Monday, October 25, 2010

Solidaires - Pensions: Win by our determination!

Statement Issued by the trade union Solidaires in response to the communique issued from the inter-union meeting on October 21, 2010.
Six days of massive mobilization since early September, 70% of the population supporting this movement and thinking that the draft law on pensions is deeply unfair, and yet a government that stubbornly refuses any reopening of the file. The question of pensions is now a democratic issue. Rejection of any negotiation, first accelerating the debate in the National Assembly, now the Senate is to vote on the text before the school holidays, the government and the president chooses to force its passage.

Faced with this edict, the current movement is taking new forms that show its determination is intact. These multifaceted actions ranging from extended strikes in some sectors to the blockades fuel depots, are organized in a united fashion. They combine with the strong mobilization of youth who refuses grim fate that is prepared by the ruling classes. In response, the government restricts itself to the denial of social mobilization and enhances repression.

In this situation, the inter-union decided to call two new mobilization days, Thursday, October 28 and Saturday, November 6. The trade union Solidaires would have preferred an earlier date so as not to stay too long workers mobilising on a daily basis without a centralised national day of action. Moreover, it is unfortunate that the inter-union communiqué does not support actions decided by workers at the base. This is why Solidarity has not signed the communiqué of the other organizations.

However, the united national mobilizations are essential moments in the construction and consolidation of power against the government.

That is why Solidarity calls to amplify the mobilization: expanded strikes and walkouts, strengthen local daily initiatives, massive mobilization on October 28 and November 6.

Solidarity urges its members and activists to participate actively in the united building of those days. The government wants to use us. United and determined, we can win!

October 22, 2010

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France: Inter-union communique October 21

Communiqué CFDT, CFE/CGC, CFTC, CGT, FSU, UNSA
Thursday, October 21, 2010

The days of Saturday 16 and Tuesday, October 19, 2010 confirm that mobilization continues to have deep roots. There are millions of employees within these 6 days of action since early September said they want an alternative pension reform which is fair and fair and efficient, and call for the reopening of negotiations with unions.

The scale mobilizations confirms that beyond the pension reform, questions regarding employment, wages, working conditions and also the future of youth remain effectively unanswered especially since the worsening situations related to 2008 financial crisis. The unions agree to work together on these issues in the coming weeks to challenge the government and employers.


Various surveys conducted in recent days confirm that the movement is very widely supported by the people confirming its support for a broad public debate and genuine dialogue that must occur for reforms on major questions such as pensions.
Trade unions call on their organizations to continue their protests to bring together the largest number and broaden the support of public opinion. They call their organizations in the territories, private and public sector to continue united initiatives. They will take care of the respect of the goods and the people.

The government bears the full responsibility of the continuing mobilization because of its intransigence, its failure to listen and its repeated provocations. It cannot respond to the current situation with denial and repression.
Trade unions solemnly call on the government and the parliament not to adopt this reform of the state.

The unions view is that major reforms such as that of the pensions must be preceded by a through and broad public debate which involves genuine dialogue.
With the strong support from workers, young people and a majority of the population in the face of the intransigent attitude of the government and head of state, the unions decided to continue and expand the mobilization.
They decided two new days of mobilization:

Thursday, October 28: A national day of strikes and demonstrations during the week of voting in Parliament.
Saturday, November 6: A day of protests and demonstrations before the promulgation of the law by the Head of State.

The unions will meet on November 4.
October 21, 2010

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

French workers fight back against pension attack

Lisbeth Latham

Since October 12, France has been gripped by intensifying mass opposition by workers and students to proposed counter reforms to the country’s pensions system by the right-wing government of President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Public opposition to the attack has been highlighted by three national strikes each involving millions of people, two national student strikes and a growing wave of indefinite strikes in a range of industries — most notably the crippling shutdown of the oil industry.

Despite the size and intensity of the mobilisations, the Sarkozy government remains defiant, insisting the changes to the pension system are essential to France’s future. The government has threatened to repress attempts to disrupt France’s economic life.

The three national strikes occurred in the lead-up to the October 20 Senate debate on the pension scheme proposals. Unions estimated the October 12, 16 and 19 national strikes were attended by 3.5 million, 3 million and 3.5 million people respectively.

After the slightly smaller mobilisation on October 16, labour minister Eric Woerth told France 24: “The turnout is clearly down … I think the French people have understood that pension reform is essential.”

However, this proved wishful thinking.

In the space of 29 days, there were five national strikes, each mobilising between 2.7 and 3 million people. The General Confederation of Labour (CGT) estimated that more than 5 million people (8% of France’s metropolitan population) have taken part in the movement on the streets.

Since October 12, indefinite strikes have broken out in the state rail system, among local authority workers, in several education academies, industrial factories (such as in metallurgy and chemicals), the finance ministry, postal services, urban transport networks and hospitals.

An indefinite strike has hit France’s ports since September 27.

High school students have begun large protests that have closed down hundreds of schools across France.

Polls have indicated up to 70% of people support the strikes.

After October 16, the movement rapidly strengthened in response to union calls for its intensification.

The General Federation of Transport and Equipment-French Democratic Confederation of Labour (FGTE-CFDT), which is the strongest union in France’s road transport industry, called an indefinite strike starting on October 17. Lyceen Student Unions called a national mobilisation for October 18.

On October 17, Ardennes departmental unions from the CGT, CFDT, Workers Force (FO), National Union of Autonomous Unions (UNSA), United Union Federation (FSU) and Solidaires called for an indefinite strike in the private and public sectors to start the next day.

