France: ICC intervention in the pensions struggle

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When the working class in France responded to the unprecedented attack represented by the pension 'reforms', it was vital for revolutionaries to be present both in the demonstrations and amongst the various sectors in struggle, in particular the workers in national education. The ICC's intervention in the demonstrations

Unlike the leftists, and the over-excitable elements of the petty bourgeoisie who see the spectre of the social revolution behind everything that moves, revolutionaries aim to carry out a lucid intervention and have to be equipped with a compass, with the Marxist method which is based on nearly two hundred years of working class experience. It is this method alone which can assist them to avoid the traps of immediatism, of petty bourgeois impatience, which can only lead them into becoming water-carriers for rank and file unionism and the extreme left wing of capital.

Thus, as soon as the movement began to become widespread, with the demonstration of 13 May, the ICC's section in France took the decision to bring out a supplement to its main tool of intervention, the newspaper Revolution Internationale. This supplement was oriented around the task of denouncing the scale of the attack on the entire working class, of analysing the manoeuvres of the bourgeoisie aimed at getting this attack through, and of denouncing the role of the unions in response to the revival of class militancy. The main thrust of our intervention was to encourage the working class to reflect about the depth of the capitalist crisis and on the necessity of this experience of struggle, which could enable it to regain confidence in itself and rediscover its class identity. It was precisely because our emphasis was on the need to put forward a general framework of analysis in order to facilitate this reflection that we decided to distribute a supplement and not an agitational leaflet. In all the demonstrations, in Paris as well as in the provinces, the ICC mobilised all its forces and regrouped its sympathisers around it in order to distribute the press as widely as possible

The balance sheet of this mobilisation was very positive: our sales figures broke all records. In the entire history of the ICC, our organisation has never sold so many publications at a demonstration. In particular, in all the demonstrations where the ICC was present, our supplement sold like hot cakes.

We are not saying this to give ourselves medals or because we think we are on the verge of the revolution. These sales figures, as well as the numerous discussions we had in the demonstrations, simply confirm that, despite the difficulties it still faces in developing its struggle and creating a balance of forces that can make the bourgeoisie retreat, the working class is still looking for a perspective. The fact that so many strikers could make the political gesture of buying a paper headed Revolution Internationale or a supplement headed 'The future belongs to the class struggle' is a significant sign of a change in the situation of the class struggle. It means that today within the working class there is the beginning of a real questioning about the future that capitalism has in store for us. This questioning, this search for a perspective, even if it is still very confused and embryonic, is a clear refutation of all the bourgeois campaigns that followed the collapse of the Stalinist regimes, the focus of which was the argument that communism had failed and the class struggle was over.

Thus, this massive attack on the entire working class confirms the validity of what our organisation has been saying since 1968: despite the suffering it brings, the economic crisis remains the best ally of the proletariat. The ICC's intervention in the national education strike

The ICC's intervention was not limited to distributing its press in the street demonstrations.

In the struggles themselves, in the general assemblies, especially those of the teachers, our comrades and sympathisers intervened whenever they could to try to counter the manoeuvres of the unions and their 'radical' base animated by the leftists. All our interventions put forward:

  • the vital need for geographical extension from the beginning of the movement against the manoeuvres of the unions and leftists which seek to imprison workers inside their own sector;
  • the necessity to preserve the sovereignty of the general assemblies which have to serve as centres of discussion and of decision about the way to develop the struggle, and not become rubber stamps for union decisions taken in advance;
  • the clear and concrete denunciation of the orientations of the union machinery, of the real practise of the unions which, under cover of calls for unity, only serves to obstruct the real needs of the struggle.

Thus for example, on the 13 May, at a departmental (regional) general assembly regrouping around 500 strikers in Lyon and led by the an 'Intersyndicale' made up of the FSU, FO, CGT, SUD and the CNT, our comrades were able to intervene twice despite the aggressive attitude of the Intersyndicale which chaired the assembly (and in particular a local boss of the Trotskyist LCR, an official of the FSU union, who tried to stop them speaking with interruptions like "Cut it short", "Start by getting your school out on strike"). Despite the union barrage aimed at shutting us up, another comrade who works in the hospital sector had come to this assembly and insisted on the necessity to cross the street and meet up with other sectors suffering the same attack on pensions. His intervention was followed very closely and this forced the praesidium to switch off the microphone. But despite this manoeuvre, our comrade continued his intervention by raising his voice. He was warmly applauded. It was at this moment that the praesidium was obliged to take notice of the orientation our comrades were putting forward: the necessity for geographical extension, but only as a vague perspective - which the leftists did in many places, once the movement began to run out of steam. This parody of extension would be concretised by sending delegations of trade union officials to trade union officials in other sectors.

