Strikes in France: Behind the Unions, Struggle Leads to Defeat

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Hundreds of thousands of workers on strike. Public transport completely paralyzed. A strike spreading throughout the public sector: railways first, then the metro and buses, followed by the post office, electricity production and distribution, gas distribution, telecommunications, education, the health service. Some branches of private industry also involved in the struggle, like the miners who violently confront the police. Demonstrations that gather ever growing numbers from different sectors: on 7th December, about one million workers in the main French cities answered the call of various unions[1] to demonstrate against the Juppe plan[2]. On 12th December, there were 2 million.

The movement of workers' strikes and demonstrations unfolds against a background of student agitation, with the latter taking part in some of the workers' demonstrations and mass meetings. References to May 1968 are more and more frequent in the media, which do not hesitate to draw a parallel: a widespread feeling of exasperation, the students in the streets, and the spreading strikes.

Are we in the midst of a new social movement comparable to that of May 68, which started off the first international wave of class struggle after 50 years of counter-revolution? Nothing of the sort. In reality, the French proletariat is the target of a massive maneuver aimed at weakening its consciousness and combativity; a maneuver, moreover, which is also aimed at the working class in other countries, designed at making it draw the wrong lessons from the events in France. This is why the bourgeoisie in France and elsewhere has made sure that there events have been widely reported, whereas the opposite is the case when the working class struggles on its own initiative and its own terrain.

The bourgeoisie is using and reinforcing the difficulties of the working class

The events of May 68 in France were marked by a whole series of strikes, whose major characteristic was a tendency to overflow, or even to confront the trades unions. The situation is nothing like that today, in France or anywhere else.

It is true that the extent and generalization of attacks directed against the working class since the beginning of the 1990s tends to arouse its combativity, as we pointed out in the Resolution on the International Situation, adopted at our 11th International Congress:

"The massive movements in Italy in the autumn of 92, those in Germany in 93 and many others showed the huge potential combativity growing in the workers' ranks. Since then, this combativity has expressed itself slowly, with long moments of quiet; but it has not been refuted. The massive mobilizations in Italy in the autumn of 94, the series of strikes in the public sector in France in the spring of 95, are expressions, among others, of this combativity", (International Review no.82)

However, the development of this combativity is still profoundly marked by the retreat that the working class suffered after the collapse of the Eastern bloc, and the unleashing of all the campaigns on the "death of communism". This retreat was the worst since the historic recovery of class struggle in 1968: "[The workers' struggles in recent years] are also testimony to the enormous difficulties which it is encountering on this path, owing to the breadth and depth of the reflux. The workers struggles are developing in a sinuous, jagged manner full of advances and retreats".

Everywhere, the working class faces a bourgeoisie on the offensive politically in order to weaken its ability to counter-attack, and to overcome the deep reflux in its class consciousness. And in the front line of this offensive, are the unions:

"However, the unions' present maneuvers have also, and above all, a preventive aim: that of strengthening their hold on the workers before the latter display a lot more combativity, a combativity which will necessarily result from their growing anger faced with the increasingly brutal attacks demanded by the crisis (...) the recent strikes in France, in fact union days of action, have been a success for the latter".

For several months, the working class internationally has been subjected to a veritable bombardment. Sweden, Belgium, Italy, Spain are only the latest examples. In France, the bourgeoisie has not dared to deal such a blow to the workers since the first Delors plan in 1983: an increase in VAT (a sales tax, ie a tax on consumption which of course means a rise in prices), in income tax, and in the daily charge for hospital care, a wage freeze for state employees, a diminution in pensions, and an increase in the number of years that must be worked in order to benefit from a pension; at the same time, the bourgeoisie's official figures are beginning to reveal a new rise in unemployment. As in other countries, the French bourgeoisie is facing an increasingly serious world capitalist crisis, which forces it into more and more violent attacks on proletarian living conditions. And it is all the more vital for the French bourgeoisie, coming after the years where the left, with Mitterrand and the SP, were in government, which left the social front largely unguarded, and compelled the bourgeoisie to observe a certain caution in its attacks on the workers.