On October 19, the question was posed: was the slight decline in numbers on October 16 just a pause as the movement gathered its strength?

Or was it, as the government and its national and international supporters hoped, a sign of the movement’s demoralisation and reconciliation with the “inevitability of counter reforms”?

Government hopes were disappointed when 3.5 million people joined more than 277 protests organised in cities and towns. Not only did the numbers match the size of the October 12 protests, but in many cities, including Bourgoin, Marseilles and Rennes, the turnouts reached new highs.

The movement among high school and university students also peaked. The National Union of Students of France (UNEF) said 10 universities had been totally or partially blockaded and a further three administratively closed.

The Federation of Independent and Democratic High School Students (FIDL), France’s second largest high school union, said 1200 of France’s 4300 lycees (the second level of secondary education in France for students aged 15-18) were involved and 850 were blockaded.

In the face of the growing movement, the government has become increasingly shrill in its denunciations. In response to student protests, government ministers accused unions and left-wing parties of manipulating young people.

Responding to clashes between police and high school students, Sarkozy said: “Troublemakers will not have the last word in a democracy. It is not acceptable.

“They will be stopped, tracked down and punished, in Lyon and anywhere else, with no weakness.

“Because in our democracy, there are many ways to express yourself. But violence is the most cowardly, the most gratuitous and that is not acceptable.”

Woerth told France2 television on October 22 that, once the law is passed, “The law is the law, so the protests, the discontent, the concern ... should end the moment the law is voted up”.

The government has moved beyond harsh words to attempts to repress the movement. High levels of violence have been used by police, especially against high school protests. Tear gas and flash ball rounds (a form of rubber bullet) have been fired at students.

On October 20, police used tear gas against a student blockade of the bus depot in Rennes. The students had assembled at 4am to establish a blockade and ensure no buses could move.

About four hours later, riot police began firing tear gas at students. The CGT said students retreated into the depot, where they were treated by the depot’s nurse.

The bus drivers then escorted the students out to avoid their arrest. Drivers, many of whom were also affected by gas, held a meeting and voted to strike for 24 hours.

By October 20, the British Guardian reported that about 1400 people aged between 14 and 20 had been arrested across France and the repression was intensifying. On October 21, riot police hemmed in more than 1000 protesters at Place Bellecour in Lyon, repeatedly firing tear gas into a crowd that was unable to escape.

Strikes have gripped France’s oil industry since September 27, when workers in the oil port of Fos Lavera near Marseilles began indefinite strike action.

Since October 12, oil refining has been almost completely disrupted. Indefinite strikes in all 12 refineries have forced France to rely on strategic reserves of fuel. Blockades by workers and students of fuel depots have added to pressure on reserves.

More than a third of France’s service stations reported they were either low on petrol, or had run out since October 11. On October 20, Sarkozy ordered police to begin breaking blockades on fuel depots and refineries.

Refinery workers were “requisitioned” to return to work and those who fail to do so face prosecution.

On October 22, police successfully reopened some depots, as well as the Granduits refinery that supplies Paris. However, picket lines have been organised as small-scale “flying pickets” able to be redeployed quickly at the same or different locations.

It is also unclear how many oil workers will respond to the requisition orders.

International media coverage has tried to downplay this mass movement’s significance by attributing it to a French propensity to strike. The significance of the attack on pensions has been downplayed by insistence on the “economic necessity” of reducing access to pensions for the future of the French economy.

However, the reforms are extremely significant and the movement against them even more so — for workers in France and internationally.

Under the current system, French workers are entitled to retire from work at 60. However, they are not entitled to the full pension until 65. To qualify for the full pension, workers must first have worked for 40 years.

Under the proposed changes, the retirement age will be raised to 62 and the age at which the full pension can be accessed to 67. The period of work needed to qualify for the full pension will be raised to 41.5 years.

These increases have been justified on concerns that the pensions system, which operates on a pay as you go basis (i.e. the contribution of active workers pays for pension payments to retirees), will become increasingly underfunded as France’s population continues to age.

The ratio of active workers to retirees is expected to fall from 2:1 to 1.25:1 by 2040. As a result, the government predicts the level of underfunding will reach 100 billion euros by 2050.

The movement is opposing the changes on the basis of the impact they will have on workers’ lives. The movement also rejects the government’s economic justifications.

The government argues people need to work longer because they are living longer. However, this ignores the fact that the current minimum age of retirement is already higher than the average age at which French people can expect to live to in good health, which is 59.87 years.

On average, 60% of the years that French people live over 60 are affected by reduced physical or sensory functions.

Raising the minimum retirement age increases the number of those working despite poor health. This will be worsened by the increase in the qualifying period for the full pension, as those unable to work due to illness may risk not qualifying for a full pension.

This will also increase the proportion of workers whose retirement will be marred by poor health.

The changes are seen as particularly unfair to those who enter the work force early and thus already reach the qualifying period for a full pension before the minimum retirement age.

The government has exempted people who start full employment at 17 from the changes, allowing them to still retire at 60. However, those who start work at 18 will have to wait until they are 62 — an extra 2.5 years above the qualifying period.

Extending the period of qualification for a full pension is expected to adversely affect those with interrupted working lives, which will particularly affect women.

The government’s arguments regarding the financial need for the changes are also problematic. They assume the level of productivity in France will remain static, but it is estimated that labour productivity will double by 2040.

