Since 27 September, the workers of the oil companies TotalEnergies and Esso-ExxonMobil have joined the struggle in ever-increasing numbers. At the time of writing, seven refineries out of eight are shut down. The workers’ main demand is clear; to deal with the surge in prices, they demand a 10% wage increase.
All wage earners, retired and unemployed, precarious students, are facing this dizzying rise in the price of food and energy. They are all up against the same problem: wages, pensions and benefits which no longer allow them to live decently.
The determination of the oil strikers, their anger and militancy, embody what the whole working class is feeling, in all sectors, public or private. The media can spread images of endless queues at the petrol stations, file more and more reports about the suffering of motorists trying to get to work, but all this proves nothing: at the moment, this struggle is not only seen in a sympathetic light among other parts of the proletariat, it is also stimulating the feeling that workers in all sectors are in the same boat!
The established media might moan about “these privileged types who earn over 5,000 euros a month”, but frankly, who can believe such lies? All the more so because they take the same line with strikes by railway workers or airline workers: 5,000, 7,000, 10,000 – what am I bid? In reality, these wages only start at 2,000 euros, reaching 3,000 for some at the end of their career, just as it is with teachers, nurses, skilled workers of various kinds…But this propaganda is listened to less and less, because within the working class the idea is growing that we are all being hit by the same deterioration of wages and by increasingly unbearable attacks.
The palpable rise in anger and combativity in numerous sectors in France in recent weeks is no surprise. It is part of a wider dynamic, an international dynamic whose most significant expression has been the struggle of the workers in Britain this summer, which is still going on. In our leaflet of 27 August we wrote that this was “the biggest working class action in Britain for decades; only the huge strikes of 1979 produced a bigger and more widespread movement. Action on this scale in a country as large as Britain is not only significant locally, it is an event of international significance, a message to the exploited of every country”. Since then, the strikes in Germany or those announced in Belgium have confirmed this tendency.
Nonetheless, the working class is confronted with a real weakness: the carving up of the struggles. In recent months, there have been strikes in transport (Metz on 7 October, at Dijon on the 8th, Saint Nazaire on the 11th, nationally from the 17th to the 23rd of October), in the kindergarten sector and civil service (6 October), a day of demonstrations on 29 September essentially in the public sector, etc.
Why this division? Because today the trade unions have their hands on the organisation of these movements, which they separate into any number of sectors and specific demands. Because they share the work of controlling the workers among different union organisations, playing on the division between the “radical” ones and the more “moderate” ones, in repeated manoeuvres which sow doubt and distrust in the workers’ ranks.
Faced with Macron and his government, the unions present themselves as radical champions of the struggle – the better to control us and separate us from each other. By giving credit to the idea of “taxing super-profits” and carrying out a “fairer distribution of wealth”, by denouncing arrests of strikers as being “French citizens taken hostage”, as well as by vaunting the virtue of “real negotiations”, these “social partners” with their oppositional games lend a hand to the state which wants precisely to appear as the guarantor of benevolent arbitration. And the media bang in the final nail by presenting the CGT and FO unions as irresponsible extremists, all of which confers an aura of credibility to organs which are really part of the state, completely institutionalised.
Today we learn that the workers in the nuclear power station at Gravelines, the most powerful in western Europe, are also going on strike. Like the workers of the SNCF (rail), RATP (transport) or in distribution. They are also demanding wage rises! In a few days, on 18 October, an “interprofessional" day of strikes and demonstrations is planned for teachers, workers in clinics and private care homes. In other words, everyone in their own corner, one separated from the other.
Let’s remember the weakness of the movement against the pension reforms in 2018: there was a lot of sympathy for the striking railway workers, but this remained a platonic solidarity, limited to giving money to the “solidarity” buckets waved around by the CGT at demonstrations.
But the strength of our class is not in division, nor is it in encouragements from a distance or in juxtaposing separate strikes. No! Our strength is in solidarity, solidarity in the struggle! It’s not a question of “converging”, of putting one sector alongside another. The workers’ struggle is one and the same movement: to go on strike, to go in massive delegations to meet workers who are geographically the closest (factories, hospitals, schools, administration), to meet up and discuss how to take the struggle forward; to organise general assemblies where we can debate; to put forward common demands. Throughout history, when workers take the struggle into their own hands, when there is a real push towards solidarity, extension and unity, it has always made the ruling class tremble. This is exactly the opposite to what the trade unions do.
Today, it is still difficult for the workers to take charge of their own struggles. It may even seem impossible. But the history of the working class proves the contrary! If we are to build a balance of forces in our favour, to develop unity and solidarity in the struggle, we have to gather together to discuss and take our own decisions!
Révolution Internationale, 13.10.22