Such an avalanche of attacks could only nourish the workers' combativity, which has already found expression at different times and in different countries: Sweden, France, Belgium, Spain ...

And indeed, the workers cannot remain passive. They have no way out, other than to defend themselves in struggle. But to prevent the working class from entering the combat with its own weapons, the bourgeoisie has taken the lead, and has pushed the workers into a premature struggle, completely under the control of the unions. It has not left the workers time to mobilize at their own rhythm and with their own methods: mass meetings, discussion, participation in other workers' meetings, the strike if the balance of forces is favorable, the election of strike committees, sending delegations to other workers involved in the struggle.

Thus although the recent strike movement in France reveals a deep discontent within the working class, it is above all the result of a maneuver on a very large scale by the bourgeoisie, aimed at leading the workers into a massive defeat, and above all at creating a profound disorientation in their ranks.

A trap for the workers

The bourgeoisie maneuvered masterfully to set its trap, creating an extremely effective cooperation among its different fractions: the right, the left, the media, and the unions, with their radical rank and file made up essentially of militants of the far left.

In the first place, to start the ball roIling, the bourgeoisie had to push one sector of the working class to strike. Although a real discontent was developing within the class in France, aggravated by the recent attacks on the Social Security, it was not yet at the point where it would provoke a massive entry into struggle by the most decisive sectors, especially the industrial ones. This worked in the bourgeoisie's favor, since it could provoke one sector to strike without any risk of the others following spontaneously and escaping from union control. The "chosen" sector was the train drivers. The "contract plan" announced for the national railways (SNCF) threatened the drivers with an extra eight years work before retirement, on the pretext that they were more "privileged" from this point of view than other state employees. This was so gross that the workers did not even stop to think before launching themselves into the conflict. This was precisely what the bourgeoisie wanted: they plunged headfirst into the control prepared by the unions. Within 24 hours, the drivers on the Paris buses and metro, threatened with the loss of similar benefits, were drawn into the same kind of trap. The unions did everything they could to get the strike started, whereas many workers remained perplexed at their haste. The management of the RATP (Paris public transport network) came to the unions' rescue, by closing down some lines and doing everything possible to prevent those who wanted to work from doing so.

Why did the bourgeoisie choose these two categories of workers to engage its maneuver?

Firstly, both categories do indeed have special contractual arrangements, whose modification was a ready-made pretext for unleashing an attack aimed explicitly at them. But most important was the guarantee that once the workers on the railways, metro, and buses came out, the entire public transport system would be paralyzed. Apart from the fact that no worker could fail to notice the event, this gave the bourgeoisie a further, and highly effective means of keeping the movement under control, since the aim was to spread the strike to other branches of the public sector. Without public transport, virtually the only way for workers to get to the demonstrations was to use the coaches laid on by the unions. It became impossible to send massive delegations to meet other striking workers in their own mass meetings. Finally, the transport strike is also a means of dividing workers by setting those who were confronting enormous difficulties in getting to work, against those on strike.

However, the rail workers were not just a means of the maneuver, they were also one of its targets. The bourgeoisie was aware of the advantage to be gained by exhausting and confusing the consciousness of this sector of the working class, which had demonstrated in December 1986 its ability to confront the unions' control in order to engage the struggle.