The problem is not that there won’t be enough productivity to support the ageing population, it is that capitalists want an ever-increasing share of what is produced.

The European Commission on Economic and Financial Affairs said the wages share of GDP in France has declined from 73.3% in 1985 to 65.4% in 2010. This decline has stripped billions of euros from both workers’ pockets and the pensions system.

Unions have also asked why workers should be made to pay for maintaining the pension system in the first place.

Ultimately, the struggle is about more than France’s pension system.

A defeat in this struggle would open the door for a wider scale attacks on the rights of French working people. However, a victory for the movement could potentially build the confidence of French workers and students to extend their fight to other anti-people policies of the Sarkozy government.

Similar austerity measures are being imposed by governments across Europe in a bid to make working people pay for capitalism’s economic crisis. The outcome of the struggle in France could affect workers’ confidence to resist in other countries.

Despite the protests, the pension bill was passed by the Senate on October 22. It will now be referred to a joint committee of the Senate and the National Assembly to draw up a unified text from the versions of the bill passed in the two bodies.

This text is expected to be presented to the National Assembly for a final vote. Jean-Francois Cope, the head of the Sarkozy’s UMP in the National Assembly, said this is likely to occur on October 26 or 27.

After it is passed by the National Assembly, the bill still needs to be enacted by the president to become law.

The ongoing process of passing the bill into law provides a target for more protests. But it is increasingly clear the government intends to defy the pressure and pass the law.

This makes the question of how to defeat the bill increasingly pressing.

Up until now, the unions and left parties have not had a united concept on the outcome being fought for. Most leaders of the union confederations have aimed to force the government and employers into negotiations.

The more conservative unions, such as the French Confederation of Christian Workers (CFTC), UNSA and the French Confederation of Management-General Confederation of Executives (CFE-CGC) had previously expressed some support for changes to the pension system. They have been pushed into hardening their opposition by the government’s refusal to compromise.

Among the left parties, the opposition Socialist Party (PS), as well as the Communist Party of France (PCF) and the Left Party (PG), have pushed for a national referendum on the reforms.

The United Left (GU), a split from the radical New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA), has argued that the movement could force new elections.

The far-left NPA and Workers’ Struggle (LO), along with the militant trade union Solidaires, have consistently argued for the need to extend and intensify the strike movement to defeat the government.

NPA spokesperson Olivier Besancenot told l’Humanite on October 18 that the movement’s aim should not be to “rewrite or amend the reform. We need to bury it altogether. We must not give in on the content.”

Besancenot said there needed to be “more effective strike action” for the movement to win. “For my part, I see no other [way], and certainly not a referendum.”

LO’s Nathalie Arthaud said: “What the parliament does, the street can undo if the mobilisation is growing.

“I do not agree with the proposal advanced by the left for a referendum, because retirement at age 60 at full rate is an inalienable right.”

On October 21, the inter-union coordinating committee met to determine the course of the struggle. In the lead up to the meeting, Solidaires called for an expansion and intensification of the strike movement and for the next national mobilisation to occur quickly.

There were also predictions some of the more conservative unions would withdraw from the committee once the Senate passed the pensions bill.

In a joint statement, signed by CFDT, CFE / CGC, CFTC, CGT, FSU and UNSA, the committee called for new mobilisations on October 28 and November 6 to correspond with the vote in the National Assembly and when Sarkozy is expected to promulgate the law, respectively.

Solidaires issued its own statement supporting the days of action. But Solidaires raised concerns that no earlier mobilisation had been called and that the committee’s statement did not clearly endorse the actions initiated by workers at the local level.

Solidaires said the committee was not in step with the developments within the movement, and on this basis, did not sign the statement. Solidaires called for the movement’s intensification, with expanded strikes and walkouts.

The division within the movement is now more open. It is not just activists in Solidaires and the far left parties that have pushed for a more militant position. The movement has been pushed to its current heights in part by the ranks and local leaderships of the other union federations.

The question is now whether these forces are able to maintain the movement’s momentum. At stake is more than just changes to pensions, it is also the issue of just how much of the burden for the economic crisis working people in France and across Europe can be made to carry.

[originally published in Green Left Weekly Issue #858 http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/45821]

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Besancenot: "Blocking the Economy to Block the Reform"

Chat with Olivier Besancenot, Moderated by Caroline Monnot
MRZine
Esteban: Hello, this Tuesday's action is a symbolic last-ditch stand, isn't it?

Olivier Besancenot: No! It's another stage toward the general strike which is beginning to happen. On Tuesday night, strikes will be renewed, and there will be new demonstrations, as well as numerous blockades. The question posed now is about blocking the economy to block the reform.

Zbeul: In your opinion, is this strike a political strike expressing general discontent or a social strike focused only on retirement?

The discontent goes beyond the retirement issue, but, at the same time, it is crystallizing through it. Many workers and many young people are truly fed up with the government's double standards and are indeed seeking, through this strike about retirement, to settle accounts with the Sarkozy government from which they have suffered for too long.

Abdelmallik: What do you think will happen after the trade union action if the law gets passed?

The law isn't a law in effect until it appears in the Official Gazette. And even if it gets into the Official Gazette, the social history of our country reminds us that what the Parliament -- the Assembly and the Senate -- decides can be defeated by the street.

Fred: Even with 3 million demonstrators, does the street have the same legitimacy as an elected parliament?

Today, it's the street that has legitimacy, and the street can be more powerful than a government. That was so in 1995 at the time of the Juppé plan, and equally so in 2006 at the time of the First Employment Contract.

