Friday, September 24, 2010

France: Millions protests to defend pensions

Lisbeth Latham

More than three million participated in the day of strikes and protests, in France on September 23, demanding the withdrawal of legislation that will dramatically reduce the right of workers to access pensions. The mobilisation, which had been called by the a coalition of seven of France’s union confederations demonstrated that passage of the Pension Bill through France’s lower house of parliament had done nothing to diminish opposition to the attack on pensions. With the President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Francois Fillon determined to increase in minimum retirement age, the question is increasingly being posed regarding the nature of the movement necessary for workers to achieve victory.

The protests reflected an important rise in the level of support for the movement, with numbers up from the 2.7 million estimated to have participated in the last National Strike on September 7. This growth was also reflected in the number of protests being held across France, with 232 separate actions in cities and towns across France, compared to 200 on September 7. According to a statement issued b by the Confédération générale du travail (General Confederation of Workers – CGT) the growth in size reflected an increased number of workers from the private sector, particularly small and medium sized employers, as well as a larger participation by women and young people than on September 7.

The growth in the mobilization was important has the government and other conservative commentator had been hoping for a decline in the movement signally that people would accept the pension changes as inevitable following the vote in the National Assembly on September 15.. The interior ministry is claiming that mobilisations were smaller. Labour Minister Eric Woerth, told France 2 Television that "There is a clear deceleration in the protest movement. The reform will be voted and it will be applied”. Reuters reported on September 24 Fillon was reported "Government in France also means knowing how to say No". We will not withdraw this reform because it's necessary and reasonable".

Despite the claims of the government most media are reporting protest sizes consistent with the union estimates. The growing mobilizations signal a willingness of working people to continue the fight to defend the right to retire at 60, and to stop the increase from 40 to 41.5 years, the period of time workers must work to qualify for the full pension. Demand s that employers foot more of the bill are gaining traction, based on the reality that 84% the €30 billion to invested in the pension system by 2020 will paid by workers, while employers will provide 7%.

Despite the growing support the movement the question is posed how can the unions defeat the austerity measures being pushed by Sarkozy, Fillon and their supporters in the Movement of French Enterprises (MEDEF). The Union Coalition, which is dominated by the CGT and the Confédération française démocratique du travail (French Confederation of Democratic Workers) has called for further mobilisations on October 2 and October 12, some of the Confederations will also be using the Europe wide mobilisation against austerity called by the European Confederation of Trade Unions. The Union Coalition has indicated that it will meet again on October 4, the day before the Senate begins its debate over the Pension Bill, to determine additional action.
In addition to this action, the militant union confederation Solidaires, which is participating in the Union Coalition, along with the Nouveau parti anticapitaliste (New Anti-Capitalist Party) continues to urge workers to demand that an indefinite strike be called, similar to the strike movement in November and December 1995 that defeated conservative attacks on Pensions.


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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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