Once these two sectors were on strike, completely under union control, the next phase of the maneuver could be set in motion: the strike in a traditionally advanced and combative fraction of the working class, the post office, and especially the sorting offices. During the 1980s, the latter had often resisted the unions' traps, confronting the latter without hesitation. By incorporating this sector in the "movement", the bourgeoisie aimed to trammel it in the meshes of the maneuver, and inflict on it the same defeat as on other sectors. Moreover, the maneuver would gain in credibility amongst other sectors not yet on strike, by diminishing any distrust or skepticism about it. Nonetheless, the bourgeoisie had to approach this sector with more finesse than it had used on the railway or metro workers. It thus encouraged and organized "workers' delegations", with no outward signs of union membership (and probably made up of sincere workers deceived by the rank-and-file unionists), who came to mass meetings in the sorting offices, to call on their workers to join the strike. Deceived as to the real significance of these delegations, the workers of the main sorting offices let themselves be drawn into the struggle. To give the event maximum media impact, the bourgeoisie dispatched its journalists to the scene, and it was on the front page of Le Monde's evening edition that very day.

At this stage of the maneuver, its size gave the unions a further argument to involve new sectors: workers in the electricity, gas, and telecommunications industries, as well as the teachers. When some workers hesitated to "struggle now", and insisted on first discussing the methods of struggle and their demands, the unions were peremptory in insisting that "we've got to go for it now", and imposing a feeling of guilt on those not yet in the struggle: "we're the last ones not to have joined the strike".

To increase the number of strikers still further, it was necessary to give the impression of a vast, deep-rooted, and developing social movement. To listen to the left, the leftists, and the unions, the movement even provoked an immense hope throughout the working class. In this they were supported by the media's daily publication of the strike's "popularity index", which was always in favor, throughout the "population". It is true that the strike was "popular", and that many workers saw it as a means to prevent the government from pushing through its attacks. But the solicitude of the media, and above all of the TV, is a sure sign that this was just what the bourgeoisie intended.

The students were also used, unwittingly, as part of the show. They were led out into the streets to give the impression of a general rise in discontent, and of a similarity with the events of May 68. At the same time, they were used to drown the workers' demands with the inter-classist demands that are characteristic of students. They were even to be found, with the unions' blessing, in mass meetings in the workplace, "to join the workers' struggle"[3].

The working class, deprived of any initiative, had no alternative but to follow the unions. In the mass meetings called by the unions, the latter's insistence that workers should express themselves had no purpose other than to give a pretense of life to meetings where everything had already been decided elsewhere. Within the assemblies, there was such pressure to join the strike that many workers, dubious to say the least about the nature of the strike, dared not speak out. Others were completely taken in by the euphoria of an artificial unity. In fact, one of the keys' to this maneuver's success was the way in which the unions systematically adopted the working class' aspirations and methods of struggle, only to empty them and turn them against the workers:

- the need to react massively, in closed ranks, against the bourgeoisie's attacks'

- spreading the strike to several sectors, going beyond the boundaries of corporatism;

- daily mass meetings in every workplace, with the responsibility, in particular, of deciding on whether to join or to continue the movement;

- the organization of street demonstrations where masses of workers, from different sectors and different workplaces, can gain a feeling of solidarity and strength[4].

The unions also took care, for most of the movement, to make a show of unity. The media made much of the handshake between the leaders of the two traditionally antagonistic unions: the CGT and FO (which was formed during the Cold War after a split from the CGT, supported by the American trades unions). This trade union "unity", often found on demonstrations in the joint CGT-FO-CFDT-FSU banners, was a means to draw the largest possible number of workers into the strike; for years, the unions' endless bickering had been precisely one of the main reasons for their loss of credibility and for the workers' refusal to follow their slogans. The Trotskyists made their own little contribution in this domain, since they clamored endlessly for union unity, making it almost a precondition for the development of the struggle.

As for the right in power, after an initial display of determination, it pre-all the necessary publicity by the media), giving the impression that the strikers could win, force the withdrawal of the Juppe plan and even - why not? - the downfall of the government. In fact, the government dragged things out, knowing very well that workers who have fought a long strike are not disposed to return to work for nothing. Only after three weeks did it announce the withdrawal of some of the measures which had sparked off the explosion: the "contract plan" on the railways and, more generally, the measures concerning state employees' pensions. However, the essential elements of its policy remained: tax increases, wage freeze for state employees, and above all the attacks on social security.