Moreover, our main social gains, from the beginning, were extracted by the struggles and mobilizations of our forebears. If our grandparents hadn't struck in 1936, today we wouldn't be the beneficiaries of paid annual leaves.

Odp: Do you then think that the vote of a national assembly matters less than social movements?

When did a majority of citizens vote for retirement at 67? On YouTube, you can see Nicolas Sarkozy explaining why he wouldn't touch the retirement age of 60.

Léon: Is the New Anti-Capitalist Party [NPA] pushing high school students to take to the streets?

High school students are pushing themselves to do so all on their own, and they don't need anyone else to do it for them. High school student activists can join the NPA.

Furthermore, adults, workers, parents of students are often there at high schools, demanding that security forces leave the premises and stop their provocations. And that's a good thing.

Roland: Violent conflicts at some high schools risk turning the opinion against the movement. Is it really necessary to get high school students involved?

Yes, everyone needs to get involved. And young people understand that old people working longer means fewer chances for them to find openings in the job market.

The government, by its repeated police provocations, is looking to cause escalations, thinking that it can calm down the protest by causing fear.

Emilien22: What factors lead you to compare the demonstrations over the last several days to May 68? Is such a movement possible or even desirable for France?

There is no model that can be exported from its time and place. Each struggle is unique and finds its own dynamic. But I think that a new May 68 in a 21st-century style wouldn't hurt anyone, except the capitalists and the government. But that isn't bad. . . .

May 68, beyond the barricades, was a general strike in which millions erupted onto the social and political stage. It's that eruption that we need today.

Thibaud: Strikers are blockading refineries and transport arteries. Is the strike again actively preventing others from working? Isn't that closer to your idea of "revolutionary activism"?

We are not going through a revolution (yet!). We are in a process of spreading strikes, where radicalization and expansion go hand in hand. The movement is gradually getting larger with each day of action, and, at the same time, it is getting radicalized since the government is forcing the struggle to get radical.

Marc: Does the NPA have a concrete counter-project of reform on the issue of retirement? If yes, what is it?

The NPA says no to rewriting the government's project, demanding its abandonment pure and simple. We propose retirement at 60 with full benefits and the return to the contribution length of 37.5 years, for all. To finance this project, we propose to increase the share of employers' contributions to Social Security.

3% of the GDP from now to 2050 will be necessary to finance the retirement system, according to the Pensions Advisory Council. On the other hand, every year, 17% of the wealth created in the year gets siphoned off in the form of profits, which are monopolized by the privileged few.

It is therefore necessary to share the wealth and to share the work time equally, the currently employed working less, so that everyone who is unemployed can get a job.

Victor: Which sectors do you think should be taxed more first of all, if we want to find the necessary funds to finance retirement?

Capital's revenues. What's more, every year, 23 billion euros gets lost in the form of Social Security contributions forgiven to "create jobs" (you can see how successful it has been!). Those forgiven Social Security contributions create deficits.

Georges P.: How is it that you don't seem to fear the economic consequences (for employment, growth, etc.) of the movements you are organizing or stirring up?

The current economic troubles are not the result of the general strike but the result of a system called capitalism, whose crisis, triggered two years ago by the subprime mortgage affair, has fucked up the whole machinery of economy.

What we have is a crisis of overproduction in the Marxist sense of the term throughout the major capitalist economies. One day we'll have to invent a new mode of production and consumption that can meet the needs of humanity.

Etudiant Tokyo: Do you think a referendum would be a good solution to finally review the whole thing?

At this precise moment of the conflict, no. That would be a distraction from, and an institutional substitute for, social mobilizations. If there's a more effective method than an indefinite general strike, you have to tell us, but I don't see any. The vote of citizens, at the time when the Postal Service was threatened to be privatized, worked as a support mechanism for the struggle. But in any case there's no substitute for struggles.

Serena: University students are rather weakly mobilized for the moment. Could they play a decisive role?

Don't panic, Serena, that's coming! A dozen of universities are already mobilized, and indeed, university students' protest can be a decisive element in the expansion of the movement.

MatthieuRecu: So, it's normal to blockade campuses and to prevent those who want to study from doing so?

So, it's normal for me to support the blockades, too.

Zbeul: Can Black Bloc actions be the solution rather than traditional "spiced-up (merguez) CGT demos"?

I'd rather be on the side of the Red Bloc. Besides, I very much love merguez, and I favor indefinite general strikes.

GG: Any chance of a true alliance of the Left between the NPA and the Left Front putting pressure on the Socialist Party [PS] in the coming years?

We propose to gather together all the anti-capitalist forces on the common radical principles, in total independence from the PS. The goal, for me, is not to shift the PS policy or to convert it to anti-capitalism (good luck!), but rather to challenge the PS's hegemony on the rest of the Left.

There are two major political orientations on the Left: one that is stuck in the framework of market economy, and the other that wants to leave it behind. These two orientations are not compatible in a same government, but our forces can join together to resist the Right, as is the case with the retirement issue.

Laurent F.: Mr. Besancenot, when do you plan on retiring?

At 60 with full benefits! But, Laurent, you had better believe that I'll continue to be a militant all the same.

Maroux: And how far will this escalation go?

All the way to victory. Things are coming together for the victory of the movement on the retirement issue. It's not a foregone conclusion, and there are still numerous obstacles before us. But, objectively, our camp, the protest camp, is continuing to expand while the opposite camp is becoming isolated and weaker.

