Tuesday, March 10, 2009

French Unions ready for a General Strike on March 19

Lisbeth Latham

On February 10, the eight major union confederations in France called for a new general strike for March 19 to continue their campaign to defend jobs and living conditions in the wake of the global financial crisis. The strike was called following French President Nicholas Sarkozy formal response to the January 29 General Strike that involved 2.4 million French workers.

On February 5, Sarkozy had appeared on national television in an attempt to defend his government’s response to the crisis which has seen it pump €48 billion in aid to business, particularly French banks, while taking no action protect either jobs or the purchasing power of the low paid. During his speech Sarkozy not only defended the government’s current strategy, but pledge provide a further €8 billion in aid to business by reducing some business taxes in 2010. At the same time Sarkozy ruled out either a reduction sales tax or an increase in France’s minimum wage. Sarkozy indicated that he remains committed to a 10% reduction in the French public sector that he has been pushing since his election in 2007.

The union federation Union Syndicale Solidaires responded on February 5 saying that while he could give billions to business his answer to other sectors of society was no. The Solidaires statement went on to say that the government had simply entered a new process of explaining the benefits of its policy, a policy that had already been massively rejected by French workers through the general of more than two million.

Solidaires stated “Sarkozy is trying to pretend that he has compassion for the victims of the crisis, but he forgets to say that this crisis is the capitalist system, liberalism at all that hair so ardently defended. And it persists in a policy that not only will not help to escape, but can only make it worse especially in once again reducing tax revenues.

"There should be a strong general increase in wages, pensions and social welfare and the prohibition of layoffs in companies that make profits. We must ensure the maintenance of pay and social protection of workers regardless of their situation. Beyond that, we must direct economic activity towards the satisfaction of social needs (including housing construction) and the implementation of environmental requirements (such as giving priority to railways over roads for freight).

“It is clear today that the president is not ready to change his policy, or even to discuss the contents. We must now continue and further strengthen the mobilization of the masses, as soon as possible. It is this perspective that the Union Syndicale Solidaires will put forward at the inter-union meeting on February 9.”

While the unions did initiate a strike for March 19, they also accepted Sarkozy’s invitation to a meeting with himself and business leaders. In a joint statement indicating that the government's response "remains far from that expected and demanded by the mobilisation on 29 January". The unions indicated that the precise form that the march 19 action would take would depend on the outcome of scheduled meeting between Sarkozy, unions and employer groups on February 18, and that they are looking for "concrete proposals" at the summit.

At the February 18, in an effort to quell anger Sarkozy offered an increase in social spending of €2.65 billion. While under the plan social spending would be increased it would do nothing to substantially increase the declining purchasing power of lower income families or to protect jobs.

In a joint statement issued by the eight union confederations said that they considered that the measures proposed were too fragmentary to change the course of economic policy. They continue “moreover, the President refuses to increase the minimum wage, to change his policy on reducing employment in the public sector or to reverse the tax on overtime.

“The crisis requires answers to a whole new scope. The effects of the economic and financial crisis and add to the growing concerns of employees. The renewed job cuts; the use of part-time employment amplify the recession and contribute to declining purchasing power”.

The unions renewed their call for a cross union day of strikes and demonstrations across France on March 19 to demand that the government and employers:

  • Maintain employment in public and private sectors;
  • Fight against insecurity and social and economic deregulation;
  • Require compensation policies that maintain the purchasing power of wage earners, the unemployed and pensioners, and reduce inequalities;
  • Defend the collective framework of solidarity and social protection, quality public services.


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Revitalising Labour attempts to reflect on efforts to rebuild the labour movement internationally, emphasising the role that left-wing political currents can play in this process. It welcomes contributions on union struggles, internal renewal processes within the labour movement and the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

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