The unions and the left parties immediately shouted victory, and thereafter set to getting the strikers back to work. They went about it so skillfully that they did not unmask themselves: their tactic consisted in allowing those assemblies in favor of a return to work express themselves freely. The unions trumpeted the railway workers' "victory", and it was the railway workers who, on Friday 15th December, gave the signal for the return to work, just as they had given the signal for the strike. The TV repeated over and over its pictures of the first trains to run again. On Saturday, the unions organized enormous demonstrations which the workers in private industry were urged to join. The movement was buried in great pomp, with a final wave of the flag to sugar the bitter pill of defeat on the workers' most important demands. In depot after depot, the railwaymen voted to end the strike. In the other sectors, this impetus combined with a general fatigue did the rest. By Monday, the return to work was almost complete. On Tuesday, the CGT organized, alone, a day of action and demonstrations: the mobilization was pitiful compared with that of previous weeks, which could only convince the remaining "die-hards" that the time had come to end the strike. On Thursday 21st, a "summit" and unions, which gave the unions the opportunity to denounce the government's proposals, and put themselves forward as "defenders of the workers".

A political attack against the working class

The ruling class has just succeeded in putting over a major attack - the Juppe plan - and exhausting the workers in order to reduce their ability to respond to more attacks in the future.

But the bourgeoisie's ambitions go much further. The way in which the maneuver was organized was designed not only to ensure that the workers would learn no lessons for future struggles from this defeat, but above all to render them vulnerable to the poisoned messages it wants to put over.

The bourgeoisie has provoked the most important mobilization for years, as far as the number of strikers and demonstrators is concerned, and the unions were clearly its architect. All this is designed to give weight to the idea that it is possible to achieve something with the unions. And this idea is lent all the more credit in that throughout the struggle, the unions were never in danger of being unmasked, even partially, as has been the case when they have had to break a spontaneous class movement. Their strategy even took account of the fact that although the majority of the class might follow them, fundamentally it does not trust them. This is why they were so careful to ensure the visible "participation" of non-unionized workers (either the sincere and naive, or the unions' own agents) in the various "organs of struggle", such as the self-proclaimed "strike committees". Thus, just as the maneuver will strengthen the unions' grip on the working class, so will it also diminish for some time to come the workers' confidence in their own strength, in other words in their ability to enter the struggle of their own accord, and to take charge of it themselves. This renewed credibility of the unions was one of the bourgeoisie's fundamental objectives, a vital precondition for dealing blows still more brutal than today's. Only on this condition can it hope to sabotage the struggles which will certainly surge up against these new attacks. It is certainly one of the most important aspects of the political defeat that the bourgeoisie has inflicted on the working class.

Another beneficiary of the maneuver, within the bourgeoisie itself, is the left of capital. The French presidential elections of May 1995 have placed all the forces of the left in opposition. None of them have been directly involved in deciding the present attacks. They have had their hands free to denounce the attacks, and to make workers forget that they themselves - the CP and the SP together have conducted the same anti-working class policy. The maneuver has thus strengthened the policy of the division of labor between the right in power and the left in opposition with the role of mystifying the proletariat, of controlling and sabotaging its struggles, especially through the trades unions.

Another of the bourgeoisie's prime objectives, on the basis of the defeat of a struggle that spread to different sectors, is to make the workers believe that there is no point in extending the struggle. There are large fractions of the working class which think that they have succeeded in extending the struggle to different sectors[5], in other words that they have achieved the tendency of workers' struggles since 1968, and until the collapse of the Eastern bloc. The bourgeoisie even relied on these gains of the struggle since 1968 to draw the sorting office workers into the struggle, as we can see from the arguments used by the unions to persuade them to walk out: "In 1974, the postal workers were defeated because they remained isolated. Just like the railwaymen in 1986, because they did not succeed in spreading their movement. Today, we have to seize the chance that is offered". It was these gains that the maneuver aimed to eradicate.

