The strikes and mass demonstrations in France


Interview with Nicolas Dessaux, a worker-communist activist in France about the strikes and demonstrations. Nicolas Dessaux is a Worker-communist activist from France. He and his comrades are actively involved in the nationwide protests by workers and students against the government passions scheme. We asked him to give us an overview about the whole situation in France. The questions by: Muhsin Kareem, from Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan/17-10-2010

Comrade Nicolas, First of all, I would like to thank you for spending your time answering our questions. I am going to start with the first question. Could you give us a short description of the national countrywide strike going on now in France?

The French government, led by the president Nicolas Sarkozy, decided to change the age of retirement from 60 years old to 62. This was a project since 2008, so there were monthly demonstrations against it. Now, the new law is under voting process in the parliament, so the movement grows quicker and stronger. Currently, there are two demonstrations a week, in every French city, and strikes are everywhere.

What parts of workers have taken part in the strike?

As retirement age is a concern for everybody, most sectors are involved. For sure, some have a leading role, for the strategic role they play in the struggle. Currently, these are the oil refineries. All of 12 French refineries are on strike, as well as port workers. So, the government worries because of the risk the country could be on oil shortage very soon. Trains and tubes workers are also in a strategic position in the strike, as they normally bring everyday workers from home to work. But there are also strikes in metallurgy and other industrial sectors, town workers, teachers… etc.

Are all the participating workers from unions? What is the name of them? What is their political attitude?

No. The percentage of union members is low in France, unlike other countries in Europe, but the relationship between workers and unions is also different. Unions still have a leading role in the organising the movement.

Currently, the movement is still lead, on national level, by a coalition of the seven unions: Solidaires, CGT, FO, CFDT, UNSA, CFTC and CGC. Locally, this is more complex even, as in some regions this coalition is effective on a local level to organize strikes (like in Marseille, the big south port, where the strike is impressive), while in others they only agree on organising demonstrations.

In this coalition, unions only agree on one point: the current law is bad for workers. They disagree even on the fact it should be completely removed (Solidaires, FO) or only changed (all others). But the fact that the government refuses any negotiations and any change in its law puts even the most moderate unions in a situation they have no other real choice than to radicalize the strike. Today, the moderate CFDT called truck workers, a sector where they’re the biggest union, to go on strike. Truck workers are known also as a strategic sector to paralyze the country. This is an example among others, which means the pressure of the worker’s base on leaderships is high. They (the union leaders) would like to betray us, but lack the proper margin to do it.

How many workers in total have taken part in the event?

There’s a media war about the real numbers of people involved in the demonstrations. Unions claim that 3,5 millions peoples took part in the three last one, while the government admit only one million. But, a policemen union criticized the government for lying, as they ignore the real data provided by local cops.

A feature of the strikes in France is that, if the major industrial sectors are 100% on strikes, it is common to have a minority of workers on strike in a single enterprise, and this is more common even in schools and administrations. So, relationships between workers from various jobs gathering and cooperating to help each other organize strikes, but also road blockades or others direct actions, is very common.

What is the attitude of people about the strike?

According to polls, 71% of French people support the movement, and 55% agrees it should be more radical. After all, most people are workers and will also suffer from a higher retirement age. This means that even if they can’t personally go on strike, because they can’t loose any part of their low wage, because of boos pressures and so on, they still support the movement.

What does the government say about it? In other words, what is the political propaganda against the strike and the workers and unions?

Government’s propaganda was long time based on the fact that this “reform” couldn’t be avoided; that there will be no money left to pay pensions if they don’t change the retirement age; that this has a demographic effect, not a capitalist policy. But these arguments were defeated. The fact that they gave so much money to save the banks in the crisis and then the political and financial scandals around the government both have made workers do not trust them anymore. Now, they try to minimize the real impact of the current strike, and also to prevent the youth to enter the movement. With these arguments, they can gather support from their own right-wing base, but don’t convince anyone else.

Has any part of the society shown support to or started any solidarity action with the workers?

Yes, the youth. Some universities, but mainly high schools, are on strike and they demonstrate everyday. An interesting phenomenon is that this movement is the strongest and the more radical in small towns with a high unemployment rate. From the first days, the young fight with the police and many of them have been arrested. It’s something new in France, where these demonstrations are usually dynamic but non-violent. The biggest point is that, as in 2007, youth don’t stand for education reforms, but as a part of the working-class, against the fear of being unemployed. This is a real and deep change. It explains why they join workers in demonstrations so easily.

What are the demands and the slogans of the demonstrations and activities?

The “official” demand is that retirement age should be kept at 60, as it is currently. But, day after day, slogans are more and more turned against the government and capitalism. In fact, pensions is one aspect, as angriness against government, its racist and oppressive policy, its attacks on workers rights, low wages and high prices, is very strong. Among actions, the favourite, like in 2003, is still road blockades, on highways, town entrances or industrial zones. The tactic relies on paralysing the economy, to inflict damages to capitalists.

Is there any role of socialists and communists in this event? Is there any influence of them in the unions and worker organizations?

It depends on what we call a socialist or a communist, fore sure. France always has been a country where’s the left is strong. Left parties, including the “official” communist party and the various Trotskyites, have a real influence on the unions. A lot of local, but influential union leaders are members of these parties. So, their influence on the strike is real. But, as we experimented in 2003 with a similar movement, they lack a real will to appear as a political party able to lead the movement toward the government overthrow. Worker-communism has a strong potential basis in the working-class nowadays, but as a political and organized current, it is very new here and can gather only a few dedicated activists.

Are there any other worker’s organizations other than the unions? How radical are they?

Not really. The general assemblies are very common, but this is a feature of the working-class movement in France, which is not in complete opposition with the unions. The radical one, like Solidaires, is  strong supporter of general assemblies, while others are less; but this is (the general assemblies) considered as the normal mean to decide a strike in any enterprise. So, workers assemblies still play a minor role in the movement leadership, even if they have it in the enterprises. Radical workers put emphases on general assemblies, with a limited success until now.

Une Réponse to “The strikes and mass demonstrations in France”

  1. edward Says:

    No to Sarkozy’s strike-breaking! Solidarity with French workers!

    October 27

    Join our protest at the French embassy in London in solidarity with the French strike movement, and against the Sarkozy government’s police repression.

    The French embassy is at 58 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7JT (Knightsbridge or Hyde Park Corner tube).

    Called by: Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, Worker-communist Part of Iraq, Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan, Worker-communist Party of Iran (Hekmatist)

    To add your organisation’s support, email


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