This departmental assembly clearly showed that the 'radical' unions, to avoid being outflanked by the impact of our interventions, were forced to adopt these kinds of manoeuvres.

When we were able to intervene in the assemblies, we tried to put forward concrete proposals. On several occasions, at Lyon for example, our comrades proposed the following motion: "The departmental general assembly calls on the general assemblies of other sectors to put into action the appeals for extension of the struggle through the strongest possible delegations to public and private enterprises like Alstom, Ateliers, SNCF, Oullins, RVI, TCL, hospitals, town hall, etc�the departmental general assembly considers that the belated union appeals for other sectors to join the fight, some for 27 May, others for 2 June, still others for 3 June, as well as their silence in other sectors, are concrete acts of division and dispersal and go against the need for unity�" This motion got 24 votes for, 137 against and 53 abstentions. The vote on this motion showed that there is the beginning of a questioning of union control over the struggle and of their sabotaging manoeuvres. Although this questioning is only taking place in a minority, the intervention of our militants was not a bolt out of the blue. On several occasions our comrades were called on to develop their interventions, sometimes with invitations to come and speak at other assemblies in the sector where the same kinds of question were being posed. Numerous discussions took place and are still continuing. In other departmental assemblies, like the one on 21 May in Nantes, our comrades directly confronted the unions by proclaiming loudly that "the unity of the struggle doesn't mean trade union unity!" They were copiously hissed throughout their intervention. At the end of the assembly, only four strikers expressed agreement with our position. What we have seen through the echo of our interventions in various regions is that there is a great heterogeneity in the movement, both at the level of mobilisation as well as regards distrust towards the unions.

In a second period, which arrived rather quickly, it became clear that any possibility for a massive development of the struggle had been undermined by the unions, and our comrades were obliged to reorient their interventions:

  • showing that the slogan of a 'rolling strike' was a trap that threatened to bring exhaustion and demoralisation;
  • denouncing the union and leftist attitude of 'fighting to the bitter end' by using sterile and minority-based commando actions (such as the blocking of exams) which only reinforced the division between strikers and non-strikers;
  • showing the necessity to regroup in order to avoid confusion, to discuss as collectively as possible whether or not to carry on with the strike, in order to avoid demoralisation and to prepare to take up the struggle later while keeping our strength intact;
  • arguing for the need for the most combative and conscious minorities to regroup in order to develop their reflection on the questions raised by the movement. Already there have been a number of meetings of such elements from different sectors in Lyon, Nantes and Marseille for example.

In addition to the above, the ICC was also present, as always, at the fete of Lutte Ouvriere where it intervened at the forums organised by the leftists, denouncing their sabotaging manoeuvres and insisting on the necessity to draw the lessons from the defeat of the teachers. The ICC was in fact the only revolutionary organisation to intervene against the Trotskyists, despite the whistles of the base unionists aligned to LO and the LCR (1).

In the days that followed, the ICC also held a number of animated public meetings about the struggles in a number of cities.

It is clear today that the movement was not strong enough to push back the bourgeoisie. The working class has thus suffered a defeat. Once again the ruling class is seeking to make workers draw the wrong lessons from this, especially the idea that struggle is waste of time. It is thus the responsibility of revolutionaries to resist these mystifications.

This is why the ICC decided to distribute a leaflet drawing the balance sheet of this experience in order to permit the whole class to draw the maximum of lessons from this defeat, to push workers to deepen their reflection and thus arm them for when they have to return to the struggle against the acceleration of the attacks, already prefigured in the dossier on social security.

SM, June 2003.

(1) Also despite the sarcasm of the elements which we describe as parasites because, while they claim to belong to the proletarian political camp, have no reason for existing other than destroying the reputation of genuine revolutionary organisations, and the ICC in particular. Furthermore, at the LO fete these elements were only present as spectators and didn't open their mouths to combat the forces of capitalism's extreme left wing.

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