It is still too early to judge the impact of this aspect of the maneuver (whereas there is no doubt about the unions' renewed credibility). But it is clear that the workers' confusion is likely to be increased by the fact that the railway workers at least have won on the demand that started their struggle, following the withdrawal of the "company plan", and the attacks on pension rights. The illusion that it is possible to win something by struggling alone in one sector will thus develop, and provide a powerful stimulus to the growth of sectoralism. Not to mention the division created in the workers' ranks by the fact that those who followed the railwaymen into the struggle, and have won nothing at all, will feel betrayed.

At this level, there are important similarities with another maneuver: the one used in the health workers' struggle in autumn 1988. Then, it was designed to defuse a rise in combativity throughout the class, by provoking a premature struggle in a specific sector: the nurses. The latter were organized in an ultra-sectoralist coordination, prefabricated by the bourgeoisie to take the place of the discredited unions, and at the end of the struggle were granted a certain number of wage increases (the government had set aside a billion francs for precisely this even before the strike began). The other hospital workers, who had entered the strike at the same time as the nurses, got nothing. In other sectors, the combativity fell back as a result of the workers' disarray in the face of the nurses' elitism and sectoralism.

Finally, by invoking so persistently the supposed similarities with the movement of May 1968, the bourgeoisie hoped, as we have said, to involve as many workers as possible in the maneuver. But it was also a means to attack the workers' class consciousness. For millions of workers, May 68 is still a reference point, even for those who were too young to take part, or were not even born, or lived in other countries but nonetheless were fired with enthusiasm at this first sign of the proletariat's resurgence on its class terrain after forty years of counter-revolution. Those generations of workers, or fractions of the working class, who did not take a direct part in the events of 68, and who are more vulnerable to ideological intoxication around this theme, were a special target for the bourgeoisie, which aimed to give them the impression that there was not much difference between May 68 and today's union controlled strike. This is therefore yet another attack on the very identity of the working class; not as profound as the campaigns on "the death of communism", but a further obstacle on the road to recovery from the reflux that followed the collapse of the Eastern bloc.

The real lessons to be drawn from these events

Tragically, the first lesson that the ICC drew from nurses' struggle in 1988[6] remains true today: "it is important to emphasize the bourgeoisie's ability to take preventive action, and in particular to provoke premature social movements at a time when the proletariat as a whole is still not mature enough to achieve a real mobilization. This tactic has been used often in the past by the ruling class, in particular in situations where the stakes were far higher than in the present period. The most striking example is that of January 1919, when the Berlin workers answered a deliberate provocation by the social-democratic government by launching an uprising, despite the fact that workers in the provinces were not yet ready for insurrection. The massacre of workers which followed (as well as the murder of the German Communist Party's two main leaders: Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht) dealt a fatal blow to the revolution in Germany, where the working class was finally defeated piecemeal".

Faced with such a danger, it is vital that the working class should learn the lessons of its experience as widely as possible, both at the historic level, and at the level of its struggles during the last decade.

Another important lesson is that the class struggle is a major preoccupation for the international bourgeoisie, and as its reaction to the struggle in Poland during 1980 has shown us, at this level it can put its divisions to one side. A blackout is imposed on movements that take place on a class terrain and run the risk of drawing other workers in their wake, whereas the spotlight is turned on the results of successful maneuvers against the working class, from one country to the next. We can have no illusions that the unleashing of trade wars and imperialist rivalries will prove any barrier to the bourgeoisie's international unity against the class struggle.

