Statement

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2nd Communiqué on the Strikes in France (3 January 2020)

Warning: in the original French version, the editor got the dates wrong. This communiqué was written on Friday, January 3 instead of Friday, January 4 and he also confused January 7 as Monday instead of Tuesday, January 7, the day of the official government-union discussions. We have corrected that in this English version. We thank the readers, and the comrades of the ICT, who alerted us immediately to the confusion.

The strikes that began on the 5th of December continue in a number of sectors, particularly those related to public services. Readers living outside France should note that there has been a mobilization against the abolition of pension systems in favour of a new system that significantly postpones the effective retirement age and considerably reduces pensions, sometimes by as much as 30%. The strike continues to paralyze a large part of public transport, especially in the Paris region, despite attempts to intimidate, pressure and repress by the management and managerial staff of striking companies (mainly SNCF, national trains, and RATP, metro, bus and part of the trains in the Paris region) and the police, especially during demonstrations and picket lines. Despite government provocations and media propaganda, the movement still enjoys the support and sympathy of a majority of the population according to polls [1].

After the two weeks of Christmas holidays, the teachers will return from vacation on Monday the 6th. The next day, Tuesday 7, the government will receive all the unions. The fact that there have been no formal discussions or negotiations since December 18th shows that the government has tried to play the card of rotting the strike without trying to resolve the situation and the exhausting daily hardships of hundreds of thousands of travellers going to work; and on the other hand to lock the strikers into a long and exhausting strike that is physically and financially exhausting - many are one month into the strike, which means they already lost one salary! It is very likely that this Tuesday the government will grant some small concessions of a secondary nature, to the so-called "reformist" unions, the CFDT and UNSA, so that they can call for the strike to be stopped with a minimum of credibility in the eyes of their "base" and "public opinion". If this is the case, the media will headline on the trade union division, the ebb of the strike and the decrease in the number of strikers. On Thursday 9th, the "most left-wing" trade unions, the CGT, FO, SUD, FSU, gathered in an intersyndicale ["inter-union"], will organize a 4th day of action and "inter-professional" demonstration. Depending on the extent of participation in the strike, in Education in particular, or even in other sectors, and the outcome of Tuesday’s negotiations, the day of the 9th will mark the end, or the beginning of the end, of the strike and the failure of the mobilization to make the government back down, or else a redistribution of the cards, a disruption of the lines and forces confronting each other in this mobilization. But then we can think that the driving force of the current strike, the railway workers and the RATP workers, exhausted, will have to be taken over by another sector or other sectors.

How did it come to this? What has been the course of the struggle until today and what have been the different successive battles? And how have or should have the revolutionaries intervened in these?

In the previous Communique of December 8th, after recalling the current international context of struggles and popular revolts, we tried to present the process that led from the massive strike at RATP on September 13th to the day of union action on December 5th and the start of the renewable strike. In particular, we recalled the importance that the extension of the wildcat strike at the Châtillon SNCF TGV maintenance centre at the end of October, itself preceded by a three-day stoppage of national traffic following an accident, could have taken if it had extended. It would have taken the initiative and control of the struggle away from the unions by anticipating the day of action on December 5th. The end of this strike, "victorious" because the management hastened to give in to local demands, closed this moment and in fact gave back the control to the unions until December 5th, and even until the 10th. We concluded this communiqué with the following statement, which seems to have been verified to date:

"Certainly, the bourgeoisie and its unions are in control of the situation; in particular and most certainly, this will be so between now and Tuesday and Wednesday [December 10 and 11, days of the second day of action and the meetings between the unions and the government]. Nevertheless, the will to fight is strong and a kind of arm-wrestling has been engaged with the government. And it is also where the proletariat can engage in a deadlock. The risk for all proletarians is to simply and passively wait for the transport blockade with the hope it may make the government withdraw its project instead of entering into the open struggle themselves".

From December 10 to 17...

