Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Thousands Join Protest Against Financial Crisis in France

Lisbeth Latham

More than 150, 000 people joined protests in France against the Sarkozy Government’s handling of the financial crisis. The protests, which were the fifth major joint-mobilisation this year called by France’s eight union confederations, were significantly down on both previous mobilisations and on union predictions. The low turn is increasing the debate as to the way forward for the movement in France.

While support for the movement has continued to grow, with opinion polls indicating 75% of French people support the union actions, the numbers attending mobilisations have been in decline. The January and March protests involved 2.5 million and 3 million people, compared to 1.2 million and on May 1. The May 26 mobilisations, which featured hundreds of decentralised protests across France, were far smaller than the previous protests. Following the May 26 mobilisations, AFP reported that Maryse Dumas, Secretary General of General Confederation of Labour’s (CGT) Postal and Telecommunications Federation, said "the goal is not to make this initiative highly visible, but to ensure that the movement takes root and expands”.
Union leaderships, who predicted that June 13 equal the May Day protests in size, have had to acknowledge that the June 13 mobilisations were a disappointment. Bernard Thibault, Secretary of the CGT, telling AFP “turnout is lower than we had hoped”, and Francois Chereque, General Secretary of the French Democratic Confederation of Labour, was reported by AFP as saying the “day will not be a success in terms of numbers”. Chereque continued "what matters most today is to make a splash, to say before the summer and our meeting with the president that we have to go further".

While the turnout was low, public support for the movement remains high with polls indicating 75% of French support the mobilisations. This contradiction has caused considerable speculation as to the gap between the public support for mobilisations and the actual size of the protests. The mainstream media has speculated that the key causes are the strong return for Sarkozy’s UMP in the European Parliamentary elections, the fast approaching summer holidays and a growing sense that the protests are not achieving anything.

The leadership of the Force Ouvriere Confederation has also questioned the effectiveness of repeated demonstrations. FO’s General Secretary, Jean-Claude Mailly told Reuters on June 13, “if the government doesn’t budge with demonstrations, we will have to move up a notch and call a day of strike action”. The other union confederations have criticised the FO’s critical statements for both breaking the united front which had previously been presented by the eight confederations but more importantly for failing to mobilise its militants for the June 13 demonstrations - Liberation on June 24 reported that there was a contingent of just 50 FO members at the Paris demonstration.

However FO’s criticisms echo those of the radical Solidaires confederation who have been arguing since January that in order to build a movement that can force both the government and employers to respond to union demands will require a general strike.

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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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