The Unions lead us to defeat

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There were millions of us protesting and on strike in the recent Days of Action. The government has not yet backed down. Only a mass movement can make them do this. This idea made its way into the discussions on an indefinite, general, renewable strike, bringing the economy to its knees...

The form that the movement will take is our business... It's up to us to decide what actions to take, what demands to make... And to anyone else. Letting Chérèque (CFDT), Thibault (CGT) and company decide for us is to prepare for future defeats. Chérèque is in favour of 42 years[1]. We cannot be sure that Thibault wants the withdrawal of the Law: we can’t forget that in 2009 he was drinking champagne with Sarkozy as thousands of us were laid off, leaving us divided and beaten. We can’t have any more faith in the supposed “radicals” either. The uncompromising Mailly (FO) shook hands with Aubry while the Socialist Party voted for 42 years. [...]

If today they ride the horse of renewed strikes, it’s to avoid losing control of our struggles, which they use as a bargaining chip to ensure they’re at the negotiating table... Why? Because, as is written in the letter signed by the seven unions of the CFTC to the SUD-Solidaire union, they want ensure that “the trade unions’ point of view on a set of fair and effective measures to ensure the sustainability of the pension system” is heard. Can anyone believe, for one moment, that there can possibly be a deal with those who have wrecked our pensions since 1993, with those who began the systematic demolition of our living and working conditions?

The only force capable of making the government and the ruling classes back down is the unity of public and private sector workers, of the unemployed, pensioners and youth, of the illegal immigrants, of the unionised or non-unionised, based in common general assemblies where we can control the struggles ourselves.

These quotes are taken from a leaflet circulated widely during demonstrations in Paris and signed by “workers and temps of the Inter-professional General Assembly at Gare de l'Est[2].

Many other appeals with a similar meaning and tone are coming from other inter-professional general assemblies, struggle committees or small political organizations, emphasising their growing distrust of the unions, as we watch them lead us to defeat. All encourage the workers to take control of their own struggles.

Behind the Unions, the union struggle is questioned

In fact, the sabotage of the struggle by the unions in 2003, 2007 and now in 2010 raises the broader question of the true nature of the unions. Are they still in the camp of the working class? A brief overview of the struggles of recent decades shows that they have indeed passed into the camp of the bourgeoisie.

For over 100 years, the only major struggles were wildcat strikes, spontaneous and on a mass scale. And all these struggles have seen the same basis for organisation, not the union form, but mass meetings, where all workers discuss their own struggles and the problems that have to be solved, with elected and revocable committees to centralise the fight. The great strike in May 1968 in France was triggered despite the unions. In Italy, during the strikes of the Hot Autumn of 1969, workers drove the union representatives from strike meetings. In 1973, the Antwerp Dockers’ strike attacked the local unions. In the 1970s, workers in England often bullied the unions. The same thing happened in France in 1979 during the Longwy Denain strike in Dunkirk.

In August 1980, in Poland, the workers rejected the unions (which were formally part of the state) and organised a mass strike through general meetings and committees made up of elected and revocable delegates (the MKS). Microphones and PA systems were used during negotiations with state officials so that all workers could follow them, intervene and control the delegates. Of course, we can’t forget how this particular strike ended: with the illusion of a new union, free, independent and combative to which the working class could entrust the struggle’s reins. The result was immediate. This new union, “all shiny and new”, called Solidarity, cut the microphones and entered into secret negotiations with the Polish state and, together with them, orchestrated the dispersal, division and, ultimately, violent defeat of the working class!

Following the unions is always going to lead to defeat. To develop a massive struggle, animated by workers’ solidarity, it is necessary to take control.

The emancipation of the workers is the task of the workers themselves.”

ICC (22 October, 2010)


[1] The French state is proposing to increase the number of years worked before a pension can be received from 40 to 42.  

[2] An ‘inter-professional’ general assembly is one that regroups workers from different sectors. In the case of the inter-pro GA at Gare de l’Est, rail, education, post, food, IT etc.

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