French workers up the ante

Over 3.5 million workers came out on strike and demonstrated on Tuesday March 7th.  This was even more massive than the 2.8 million who demonstrated on January 31st. This has been the sixth day of mobilisations against President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to raise the retirement age from 62 years to 64 years. Around 250 demonstrations took place in towns and cities throughout France. 700,000 demonstrated in Paris. 245,000 in Marseille, 120,000 in Toulouse and 100,000 in Bordeaux. In nearby Tarbes, 43,000 demonstrated. At Reims there were 7,500. At Nantes 100,000, at Caen 2,400, at Angers 17,000, at Rodez 14,500, at Niort 8,000, at Chalon sur Saône 9,000, at Chambéry 8500, at Besançon 11,000, at Blois 11,000, at Narbonne 6,500, and large numbers at Romorantin-Lanthenay , Vendôme, Guéret, Quimperlé, Dreux ,Auch, Arles, Dieppe, Draguignan, Coutances  and Pithiviers. 20,000  came out at Valence, 10,000 at Montélimar, 1,000 at Crest, 900 at Romans, 700 at Nyons, 500 at Die.

Strikes and demonstrations spilled over into the following day, International Women’s Day, with public transport workers, education workers, energy workers, refuse collectors and lorry drivers continuing their actions. Strikes continued on the Friday and another big day of actions is planned for March 15th.

Workers from both public and private sectors were involved in the movement, as well as university and school students. In fact, 400 schools and high schools were closed due to blockades by students, or occupied by students, as were 40 universities. In addition, many unemployed and pensioners joined the actions. Energy workers blockaded many oil refineries. 60% of teachers were out on strike, and the rail system came to a standstill. Refuse collectors and sewer workers in Paris began a strike on March 6th and continued it through the next few days.

Mass meetings of workers took place in some localities. In Toulouse 150 rail workers met, in Le Havre mass meetings held days before March 7th ensured a blockade of the port area. In some areas joint meetings of teachers, public transport workers and students took place. Here not just the fight against the pension reforms war raised, but also the precarity of many jobs. In addition, the nature of work and environmental issues have been raised.

The Macron government is determined to carry through these pension changes despite overwhelming opposition in France. The pension changes have already been passed in the Chamber of Deputies, and now has just gone through the Senate, the equivalent of the House of Lords.

The French ruling class was not able in the past to implement the massive attacks on the working class that were pushed through by Thatcher in Britain and Reagan in the USA. Determined opposition in France meant that successive governments had to make compromises.

Now the ruling class, not just in France but internationally, is eager to attack the working class in order to compete on a world level. This comes at the same time as a drive to war supported by the military and the arms industries. At the same time as attacking pensions, Macron has increased military spending by 90 billion euros!

French workers cannot rely on the union bureaucrats to lead this fight, who will attempt to make compromises. They must look towards developing the mass meetings, which must include workers from all sectors, as well as youth, the unemployed and pensioners.