The cabinet reshuffle will result in disarray. And, given the ministers already packing up their belongings, ready to leave, the street can win a decisive victory in this class struggle. As Che said, hasta la victoria siempre!

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The original article "Besancenot : 'Bloquer l'économie pour bloquer la réforme'" was published in Le Monde on 19 October 2010. Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi

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Monday, October 18, 2010

France: Millions march on October 16 to Defend Pensions

Lisbeth Latham

Millions of people attended protests across France, on October 16, as part the fifth national day of protests against the government’s attacks on pension rights. The protests and strikes demonstrate the widespread opposition within French society to changes to the Pension System that extend people’s working lives. With a final vote on the Bill scheduled for October 20, the government looks set to test the determination workers and students.


Unions are claiming that between 2.5 and 3 million people participated in more than 250 actions on Saturday. While the numbers are down at least 500, 000 people on the estimate for the October 12 protests, it is close to the size of the protests on September 7 and 23 and October 2. The Interior Ministry is claiming that the protests attracted 825, 000 people down from the Ministry’s estimate of 1.2 million for October 12.

Beyond the national strike significant sections of the French economy continue to be disrupted by ongoing strike action which began on October 12, and in the case of French Ports, September 27. Ongoing strikes continue in the SNCF (state rail), in Local Authorities, several academies of Education, industrial factories (such as for metallurgy and chemicals), the Finance Ministry, Postal Services, networks of urban transport and hospitals. All twelve of France’s fuel refineries have been affected by strikes, with eight closed completely. The closure of the refineries, along with a 21 day strike at Fos-Lavara Oil Port and blockades of fuel depots are causing major disruption to France’s Fuel supplies.

Coming out of October 16, indefinite strikes are set to spread. The Fédération Générale des Transports et de l'Equipement - Confédération française démocratique du travail’s (General Federation of Transport and Equipment - French Democratic Confederation of Labour - FGTE-CFDT) announced on October 16 that it would begin an indefinite strike action in France’s trucking industry beginning in the evening on October 17. Maxime Dumont, head of the FGTE-CFDT, told AFP on October 16, “Truckers are happy to join the action. Next week is going to be decisive, everybody knows that”. The Trade Union Solidaire’s (Solidarity) strike bulletin from October 17 also announced that the Departmental Unions of the Confédération générale du travail (General Confederation of Labour – CGT), CFDT, Force Ouvrière (Workers Force – FO), Union nationale des syndicats autonomes (National Union of Autonomous Unions UNSA), Fédération syndicale unitaire (United Union Federation –FSU) and Solidaires (Solidarity), in the Ardennes Region, have called for an indefinite strike in both the private and public sectors beginning October 18.

Students, who have only began mobilising in large numbers since October 12, are set to play an important role in the movement. More than 300, of France’s 4500 Lycées (the second stage of secondary school in the French Education system involving students from the ages of 15-18) have been blockaded since October 12. Police have attacked a number of student protests across France with dozens of students arrested. In response to student mobilisations – the government has raised concerns that students were being manipulated by the unions. The Syndicat Général des Lycéens (General Union of High School Students -SGL) has rejected the government’s criticism arguing “if students are not manipulated when they are commit crimes at 16 years-of-age why would they be manipulated by parties or teachers? No offense to the government, young people who demonstrate are responsible!” The SGL has called on all Lycéen students to take action on October 18 against the pension bill.

Despite the size of the movement, it is clear that the government and its supporters are hoping that passing the Pension Bill will demoralise and demobilise the movement. Labour Minister Eric Woerth told France24, on October 17 that “The turnout is clearly down, but there are still a lot of people in the street. I think the French people have understood that pension reform is essential”. The movement is building towards national strike on October 19 as the last opportunity to place pressure on the government to withdraw the Bill. The leaderships of both the CFDT and CGT have called for the Senate to suspend its debate and for a new dialogue to be initiated between unions, the government and the Mouvement des Entreprises de France (Movement of the French Enterprises – MEDEF). It is however unclear how the inter-union will react if the Bill is passed.

The two largest unions in France are the CFDT and the CGT. The CFDT nationally has resisted the call for intensifying the movement by initiating an indefinite general strike and it is unclear what the leadership would support once the legislation is passed. Bernard Thibault, CGT Secretary General, told Reuters on October 16 "The action is not going to stop because senators have voted. Today we have an even bigger encouragement to continue".

The current policy of the inter-union, which is to call on unions in the enterprise to allow a discussion of the memberships to determine what actions they deem appropriate, does allow space for more militant sections of the movement to push for more militant action – which has already been successful with the indefinite strikes spreading as they have. It will be how these two forces, the national leaderships within the inter-union and the membership in the enterprises, respond to the vote in the Senate that will play an important role in determining the future of France’s pension system.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

An Explosive Situation: Towards a General Strike

Sandra Demarcq
International Viewpoint


The political situation in France is dominated by the mobilization against the proposed reform of the pension system. This reform is at the heart of Sarkozy’s austerity policy. Although it is presented as an obvious demographic necessity, it is meeting increasing opposition in public opinion.


The mobilization has been growing since the start of the mobilizations in May and the first day of action in June. Since the beginning of September three days of strikes and demonstrations (the 7th and 23rd of September and the 2nd of October) have brought out 3 million people on each occasion. The CGT estimates that 5 million people have participated in the strikes and demonstrations since the start.


