January 29, 2023
From Internationalism
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“Enough is enough” was the cry heard during the first day of mobilisation on 19 January against the pension “reform”. This “enough is enough” can only echo the “Enough is enough” that has been spreading since June in Britain, strike after strike.

For several months now, inflation has been reaching levels not seen in decades around the world. Everywhere in the world, the increase in the price of products and basic goods, such as food, gas, electricity or housing, is hitting the exploited hard, and an ever-larger proportion of them can no longer afford to live decently, even in the most developed countries. The accelerated deterioration of the economic situation can only lead to increasingly difficult and even miserable living conditions for millions of people.

The anger of more than a million demonstrators in France was therefore a clear expression, beyond the issue of the pension reform alone, of a more general frustration, and the reality of the return of the combativity of the exploited in many countries in the face of the increase in the cost of living, the deterioration of working conditions and precariousness. The massiveness of this first day of mobilisation only confirms the change of mind that is taking place on an international scale, the signal for which was given by the working class strikes in the UK since last summer.

Pension reform is a necessity for the bourgeoisie

Why, then, is the French bourgeoisie undertaking such an attack on the working class? The delay of the French bourgeoisie in “reforming” the pension system for several years remains a major weakness vis-à-vis the competing bourgeoisies. This need increases all the more as the intensification of the war economy imposes an inexorable intensification of the exploitation of labour power. [1] After failing a first time in 2019, Macron and his clique are making this new attempt a stake in their credibility, a proof of their ability to play their full role in defending the interests of national capital.

First planned for the summer of 2023, then advanced to the end of 2022 and then postponed to January 2023, the government chose what it considered to be the best moment to carry out this attack, knowing that it can still count on the multiple “tariff shields” that allow it to partially cushion the shock of the crisis.

If the bourgeoisie was determined to strike another blow on pensions and to impose longer working hours, it also knows that the previous attempt, in 2019-2020, ended in massive protests for almost two months. And although the anger and combative spirit expressed then was stopped short by the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, this was not experienced as a “defeat” in the eyes of the working class. On the contrary, in the meantime, the anger and the will to fight remained intact. This new attack on pensions in France therefore had every chance of mobilising a large part of the working class in the streets and on strike. And it did! It is, in fact, a direct and even harder attack, and it affects the whole working class.

Therefore, although the bourgeoisie is well aware of this situation, and especially of the combativity expressed on an international scale (across the Channel and elsewhere), the success of the attack could prove more delicate than expected. This is why, for months, meetings between the government and the unions have been taking place, in order to work out the most effective strategy to adapt and respond to a foreseeable reaction by the workers.

Faced with division, let’s fight back with unity and solidarity

After the well-attended inter-professional demonstration of 29 September, the unions have not stopped holding one day of strikes after another, sector by sector. During the autumn, the concerted action of the government, the left and far-left parties as well as the unions, had no other aim than to weaken and prevent as much as possible, for as long as possible, any real unity, any solidarity in the different sectors of the working class. This was, for example, the case in October 2022, at the time of the strike in the refineries: by praising the merits of a real negotiation, the “social partners”, chief saboteurs of the struggles, allowed the state to appear as a responsible arbitrator in front of the bosses, and the CGT and FO to be presented by the media as determined, radical, inflexible, and therefore credible for the struggle… whereas these agencies are themselves state organs, perfectly institutionalised. [2]

While the possibility of solidarity in the struggle is becoming more and more apparent, the unions have the organisation of the movements under their control, and they scatter and separate into innumerable corporations, sectors and specific demands, thus playing on all possible divisions to hinder the struggles and stop their development.