The recent strikes in France also show that the extension of the struggle in the hands of the unions is a weapon of the bourgeoisie. The wider the extension, the worse the defeat for the workers. Here again, it is vital that the workers learn to detect the traps of the bourgeoisie. Whenever the unions call for extension, it is either to stick with the movement as it develops, so as not to lose control of it, or to drag as many workers as possible to defeat when the movement enters a downturn. This is what they did with the rail workers in France at the beginning of 1987, when they called for the movement to "spread" and "harden", not as the movement was on the rise (when they actively opposed any extension), but during its decline, with the aim of drawing as many sectors of the working class as possible into the rail workers' defeat. These two situations highlight the absolute necessity for the workers to control their struggle, from beginning to end. Their sovereign general assemblies must take charge of spreading the struggle if it is not to fall into the hands of the unions. Obviously, the latter will not give up without a fight. The confrontation with the unions must be fought out in broad daylight, in general assemblies that elect their own revocable delegates, instead of being mere gatherings manipulated at will by the unions, as has been the case in the present wave of strikes.

But to take charge of their struggle, the workers must necessarily centralize all their assemblies, by sending delegates to a central assembly, which in turn elects a central struggle committee. It is this assembly's job to guarantee the permanent unity of the class, and which makes it possible to coordinate the struggle's action: whether a strike should be declared for such-and-such a day; which sectors should come out, etc. It is also the central assembly which must decide the return to work, and the retreat in good order when the immediate balance of forces makes this necessary. There is nothing abstract about this. The Russian workers created just such an organ - the Soviet - in 1905, then in 1917 during the Revolution. The centralization of the struggle by the Soviet was a vital lesson of the century's first revolutionary movement, which workers will have to reappropriate in their future struggles. This is what Trotsky had to say about them in his book, 1905:

"What was the soviet of workers' deputies? The soviet came into being as a response to an objective need - a need born of the course of events. It was an organization which was authoritative and yet had no traditions; which could immediately involve a scattered mass of hundreds of thousands of people while having virtually no organizational machinery; which united the revolutionary currents within the proletariat; which was capable of initiative and spontaneous self-control - and most important of all which could be brought out from underground within 24 hours (...) In order to have authority in the eyes of the masses on the very day it came into being, such an organization had to be based on the broadest representation. How was this to be achieved? The answer came of its own accord. Since the production process was the sole link between the proletarian masses who, in the organizational sense, were still quite inexperienced, representation had to be adapted to the factories and businesses"[7].

Although the first example of such living centralization of a class movement comes to us from a revolutionary period, this does not mean that it is only in such a period that the working class can centralize its struggle. The mass strike of Polish workers in 1980, while it did not produce soviets, which are organs for the seizure of power, nonetheless has given us a magnificent example. Very quickly, from the outset of the strike, general assemblies sent their delegates (in general, two for each company) to a central assembly for an entire region, the MKS. This assembly would meet daily in the premises of the leading company - the Lenin shipyards in Gdansk - and the delegates would then return to give an account of the discussions to the assemblies which had elected them, and which would then take position on these deliberations. In a country where previous class struggles had been mercilessly drowned in blood, the movement's strength paralyzed the bloody hand of the government, and forced it to come and negotiate with the MKS on the latter's home ground. Of course, the Polish workers in 1980 were able to adopt this organizational form because the official unions were completely discredited by their role as guardians of the Stalinist state (and the workers were crushed in blood in December 1981 only thanks to the formation of the "independent" union Solidarnosc). This is the best possible proof, not only that the unions are not even an imperfect organization of the workers' struggle, but on the contrary, as long as they are able to sow illusions, are the greatest obstacle to a real organization of the struggle. Their presence and action blocks the class' spontaneous movement towards a self-organization born of the needs of the struggle itself.

Obviously, the weight of trade unionism within the central capitalist countries means that the class' next struggles will not take the form of the MKS, still less of the soviets. Nonetheless, these must serve as a reference-point and a guide, and the workers will have to fight for their general assemblies to be really sovereign, and allow the extension, control and centralization of the movement by the workers themselves.