On each day of action, we have seen that there are more private sector workers, more young people – even high school students are beginning to mobilise and block their schools - and more radical demands.

Popular rejection of Sarkozy’s policies
The battle against the draft law on pensions also shows a massive rejection of the whole politics of Sarkozy. There is not only the question of the pension, numerous sectors are extremely mobilized, on strike on various topics: post offices, in hospitals, the nurse-anaesthetists, the dockers...

Faced with this resistance, the government is more and more unpopular. These accumulated difficulties are provoking a crisis within the right.

To try to reassert his control, Sarkozy has stressed his racist and security policies, in relation to the Roms in particular. But also in the last few weeks, the government has tried to make people forget the social question by advancing the terrorist danger. But without much success.

Dissatisfaction is growing and the situation is "explosive". Faced with the success of the demonstrations and strike days, the government has not moved and says that nothing will be changed in its proposal. The crisis and the debt are poor excuses to justify the reform.

Sarkozy and his government want their reform. Faced with the determination of the government, many workers know that to win it’s necessary to impose social determination.

Today, in numerous sectors, it is time for an all-out strike. For example in the RATP (Paris public transport system), the SNCF (French national railway company), but also in the chemical and engineering industries there is a possibility of a continuing srike from Tuesday. [1]

We know that the next day of strikes and demonstrations, on Tuesday 12th October, will be a success. And today, the idea that we can win is increasing.

The state of the movement
It is, at the moment, a very political movement. The strike rates are strong but not exceptional. The self-organization of the movement today, is very low. General assemblies in the various sectors have very low participation.

It is a unitarian movement. There is an inter-union coordinating committee [2], which gives the calendar of mobilisations but which is pushed by the intransigence of the government and by the very radical militant teams.

This movement is characterized by a massive refusal of the reform, a spectacular mistrust against the power, against Sarkozy but we don’t know what will be the end result of this confrontation. Everything is possible.

On the political level
The NPA participates with the whole French left including the PS, but without LO, in a unitarian campaign against the pensions reform .

This unitarian campaign, launched by Attac and the Copernic Foundation, is based on the demand of a pension at 60 years for all and the withdrawal of the law.

Although all the left agrees on these two demands, there are several disagreements.

The disagreement over demands is in particular with the Socialist Party. They agree with the demand of 60 years old as retirement age but they defend the idea that workers must work longer to get a full pension. And so they voted with the rightwing deputies for the increase of years worked to qualify for the full pension.

There are also disagreements about the strategy for winning against the government and obtaining the withdrawal of the draft law. There are disagreements with the Socialist Party but also with the Communist Party and Parti de gauche (Left Party). The Socialist Party ask us to wait for the next presidential elections in 2012 and the other political forces demand a referendum, turning the class struggle into an institutional question. They are all refusing the social confrontation necessary to win.

The NPA’s profile
Since the beginning of the mobilization, the NPA has worked in two directions:

The first : to be completely in the unitarian campaign, defending retirement at 60 years old with full pension. We also demand the withdrawal of the law. Olivier is the party spokesperson who has participated at the most unitarian meetings around the country.

For us, the main demand is the redistribution of wealth and the sharing of work. Our profile is clear, since last May we have been working for a massive social and political confrontation.

As the government is very unpopular, one of our demands is to sack Woerth, the labour minister, and president Sarkozy.

Sandra Demarcq is a member of the Executive Committee of the New Anti-Capitalist pary (NPA) in France, and a member of the leadership of the Fourth International.

NOTES


[1] The right to strike is embodied in the French constitution. Trades unions have to give a “warning” (préavis) of a strike for the workers to be considered legally on strike. In these sectors there has been a préavis for a “reconductible” or all-out strike, that is one that is revoted each day by the workers.

[2] [The “intersyndical” brings together the five confederations, including two usually classed on the “right”, CGT, CFDT, FO, CGC and CFTC; the radical union SUD Solidaires with important implantation in the postal, transport and health sectors, FSU and UNSA (teachers and public sector)

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Friday, October 15, 2010

French Unions Call New National Strike as the Movement to Defend Pensions Continues to Grow

Lisbeth Latham

The inter-union coordinating committee that has led the movement in defence of pensions has announced a new national strike for October 19, to follow the national strike already scheduled on October 16. The call for the next national strike comes as indefinite strikes continue in a large cross section of French industry.


In a statement issued on October 14, the inter-union argued that the mobilisation of 3.5 million workers and students on October 12, the largest of the movement thus far, demonstrated the opposition of workers and the broader public to “unfair and ineffective reforms that exacerbate inequality without ensuring the sustainability of the pension system”. The unions called on their local organisations in both the private and public sector to take united action to amplify the actions on October 16 and 19.

Since October 12, indefinite strikes have continued to operate in wide number of industries. According to the Trade Union Solidaires’ daily strike bulletin indefinite strikes are occurring in the following sectors:


  • Oil refining, where the six TOTAL refineries are currently shutdown, 11 of 12 refineries in the country are affected by the strike. \
  • The state rail system
  • The Autonomous Operator of Parisian Transport as well as public transport in Dunkirk, Clermont -Ferrand, Poitiers, Dijon, Nancy and Marseilles
  • Plants in the metallurgy, chemical and glass industries
  • The Ministry of Finance
  • A number of departments and museums in the Ministry of Culture.
  • In a number of local government authorities across France.
  • LNG terminals and ports
  • Nuclear power plants
  • Electricity and Gas distribution
  • Education
  • Postal Service
AFP reported on October 15, that 300 schools across France had been affected by student protests with clashes reported to have occurred between students and police in Paris and Caanes. In its October 15 strike Bulletin Solidaires condemned police violence directed towards high school students.