The day of action on December 10th saw less participation in the strike and demonstrations than on the 5th (800,000 demonstrators versus 1.5 million according to the CGT). In our opinion, this drop in participation can in great part be explained by the lack of real perspectives for the generalization of the movement beyond the sectors traditionally in struggle (railway workers in particular). At the end of that day, it seemed that the control of the situation by the state, mainly government and unions, had been further strengthened... until the Prime Minister spoke the same evening.

While everyone expected him to announce some concessions (such as the withdrawal of the pivot age [2]), which the "moderate" unions would have been quick to salute in order to call for a return to work, he reaffirmed the whole project as it stood to the great displeasure of the CFDT, which was then obliged to join the day of action planned for the 17th. We cannot go back here on the possible immediate reasons, tactics, clumsiness, etc. for such an uncompromising attitude. On the other hand, we know that objectively, due to the crisis and economic situation of capitalism, the national bourgeoisies have seen their "economic" and "financial" room for manoeuvre considerably reduced.

Then it seemed to us that the window of opportunity of the extension, closed since the 5th, was reopening - albeit timidly. This is why we distributed our leaflet of the 11th Do-Everything-to-Help-the-Private to Engage in the Strike!

"Training, encouraging, helping, the private sector workers to engage in struggle and strike action is the priority of the day if we want to make the government move back! Blocking transport will not be enough. The proxy strike, which puts most of the weight of the struggle on the railway workers and RATP [Paris region Transport] workers alone, can only lead to a deadlock and exhaustion of the strikers. The window, the opportunity, the occasion, to train and extend the strike to the proletarians of the private sector is still there. At least by next Tuesday the 17th and the demonstrations of that day. After that, it is quite possible that the strike, reduced to railway workers and RATP workers for the most part, will be reduced to a ’arm-wrestling’ struggle with no other aim than to last as long as possible. At this game, the bourgeoisie and the entire state apparatus will be the strongest. They will control the situation, if only through the unions, and will wait for the struggle to end on its own. As for the railway workers in 2018".

Our leaflet was favourably received wherever it could be distributed [3], but we were not the only ones to put forward this slogan of extension to the private sector. In particular, many inter-professional [interpro] assemblies, organized on local or regional bases, composed largely of strikers, adopted this orientation and tried to put it into practice: picketing (at RATP bus depots in particular), delegations and leaflet distribution to companies, blocking of certain ports (Le Havre, Rouen...) or industrial zones, agitation for strikes in shopping centres, street demonstrations, either at city or neighbourhood level, holding of meetings open to all, etc. Actually, an opposition tended to appear within these organizations on the issue of extension, between the basic trade unionist apparatuses and a part of the participants in these assemblies. To a certain extent, the opposition that had emerged between the wildcat strikers at the Châtillon maintenance centre at the end of October and the union SUD mainly (see our communiqué of December 8th) has been reproduced identically: some trying to bring back the deadlines for the days of action, i.e. on the trade union ground, and others trying to break this trade union control over the high points and orientations of the struggle itself.

Nevertheless, the orientation of "national" extension and generalization did not take place during this period and, despite participation in the strike and demonstrations as important as the 5th, the 17th came, in fact, to close this open window on the generalization of the strike. Once the risk passed (especially since three days later the highly mobilized teachers were on holiday), the bourgeoisie immediately pushed its advantage: the same evening, the government announced the resumption of discussions with the unions for the 7th of January. The UNSA and the CFDT renewed their call for a Christmas truce, in short, to stop the strike. And the Intersyndicale fixed a fourth day of action for January 9th! The postponement of these deadlines, in particular the day of action set for the 9th, was experienced as a real sabotage of the mobilization by many assemblies of strikers, which further strengthened the development of local assemblies and interpro initiatives.

The Two Weeks of Holidays

For two weeks, the strikers found themselves almost alone, including in the media. Teachers on school holidays for two weeks, as some of the country’s proletarians were as much concerned about family celebrations as they were about mobilization, Christmas and New Year’s Day in the middle of the week, the government was able to safely and provocatively display its own departure on holiday accompanied as it was by the disappearance of the union leaders. While the strike continued! The strikers had no other choice, no other prospect than to make it last until January 9th, holding on and holding on again and again, day after day, using up a lot of energy in this fight that was locking them in a little more each day. But it is not just about the strikers. It is also the whole proletariat in France, its great masses working in the private sector, whether industry, commerce and services, who have installed themselves in the strike by "proxy", wishing that the railway workers and others last as long as possible, even bringing them their sympathy, but unable to join them in the open strike.