In fact, the next struggles of the working class, for some time to come, will be marked by the effects of the reflux, which the bourgeoisie will exploit with all sorts of maneuvers. Faced with this difficult situation, which still does not put in question the perspective of decisive class confrontations between bourgeoisie and proletariat, the intervention of revolutionaries is irreplaceable. For it to be as effective as possible, and not to aid, even unwittingly, the bourgeoisie's plans, revolutionaries in their analyses and slogans must leave not the slightest opening to the dominant ideology, and must be the first to discern and denounce the maneuvers of the class enemy.

The size of the maneuver set up by the French bourgeoisie, and especially the fact that it has gone so far as to provoke massive strikes which can only help to aggravate its economic problems, is an indication in itself that the working class and its struggle have not disappeared, contrary to all the assertions of the hired academic "experts". It shows that the ruling class knows perfectly well that the increasingly brutal attacks which it will have to unleash will necessarily provoke massive struggles in response. While it has scored a point today, and won a political victory, the battle is far from over. The bourgeoisie, in particular, cannot prevent the increasing collapse of its economic system, or the loss of credibility by the unions, as was the case during the 1980s, the more they sabotaged the workers' struggles. But the working class will only win if it is able to understand fully its enemy's ability, even on the basis of a moribund system, to lay the most subtle and sophisticated obstacles in its path.

BN, 23rd December 1995

[1] The Confederation Generale du Travail (CGT), transmission belt for the French "Communist" Party; the "social-democratic" Force Ouvriere (FO); the main teachers' union, the Federation de l'Education Nationale (FEN), close to the Socialist Party; the FSU, closer to the CP and the leftists, which split from the FEN a few years ago.

[2] Named after the Prime Minister called on to put it in motion. Amongst other things, this plan includes a whole series of attacks on Social Security and health insurance.

[3] It is worth noting that in 1968, the unions systematically barred entry to the factories, in order to prevent any contact between workers and students. It is true that, at the time, it was the students that talked most of "revolution", and above all that denounced most strongly the left parties (SP and CP). There was no danger then of the working class taking up the idea of revolution: it was only taking its first steps in struggle after four decades of counter-revolution. Moreover, the idea itself was singularly vague in the minds of the students, who gave it the kind of petty-bourgeois significance characteristic of their "movement". What the unions feared more than anything, was a still greater difficulty in controlling a movement which had begun independently, and which had surprised the entire ruling class.

[4] In his own way, Prime Minister Juppe helped swell the demonstrations by declaring, when announcing his plan, that the government would not survive if 2 million people came out on the streets: after each day of demonstrations, the unions and the media would count the numbers, to show that the figure could be reached. Some sections of the ruling class, including abroad, made believe that Juppe's declaration was a "blunder". In the same way, they reproached him for his "clumsiness" in launching all his attacks at the same moment:

"The strike movements are in large pan due to the fact that the government has behaved clumsily in trying to get all its reforms through at once" (The Wall Street Journal). He was also accused of arrogance: "Public anger is largely directed against Alain Juppe's autocratic style of government (...) This is as much a revolt against the arrogance of Gaullismas against budget rigor" (The Guardian). In reality, Juppe's "clumsiness" and "arrogance" were an important part of the provocation: the right in government was using the most effective means to increase the workers' anger and to make the unions' play easier.

[5] This was expressed clearly by one engine driver: "I joined the fight as a driver. Next day, I considered myself first and foremost a railwayman. Then I took on the pan of a state employee. Now, I just consider myself as a wage earner, just like those in the private sector whom I would like to rally to the cause ... If I were to stop tomorrow, I could never look a postman in the face again" (reported in Le Monde, l2/13th December).

[6] See the article on "The coordinations in the vanguard of sabotaging the struggle" International Review no. 56, and our French-language pamphlet on the nurses' struggle.

[7] See our article on "The Lessons of the 1905 Revolution" in International Review no 43.


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