The October 19 strike will occur a day before the scheduled final vote on the Pension Bill in the Senate, the inter-union will meet on again on October 21 to plan the next initiatives in the campaign.



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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Footage of National Strike Across France on October 12



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France: Massive Protests Oppose French Pensions Bill

Lisbeth Latham

Workers and students mobilised in their millions on October 12 in the fourth and largest mobilisation in the last month against laws that will reduce the pension entitlements of French workers. The protests and strikes come as the French Senate has begun passing aspects of the pension bill that will see an increase in the retirement age from 60 to 62 years of age and increase the qualifying period that workers must work to receive a full pension. The mobilisation demonstrates an increasing polarisation over who should pay the price of the economic crisis in France as the country heads towards another national strike on October 16.



As with previous protests the size of the protests has been heavily contested, with the government attempting to downplay the level of public support and unions emphasising the extent they reflect broader public anger. Unions estimate that 3.5 million people participated in 244 protests in cities and towns across France, a significant increase on the 3 million people estimated to have joined each of the previous two mobilisations on October 2 and September 23. According to AFP France’s Interior Ministry announced that with the Paris protests yet to come, half a million people had participated, substantially down from its estimates of 883, 000 and 997, 000 for October 2 and September 23 respectively. However the Interior Ministry’s final estimate was 1.23 million people.

According to unions the growth in numbers primarily came from two sources: workers in the private sector and students.

According to the Confédération générale du travail (General Confederation of Workers – CGT) substantially larger numbers of private sector workers participated in the strike, including non-union members. In some companies the rate of participation was as high as 80% of staff. One of the most significant developments was in the oil industry with strikes occurring at 11 of the country’s 12 oil refineries.

There was a substantial increase in the number of university and high school students participating in the mobilisations, with tens of thousands joining protests, and at least 400 schools closed as a consequence of staff and student action. The government has attempted to paint students as the ones with the most gain from the reduction in pension rights, arguing that it will reduce the size of the pension system that they will have to support. However students, entering the workforce will face a longer working life than their parents, and the fear that the delay in the retirement of older workers will further exacerbate France’s youth unemployment rate of 24 percent.

The media has made much of the entry of students into movement, raising the spectre of the movement of May-June ’68, however of more concern will be the more recent movement against the First Employment Contract in 2005-2006. This legislation would have dramatically reduced the rights of young people entering the work force for the first time. During this campaign students shut down their campuses for months, with almost permanent street demonstrations that were punctuated by large union protests. These mobilisations were successful in defeating the legislation.

Adding to the threat of student mobilisation, has been the decision of union members in a number of industries including oil, rail, ports and a number of government services to begin indefinite strike action. The strike by oil workers poses a real possibility of substantial fuel shortages across in the coming days.

While unions such as the CGT and Solidaires are calling for the strike movement to be spread, other unions have raised concerns that an intensification of the movement risks alienating the broader public and providing President Sarkozy with an opportunity to rebuild his flagging electoral fortunes through a shattering defeat of the unions. Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens (French Confederation of Christain Workers) has opposed indefinite strikes, and stated that the union's members in the rail system will not participate in the indefinite strikes. The BBC reported on October 12, that Francois Chereque, Secretary General of the Confédération française démocratique du travail (French Democratic Confederation of Labour - CFDT) as saying "The large majority of employees cannot afford to pay for repeated days of strikes.

However, as was been pointed out by the Trade Union Solidaires in the leadup to October 12"A few days of strikes to not lose years of free time, it's worth it, right? The strike will cost money, that's undeniable. But the implementation of this bill will cost more! Directly, through reduced pensions and indirectly through further significant reductions in the social system due to the door that would be opened by defeat on this issue".

With the government already pushing the legislation through the Senate and with the Senate approving the increase in minimum retirement age from 60 to 62 on October 8. Failure by the movement to lift the intensity of the movement is likely to find the government growing in confidence in its ability to ride out the movement. Faced with government intransigence and more than 67% public support for an intensified industrial campaign, and the momentum build up in the struggle since April, the unions are in a strong position to push the movement forward. As a statement issued by the Solidaires on October 12 says, “There is no time to lose: now is the time to harden and expand the movement to win”.

While the immediate focus of the media is on the outcome of the government’s attempt to wind back France’s welfare state, there is far more at stake. The determination of the government to cut pensions so soon after it provided massive bailouts to the banks and business to help them recover from the Global Financial Crisis, risks a far deeper radicalisation with the possibility of the unions and social movements going on the offensive if they are successful in defeating the Pension Bill.

The inter-union coordinating commitee, which has lead campaign, is scheduled to meet on October 14 to plan actions coming out of the next national strike on October 16. The response on October 16, in the wake of October 12 and the localised indefinite strike, and the actions initiated on October 14 will be important tests of the capacity of the movement to win.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

French Senate Votes to Raise Retirement Age as Unions Prepare for a Day of Strikes

Lisbeth Latham

France’s Senate passed, on October 8, the first part of the Pension Bill aimed at dramatically reducing workers retirement and pension rights. The vote came days before the fourth major mobilisation by unions, in just over a month, aimed at defeating the Bill and securing the French pension system. The Senate’s vote signals a decisive test both for the movement and France’s right wing government.