Our leaflet and the direct intervention for the extension was becoming out of date at that time, its orientations and slogans losing any effectiveness. It was necessary to adapt our direct intervention according to the evolution of the immediate balance of power in this struggle, that is to say according to the relative success of the bourgeoisie in locking up the strikers of the SNCF and RATP mainly, if not only, in the long strike.

"We reproduce here the leaflet that PCI-Le Prolétaire [ICP-Proletarian] is currently distributing and dated last night. We share its positions, the analysis of the immediate situation and the orientations of struggle that the communists must put forward these days, that is to say during the Christmas and New Year weeks, despite the holidays and union sabotage. Especially the call, today, at this very moment, after the episode which closed on the 17th big street demonstration, for the organisation of strike committees, inter-general assemblies, picket lines, etc., to be organised to ’"expand and unify the movement". We invite all those who share its orientations to spread this leaflet around them and in the general assemblies and demonstrations. (...). The IGCL, December 22".

It seemed to us then that the weight of the intervention had to focus on ’local initiatives’, such as interpro assemblies, to encourage the most combative workers to organize and lead the battle against the union manoeuvres; or even to be able to carry out one or more local or geographical extensions. For us, the orientations put forward by the ICP leaflet corresponded to the necessities of the struggle at that very moment:

"Against this sabotage, open or not, of union apparatuses completely integrated into the bourgeois network of maintaining social order, salvation lies only in the organization of the struggle on class bases. Already in many places strike committees have been set up to lead the struggle, "inter-professional" general assemblies are being held to extend and unify the movement over the differences of trade and corporation, effective picket lines are being set up, and calls for national days of mobilization are being made by the strikers to get around the blockade of the union apparatuses. These initiatives are still limited, but they point the way forward for workers in the current and future struggles against all bourgeois attacks" (leaflet of the ICP, December 21st, www.pcing.org).

For the time being, it seems to us that this orientation should be maintained at least until Monday. This period, which will end tomorrow [Saturday 4th] with ’local’ demonstrations called mainly by SUD and many CGT local sections, has seen a continuation of mobilization and various local initiatives. At the same time, the repression both on the picket lines and in the demonstrations, just yesterday in Paris for example, by the police and the RATP management in particular, the (relative but growing) tensions between strikers and non-strikers, have worsened, a sign that the bourgeoisie feels that today, with the situation under control, it can begin to think about increasing repression even more and inflicting the widest and deepest possible defeat.

Reality, Difficulties and Limits of Strikers’ Assemblies and ’Interpro’ Ones

We have noted that a more or less open opposition has tended to emerge within the "grassroots organizations", strikers’ assemblies, interpro assemblies, etc.,. We also noted that some of our correspondents regretted the fact that a certain criticism of the unions was put forward after December 17th and 18th in the ICP leaflet. It is indeed difficult, when the strike has been going on for a month at the cost of financial sacrifices and constant exertion, to openly question the conduct of the strike. However, the assemblies of strikers and others cannot be summed up in a succession of interventions in which each one tells that his/her workplace has been on strike at x% since the 5th, that everyone remains determined, and that the strike will continue until the end and the applause that punctuates these apparently voluntary, energetic and radical declamations. It is easy to be reassured among those that are already ’convinced’. It can be comforting and warm. But it is not enough to make the fight and the strike effective. The assemblies must discuss, debate and decide on the orientations and decisions to be taken by confronting the various proposals. Otherwise, they are left to the control and goodwill of the trade union apparatuses, including the rank and file ones. And the fact that the strike is formally voted on every day does not change anything. Here are excerpts from an interview of a striker of the SNCF published on the site Paris-luttes info (https://paris-luttes.info/le-nombre-est-la-mais-il-manque-13200), which rather well points out the opposition that we noted above within the General Assemblies and the difficulties which the proletariat in struggle is confronted with even today in this mobilization.

