Last Thursday 19th, the CGT and Solidares organized in Paris and in tens of province cities a set of demonstrations in favor of the “convergence of the struggles”, this is, of the different confrontations between the worker movement, the students and other sectors and the Emmanuel Macron government. In the early morning of Friday, an impressive police operative – in fact, military – evicted the students of the University of Tolbiac, one of the most important occupied universities.
The railroad strike is in the center of these confrontations. The strike and the mobilizations show the contrasts of the class struggle in France, the strong and weak points of the worker movement, of its militant vanguard, of the whole oppressed people’s struggle. We are in a race against time, between the capitalist government and the popular and worker struggles. The outcome will be decisive for all this period of development of the capitalist crisis in the European countries.
The attack from Macron
It is clear that the so-called “railroad reform” (which foresees the disarticulation of the company, the liquidation of the labor conditions, the cession to private capital of the most profitable activities) will determine the future of this capitalist government. A few years ago the highways were privatized, now it’s about the airports and transport. But the objectives are the pensions system and social security (health providers). There’s a planned policy of destruction of public services. The government already announced that in the second semester of the year it will release the “pensions’ system reform”. The same happens with the universities and the new law of entry selection of the students to third cycle.
The presidential program has a long range. Macron lacks of a political party that supports him in this duty and he uses the resources of Bonapartism, in its more grotesque expressions. The presidential elections pointed the crisis of the big governmental parties and in that void was introduced the new president, pampered by the great capital, the financial centers, the thinking organisms of the imperialist French bourgeoisie. The president has to keep the imperialist and militarist rank of France, with its correspondent costs and liquidation of democratic freedoms.
The liquidation of worker conquests, of the protection rules, the collective conventions, is an immediate need. It started with the liquidation of the labor code and the passage to a supposed “negotiation” at company level, which will never exist as such. It attacks the union bureaucracies and the role they defend as intermediaries between capital and labor, always favoring the capitalist regime. The railroad reform summarized all these objectives very well and it’s a necessary passage. It attacks a sector of the working class highly unionized, with a particular labor statute, a national framework, a certain power of negotiation. It is needed to be remembered, that in 1995, the government of Alain Juppé announced the liquidation of the railroad pensions regime and the strike which answered him paralyzed the country and made the government to fall.
The response of the unions’ bureaucracy
The railroad unions are particularly powerful (in a country with a low rate of unionization with exception in the public sector and certain industrial cores) and are divided en several confederations, as the rest of the working class movement. The dominant union is the CGT (which is losing influence), the there are the CFDT (Democratic French Conference of Labor) and UNSA (both of open class collaboration and with the second one strong in the motormen). The combative union is the SUD Rail. The FO (Workers’ Force) was left behind and closer to the CGT than to the CFDT-UNSA.
The railroad reform will be sanctioned by the Executive Power with the Congress ratification, where Macron disposes of an enormous and automatic majority. There’s no debate nor negotiation with union organizations and as a fact neither in the country, with a frenetic rhythm of sanctioning anti-popular and anti-workers laws and dispositions. Besides, the worker movement comes from two important defeats, against the labor reforms of François Hollande and the very same Macron.
At the same time, the destruction of the SNFC (State’s railroad company) and the railroad code couldn’t pass easily. The unions’ directions then proposed a newly “struggle plan”: a succession of strikes of two and three days of work until the month of June. This program allowed to keep the dialogue with the government, without forcing the strike situation. The SUD was the only one opposed, keeping it slogan of “reconductible strike”, this is a strike for undetermined time, sanctioned and renewed each day by a General Assembly.
The government’s answer was brutal: there’s nothing to negotiate. The CFDT in particular ask for the direct intervention of the Prime Minister, to leave aside the useless minister of transport, who had no power. It is the denial of the government what keeps for now the union block, though the UNSA and the CFDT want to break it. The CGT was left at the center of the scene. The militant positions of SUD Rail are a real minority and won the approval of few assemblies. The conflict is explosive and the unions tried to flatten it. The contrast is noticeable between a movement of strike that affects all country and the absence of more decisive reactions from the railroad unions.
The convergence of the struggles
The CGT uses once again its traditional strategy to control a conflict to lower its combative spirit and to organize a series of national mobilizations to give it a resonance box and underlines its intervention as struggle pivot.
That’s how the days of struggle passed. On March 22nd there was an important mobilization day of the public employees and the railroad ones; in March there was a mobilization of the pensioners against the new taxes; on April 19th there was the demonstration of the “convergence of the struggles”, with a significant participation of students, by the end of May there will be an officials’ mobilization. The CGT announced that wants to make of the next May 1st demonstration a great united act of support to the railroad workers.
This activism of the CGT is tricky, though it has released struggle actions in some sectors. As a fact there hasn’t been no “convergence” and the unions which pronounce for the effective and militant support to railroad workers are few. The Air France conflict is a good example in this sense. The students’ movement is more the exception than the rule. It has mobilized by thousands on April 19th and the support to railroad workers appears in many of its universities occupation actions.
The convergence is above all a mood of thousands activists and militants which perceives clearly that the railroad strike won’t be able to win if it the streets are not won, if other strikes and struggles appear and develop. It’s needed to manifest and organize. In the great cities of province – Nantes, Montpellier, Rennes – this “convergence” manifests effectively in the streets, with common manifestations and confrontations with the repression. The translation in terms of unions and unions’ sections which structure and develop the movement is embryonic.
What appears clearly is the “recovery” of the working class and students’ mobilization by the political apparatuses. There’s a double intervention. On one side, the NPA’s (New Anti-capitalist Party) direction launched a “unity of the left” operation, with the CP, Benoit Hamón (former presidential candidate of the SP that now has created his own movement) and other organizations. With a reformist and conciliating, democratizing and demoralizing program, it’s returning to the old “unity of the left and of the left of the left”, as political alternative to the so-called neoliberalism. It a path with no struggle perspective.
The other option is Jean-Luc Mélenchon. This “movementist” demagogue, who opposes the organizations of the working class movement and the class struggle, who defends the French imperialism, who works with Podemos and worked with Syriza, pretends to be –alone- the political opposition to Macron… to win the next elections. He has adopted a divisionist and self-promotion policy. He refuses to make the May 1st a united day of support to the railroad strike and the struggles and calls to an own and divisionist “act”… for May 5th.
The central political role that Mélenchon and his sectarian movement pretends to play, and the public reappearance of the NPA and of Olivier Besancenot with his reformist “political alternative”, are favored by the difficulties of the militant left to intervene as a regrouping, centralization an struggle driver axis, This left manages to group thousands of activists, in particular in the manifestations and also in meetings, assemblies, interventions.
In the next weeks the immediate luck of the government and the working class movement en the following period will be played. If to the capitalist crisis is added a political crisis provoked by a defeat of Macron, there will open a period of renovation of the class struggle and the possibilities of revolutionary organization and intervention of the militant vanguard.
April 20th 2018