The government won the first Senate vote on the Pension Bill 186 to 153, increasing the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62. The Senate has yet to vote on the proposal to increase the age at which workers can access the full pension from 65 to 67, however amendments that will allow parents of children with disabilities, and parents of more than three children, to continue to retire at 65 have been passed. The bill had not been expected to fully passed by the until at least October 15, however as there have been some 1000 amendments made to the bill, it is expected to be held up in the Senate until later in October.

The passage of part of the Pension Bill through the Senate poses a significant test for the movement. It is possible that the vote spur the mobilisiations due to anger over the government’s continued refusal to heed public anger at attacks on pensions. However it demoralise the movement resulting in the movement dwindling. The vote could also see workers look to the June 2012 elections and the Socialist Party’s promise to overturn the Bill if it wins Government. However initial indications are that the movement will escalate in the immediate wake of the vote in the Senate. The Confédération générale du travail (General Confederation of Workers – CGT) reported on October 11, that a poll conducted over October 8 to 10 indicated that 66% of French people supported an intensification of the movement. Eighty-four percent of “left” voters supported an intensification compared to 33% of right supporters.

The inter-union coordinating committee of seven of France’s Union Confederations has called national strikes and mobilisations for October 12 and 16. The inter-union will meet again on October 14 to prepare further steps in the movement. In the statement announcing the October 16 mobilisation, the inter-union described the Government’s action in pushing through the legisalation as an attempt to diffuse the mobilisations. The statement called for the mobilisations to be broadened and expanded and for united meetings of workers in their workplaces to allow them to define the rhythm and forms of action to follow.

At the centre of the fight-back have been the workers at the Fos-Lavera Port near Marseille who have been on strike since September 27. According to the CGT the strike is focused on both defending the existing pension system and opposition to the transfer of port activities to private operators under the 2008 port reform laws. Fos-Lavera is the third largest oil port in Europe and accounts for 7% of the continent’s oil movements. As a consequence the refineries that are supplied by Fos-Lavera are operating at reduced capacity and are expected to shutdown in the next few days unless the strike ends. The CGT has called rolling strikes at all French ports starting October 12.

Other sectors are also looking to take rolling industrial action. Workers at the Donges refinery, France’s second largest oil refinery, voted on October 11 for a renewable strike starting October 12. The strike will be reviewed every two days. Once the strike is called off the plant will take two further days to become operational again.

On October 6, unions in both the state rail company SFNC and the Paris underground announced open-ended strikes beginning October 12. These will be rolling 24-hour stoppages, with the next strike being renotified prior to the expiry of the existing strike.

While the movement is expanding not all the members of the inter-inion are consistent in supporting the extension. Reuters, on October 8, reported that Jacques Voisin, President of the Confédération Française des Travailleurs Chrétiens (French Confederation of Christian Workers – CFTC) which is part of the inter-union coalition, has publicly distance the CFDT from calls for rolling strikes. This reflects that at least some of the union leaderships have been forced to make public statements of supporting more militant action based both on concerns of their members, but also the pressure of radical unions such as the Solidaires confederation, which as been advocating the preparation for an escalating general strike since the Government announced the current round of attacks on pensions.

Solidaires in a statement issued on October 11, noted that the current movement which has sustained mobilisations of more than 3 million people for a month is currently larger in size than the movement that defeated the 1995 attack on pensions. What is lacking at the moment is the intensity of action of the 1995 movement, which saw ongoing strike action for three weeks in November and December of that year. Whether the current movement is able to generate a similar level mobilisation to defeat the right’s attacks are yet to be seen but the signs are positive.

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

French Protests Continue Against Attacks on Pensions

Lisbeth Latham

Millions of people joined protests across France on October 2 as part of the ongoing campaign to defeat attacks on France’s pension system. The day which had been called by a Inter-Union Coalition of seven of France’s Union Confederations, was the third national protests against the pension bill, currently before the France’s Senate, since September 7.


With the Senate vote approaching, and the French government determined shift reduce pension rights to increase the burden of economic reform being paid by working people, the size of the protests were an important test for the strength of the movement. As such the numbers mobilised have been hotly contested, just as with each of the previous days of mobilisation. France’s Interior Ministry claimed that the protests were substantially down on previous mobilisations, roughly 883, 000 compared with 997, 000 on September 23. The unions’ claimed the numbers were similar 2.9 million on October 2 compared with 3 million on September 23. While the government attempt to play down the size the protests, Capital is worried, this concern was reflected in the article published on October 4 at The Australian’s website, which raised concerns that the October 2 mobilisations had seen significant numbers of students mobilised and the possibility of a repeat of the large scale student lead mobilisations that defeated the First Employment Contract law in 2006.

Adding to the impact of the October 2 mobilisation was the ongoing strike action by port workers. On September 27, workers at Fos-Lavera port near Marseille, which is the world’s third largest oil port, began wildcat strike action blockading the port and reducing the supply of oil to the 8 refineries supplied by the port. The action at Los-Lavera was aimed at opposing both the attack on pensions and changes at the port. By October 1 the strike had spread to the majority of France’s commercial ports raising the spectre of escalating strike action similar to that which defeated attempts to reduce pension rights in 1995.

On October 4, the day before the debate in the Senate was due to begin, the inter-union coordinating committee issued a statement that identified the October 12 strikes as crucial and called on their organisations to broaden and expand their united mobilisations. The Inter-Union also announced that it would be meeting on October 8 to plan the next course of action.

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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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