"In the Vaires-sur-Marne depot at the General Assembly [GA], there are quite a few of us, ranging from 50 to 200 people, we are open to other sectors in struggle, teachers, RATP, hospital workers, postal workers... We very quickly created the Vaires-sur-Marne Strike Committee which meets twice a week to propose actions, it was obvious to everyone: the strike belongs to the strikers and to no one else. This allows the strike to be animated outside of the Paris trade union demonstrations. (...). That being the case, the GAs throughout the country, we don’t know exactly what is going on. It’s a shame, because in 1986 there was a Central Strike Committee, a national coordination that allowed us to collect all the information on the actual number of strikers, but also to coordinate the slightly more radical operations. A strike committee is now being formed in the Ile-de-France [Paris] region, but it still has a lot of limitations. (...).

– What do you think of the attempts at coordination, such as the GA interpro, which took place in Paris? I have the feeling that they remain quite largely limited to militants (Trotskyists, autonomous, trade unionists) and have difficulties to spread? [Question of the Paris-luttes-info].

– Yes, as I said earlier, the Interpro GAs and different coordinations have their limits, even if the will to give the strikers a democratic place to meet is positive. The fact is that there are always the same people, the same union, autonomous, political and other activists. The question is how can these coordinations or GAs be widened when most people have an exacerbated distrust of co-optation and recuperation. Who benefits from this? We’ll never win anything if, no matter which organization we’re in, we can’t question ourselves and leave the initiative to others, push as many people as possible to speak up, express their ideas, have the texts come out of a common emanation, etc." (Interview with T., railway woman and yellow vest, Paris-luttes-info, 31 December 2019).

This experience seems to us to confirm the orientation we are putting forward above, at least until Monday. The intervention of the revolutionaries should today be concentrated in these assemblies in order, as the ICP leaflet indicated, to gather the energies and the important minorities of proletarians, strikers or not, who remain mobilized. More concretely, and with the approach of a week in which it is highly probable that the last battles will be fought, the capacity of these minorities, comprising thousands of proletarians, to consolidate and centralize at the national level would be a first step towards an alternative to the fate of this mobilization on which the unions are working. As the comrade in Paris-luttes-info says, the outline of a national coordination, or at least initially of regional, local coordinations, would allow it to make a national appeal, to adopt motions, to distribute leaflets for the extension of the strike, to march under its banner during demonstrations with its own slogans and, especially at the present time, to dispute the unions for the true leadership of the struggle.

So that is where we believe we are today, Friday the 3rd, in this proletarian struggle. In addition to the objective of informing the greatest number of people in France as well as comrades in other countries and continents, we submit this analysis of the development of the strike and the adaptation of our intervention - admittedly limited because of our weak, very weak, forces in France - according to the moments and needs of the struggle to proletarians at large and to the communist and revolutionary groups.

The IGCL, Friday January 3rd, 2020.

PS. Just as this communiqué was being made public, we have learned that the Intersyndicale is adding another day of action on Saturday, the 11th, two days after the 9th, ’To involve private sector workers who are not on strike’, according to the unions. We are not able to say at this time whether this new union day responds to a strong labour push in the private sector and seeks to short-circuit the local attempts and initiatives of the Interpro and other GAs for the extension or whether it is simply aimed at speeding up a possible end to the strike...

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Notes:

[1. Still these days, and according to the polls of the bourgeoisie, more than 50% of the French population supports the strike movement, only 35% are against it, and 15% do not speak out... More than 70% of the ’active’ people, that is the working people, support the strike!

[2. Everyone could retire at 62 but with a ’lifetime’ discount on their pension of 5% per missing year of contributions - 42 are needed - until the age of 64. Actually, the effective age is pushed back to at least 64.

[3. Even though some railway workers told us that at some meetings they had to endure the hostility of the trade unionists, or even their attempt to prevent the distribution, when they reproduced it.