This will to thwart any class impetus was verified during the strike of the SNCF controllers last December. Faced with the stoppage of work by more than half of the controllers, the unions did everything to bring the movement to an end as quickly as possible. This led to negotiations with SNCF management and the satisfaction of some of the demands, in order to lift the strike notice for the New Year’s Day weekend. The unions thus worked to prevent any attempt at autonomous struggle. We had seen the same thing in 1986 in the struggle at the SNCF where the birth of coordinations independent of the trade union centres had led the CGT to create, at the very beginning of the movement, “anti-strike” pickets, physically opposing the strikers, only to change tack later on. These coordinations, however “radical” they were, could not overcome a narrow corporatism, like that of the train drivers at the time, and this was firmly supported by the Trotskyist organisation Lutte Ouvrière. Today, despite a certain mistrust of the union leadership, the weight of corporatism has kept the controllers and railway workers very vulnerable to other, more “radical”, more “unofficial” forms of unionism, such as the “Collectif National des Agents du Service Commercial Train” (CNASCT), but which is just as corporatist.

Since 10 January, the date of the announcement of the pension reform, on all the television and radio platforms, the trade unions took turns to call for “everyone to take to the streets”, trumpeting “trade union unity”, the supposed symbol of their will to repel the attack. In reality, these were the unmistakable signs of their will to contain the anger that was to be expressed in the streets. Thus, alongside their misleading speeches, the unions had undertaken a whole work of fragmentation of struggles:

– Call for a strike and a specific mobilisation of an important sector of the working class, education… but on 17 January, that is to say two days before the day of action of the 19th, to better demobilise this sector on that day!

– Strike called in hospitals from 10 January…

– Strike at the RATP on 13 January…

– Strike in the oil sector at the end of January, then at the beginning of February…

– A “black day” organised in Parisian public transport for the day of 19 January, called by the unions, to prevent many people from going to the demonstrations.

After that, the trade union sound systems had no problem shouting a hypocritical “All together, all together” on 19 January!

In addition, on the same television and radio programmes, there was a deafening “debate” on the unfairness of the reform for this or that category of the population. It should be made fairer by better integrating the particular profiles of apprentices, certain manual workers, women, taking better account of long careers, etc. In short, it’s always the same trap, to push everyone to look out for their own situation, while only highlighting the fate of the most disadvantaged “categories” in the face of this attack!

But in the end, all these counter-fires, set up during the last three weeks, did not work. And the combativity expressed by one to two million demonstrators is now forcing the unions to adapt to the situation. Hence the postponement of the next day of mobilisation from 26 to 31 January. If the “social partners” of the bourgeoisie justify this change by the necessity “to build a lasting movement”, in reality, it’s a question of giving themselves time in order to pursue the enterprise of division and sabotage of the struggle. Moreover, since 20 January, they have hastened to call on the “bases to get organised” by launching calls for totally sterile methods of struggle such as “going in front of a prefecture to make a noise”, “cutting off the power to the offices of the deputies” or “going to demonstrate one’s bad mood in front of them”. All this without forgetting to isolate the sectors from each other by calling, for example, for a one-day strike in the refineries on 26 January. So many gesticulations that only aim to organise dispersion, to exhaust and weaken the balance of forces between now and 31 January. There is no doubt that mobilisations sector by sector will also multiply between now and then.

Workers must take the struggle into their own hands

How, in contrast to this preventive sabotage of struggles, can we create a balance of forces that will enable us to resist the attacks on living and working conditions?

– By seeking support and solidarity beyond one’s corporation, one’s company, one’s sector of activity, one’s city, one’s region, one’s country.

– By organising autonomously, particularly through general assemblies, without leaving control to the unions.

– By the widest possible discussion on the general needs of the struggle, on the lessons to be learned from the fights and also from the defeats. Because there will be defeats, but the greatest defeat would be to suffer the attacks without reacting.

The entry into struggle is the first victory of the exploited. Autonomy, solidarity and unity are the indispensable milestones in the preparation of tomorrow’s struggles. For the current struggles are not only expressions of resistance against the deterioration of living and working conditions. They are also the only way to regain the consciousness of belonging to one and the same class. They form the main furrow through which the proletariat can glimpse an alternative to capitalist society: communism.

Stopio, 21 January 2023

[1] Like his foreign counterparts, Macron has just announced a considerable increase in the budgets allocated to armaments.

[2] See “Strikes in the French refineries and elsewhere… Solidarity in the struggle is the strength of our class”, Révolution internationale No. 495.




Source: En.internationalism.org