way to go forward. At Chatillon, following the announcement of the reorganisation of work involving, amongst other things, the loss of twelve day's holiday, the workers at the centre immediately walked out, declared a strike and didn't wait for union instructions.

The reorganisation plan was withdrawn twenty-four hours later. A few days earlier, following a train collision in Champagne-Ardenne which showed how dangerous it is to have just one worker (the driver) on the train, the workers on the line, again spontaneously, refused to keep the trains running in these conditions. The dispute spread rapidly in the following days along the railways of the I'lle-de-France. It isn't by chance that here it's the railworkers indicating the first steps to take the struggle in hand. It's the consequence of both experience and of the historic combativity of this sector of the working class in France, but it's also based on a process of reflection which has been brewing up for a year over the bitter defeat of the long movement of 2018... by the unions. With their famous "go-slows" they kept the workers locked-up in an isolated struggle until the exhaustion of their forces.

But, today, the striking railworkers haven't understood how to spread the movement beyond their place of work. They remain enclosed within the SNCF. There hasn't been any autonomous general assembly deciding to send massive delegations, all the assembled workers even, to the closest centres of work (a hospital, a factory, an office...) in order to draw them into the struggle so as to geographically spread the movement. It's vital to put forward the view that all workers have the same interests, that it's the same struggle, that we need unity and solidarity; that it's beyond sectors and corporations that the working class finds its strength. Those are difficult steps to take. A necessary unity in the struggle implies recognition of ourselves no longer as railworkers, nurses, bank workers, teachers or IT, but as exploited workers.

Remember, in Spring 2006, the government had to withdraw its "Contrat Première Embauche" faced with the development of solidarity between generations of workers. The students, facing more uncertainty with the CPE law, organised massive general assemblies in the universities open to workers, the unemployed and the retired, putting forward a slogan which expressed the unity of the movement: the struggle against precarious conditions and unemployment. These GA's were the lungs of the movement, debates were undertaken and decisions made. The result? Every weekend the demonstrators regrouped more and more sectors. Workers and retired workers joined up with the students under the slogan "Young bacon, old croutons, all part of the same salad". Faced with the extension and the tendency towards unification of the movement generated by the students, the French bourgeoisie and the government had no other choice but to withdraw the proposed CPE law. That's why today, Macron and his ministers have launched a nauseous campaign around the "Grandfather clause" (new measures not aiming to hit the whole of the class but only the new generation arriving at the workplace). What they want is an enforced division between the generations of workers. In 1968, when the economic crisis returned again and with it the return of unemployment and the impoverishment of the workers, the proletariat in France was united in its struggle. Following immense demonstrations on May 13 against the police repression suffered by the students, walk-outs and general assemblies spread through factories and places of work, ending up with nine million strikers, the largest strike in the history of the international workers' movement. Very often this dynamic of extension and unity developed outside of the union framework and numerous workers tore up their union cards after the "Grenelle Accords" of May 27 between the unions and the bosses which buried the movement.

Today, workers, the unemployed, the retired and students lack the confidence in themselves, in their collective strength, to dare to take their own struggle in hand. But there's no other way. All the "actions" proposed by the unions lead to division, defeat and demoralisation. Only the coming together within open, massive and autonomous general assemblies, really deciding how to conduct the movement, can constitute the basis for a united struggle, carried along by solidarity between all sectors, all generations. GA's which allow nurses, emergency workers, the unemployed, those who can't go on strike, to participate in the movement. GA's which put forward demands which concern everyone: the struggle against precarious conditions, against cutting jobs, against productivity increases, against pauperisation... GA's in which we feel united and confident in our collective strength.

What is the perspective?

Capitalism, in France as everywhere else in the world, continues to plunge humanity into a more and more dreadful misery. Only the working class represents a force which can put a stop to these attacks. The most combative and determined workers must regroup, discuss, re-appropriate the lessons of the past in order to prepare for the autonomous struggle of the whole class. Only the proletariat will be able, in time, to open the doors of the future for the generations to come faced with a system of decadent capitalism which carries only more misery, exploitation and barbarity and which bears war and massacres like the clouds bear the storm. It's a system which is about to destroy the environment in which humanity lives, threatening the survival of the species.

Only the massive and united struggle of all sectors of the exploited class can halt and push back the present attacks of the bourgeoisie.

Only the development of this struggle can open the way to the historic combat of the working class for the abolition of exploitation and capitalism.

International Communist Current

(December 1, 2019)


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