France: rail rolling strikes and go-slows - Union manoeuvres are aimed at dividing us!

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A leaflet currently being distributed by our section in France to the strikes and demonstrations taking place there.

In the hospitals, at Air France, in the supermarkets of Carrefour, in the care homes, in the universities, on the railways…strike days have been multiplying for several weeks now. There’s no doubt that president Macron and his government are hitting us hard. Yesterday it was the ‘Labour Law’, today the reform of the SNCF[1], tomorrow a new generalised attack on pensions. Everywhere and for all workers and their families: falling wages and social benefits, job cuts and speed ups, flexibility and precarious jobs, impoverishment of those who have retired, hassling of the unemployed.


How can we respond to this new degradation of our living conditions? How can we organise ourselves? How can we develop our unity and solidarity?

Can we push the government back?

Over the last 15 years, the only time the ruling class, its government and its democratic state have really been forced to retreat was at the time of the movement against the CPE[2] in the spring of 2006. Why? This social movement, initiated by students conscious of being the precariously employed workers of the future, developed in a spontaneous way, its mobilisations based on solidarity between working class generations. The young people involved rediscovered the vital importance of sovereign, autonomous general assemblies. As a result of many animated debates, it became aware that its fight was not a particular one but belonged to the whole working class. This is why the students in struggle opened their assemblies to high school students, the unemployed, to workers and to pensioners. At each demonstration, the numbers marching became more and more impressive. At each demonstration, other sectors of the working class joined the movement. The slogans that flourished at the time revealed this quest for unity: “Jeunes lardons, vieux croûtons, la même salade”, “Students, high school pupils, unemployed, semi-employed, public and private, the same struggle against unemployment and casualisation!” The movement of the students against precarious employment began to win over workers from the private sector, forcing the Villepin government to withdraw the CPE legislation.

This is what scared the bourgeoisie in 2006: the extension of the struggle, solidarity across the whole working class, all the generations together. The trend towards the students – many of whom had no choice but to take on part time jobs to support their studies -  taking control of their struggle, the massive general assemblies, the slogans putting forward the unity of the working class, the challenging of the unions – this was what constituted the strength of the exploited class.

A huge offensive of the ruling class aimed at derailing social discontent

Is the present social movement inspired by this victory in 2006, by what forms our strength, our unity in the struggle? They certainly want us to believe this. The mass meetings of the railway workers in the train stations are well covered by the media. The trade unions present themselves as being “united”, “militant”, and even “imaginative” (the great discovery of the “go-slow strike”!). They promise us victory, even a “new May 68”.

Is this the reality? No! Because behind the façade of “trade union unity” there hide the worst sectional and corporatist divisions. The strikes are isolated from each other. Each sector puts forward its particular slogans and its own days of action.

Because behind the “inventiveness” of the unions in the go-slows lies the poison of division. The aim of the unions is to make this strike on the railways unpopular, to set workers against each other, in the end to exasperate those who can’t get to work or get home in the evening “all because of the rail strike”. It’s the old tactic of blocking any solidarity with the strikers who are “creating chaos” (as president Macron put it soon after coming to power and who is now insisting that “people should not be taken hostage”).

Because behind the “solidarity funds” set up by the unions there hides an attack on real workers’ solidarity. Active solidarity in the struggle is replaced by a Platonic support based on collecting funds for a long drawn out go-slow.

Finally, because behind the “militancy” of the unions lies the reality of a powerless, exhausting movement, totally isolated from the rest of their class, the rail workers are threatened not only with a considerable loss of wages but above all with the demoralisation of defeat.

A classic ploy: push a key sector into struggle in order to defeat it on its own

Faced with growing social discontent, the bourgeoisie has isolated a key, symbolic sector, the railway workers, to inflict a defeat that is visible to everyone and thus to spread its message: struggle gets you nowhere; struggle doesn’t pay.

This is a trap that has been used many times before, dividing the workers sector by sector and exhausting their fighting spirit in order to push through the attacks and “reforms” of the government and the bosses.

Remember the rail strikes of 1986-7. After several weeks of paralysis in the transport sector, the workers, isolated and imprisoned in their own sector by the unions, went back to work without winning anything.

Remember the strikes and demonstrations in 2003 in the public education sector. For several long weeks, the teachers were in struggle. But these mobilisations, instead of acting as a locomotive for a wider struggle, remained totally isolated because they were rigidly contained by the unions. A crushing defeat followed, allowing the Raffarin government to claim cynically that “It’s not the street that governs!”.

Today, the same trap is being set. What the ruling class wants is to prevent this very strong social discontent against Macron’s “reforms” from exploding. What it wants is to stifle this anger so that it can push through all the reforms and attacks planned by the Macron presidency.

We need to discuss the lessons of the past to prepare the struggles of the future

It has to be clear that allowing the unions to run our struggles can only lead to defeat. We need o discuss and reflect about the dirty work of the unions, these professional dividers who are united against us using the legitimate anger of the railway workers. We need to denounce their anti-working class practices, their duplicity and their complicity with the bosses and the government.

The slow-down strikes organised by the big union federations like the CGT, CFDT and FO (while at the same time negotiating behind the workers backs in the government ministries) will not allow for the development of the struggle. On the contrary, they are aimed at sabotaging it. The “stop-start” strike, isolated and “unlimited”, advocated by SUD-Rail is no less pernicious. It cuts off any solidarity and prevents the unification of our struggle. The famous “convergence of struggles”, so dear to “radical” trade unionism, is just another form of corporatism that keeps us isolated from each other. This idea of “convergence”, seen in the practice of simply juxtaposing different marches, is radically different from a real unification. A real unification demands the formation of general assemblies in which everyone can take part, in the workplaces, on the streets, on the public squares, in the neighbourhoods, in the universities.

Contrary to what the unions and the entire bourgeoisie wants us to think, the working class is perfectly capable of taking control of its own struggles without conferring it on “specialists”. All the great experiences of the past are the proof. In May 1968, the workers were capable of struggling massively, spontaneously, opposing the unions and even tearing up their union cards.  The students who organised the massive movement against the CPE in 2006 did not allow the unions to confiscate their struggle. In Poland in 1980, the workers of the Gdansk shipyards were able to develop a mass strike which extended across the whole country without any union, with delegates elected and revocable at any moment by general assemblies. Only the working class can defend it own interests against its exploiters.

Today, faced with this new manoeuvre by the bourgeoisie and the its unions to sabotage any sign of struggle and any reflection on the experiences of the past, not only in France but in other countries as well, the most militant and conscious workers need to seek each other out and gather together. They need to discuss, reflect together on the increasingly dramatic situation imposed on us by capitalism. This remains true whatever clique is in power.  What future can this system of exploitation offer the workers and their children? Nothing but growing poverty and endless barbarism. How can we fight not only for ourselves but also for future generations?

Questions that can only find practical answers through collective discussion and reflection.

The only possible future for society is in the hands of the working class, a class which has nothing to lose but its chains, and a world to win.

Révolution Internationale. ICC section in France, 19.4.18


[1] French national rail system, which Macron wants to make more “streamlined”

[2] Contrat Première Embauche, First Employment Contract, renamed by some students Contrat Poubelle Embauche, or First Rubbish Contract 



France: Rail Strikes