Revolution or War n°10

(Biannual September 2018)

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Rapid Assessment of The Spring 2018 Defeat of the Railway Workers in France : Trade Union Unity Is not The Unity of the Working Class but its Division and Dispersion

We publish below the leaflet that we distributed from March 28th, 2018 in the demonstrations and workers’ assemblies in which we were able to participate and intervene [1] during the workers’ mobilizations in February, March and April 2018 in France and whose epicentre was the struggle of railway workers against the ’reform of the SNCF’ led by the Macron government. Our leaflet calls on proletarians to confront openly, directly and collectively the tactics of days of action and rotating strikes, i.e. union sabotage, to be able to extend and generalize the struggles at a time when various major companies were in a state of conflict, or even on strike: Air France, Carrefour stores, hospitals and particularly old age homes (EPHAD), the FORD factory in Bordeaux, the public service... The idea is then widespread among many workers and the prospect of a massive and united struggle of different sectors is a reality, a stake of the moment, a real possibility even if reduced, that the unions, the media and even Macron himself, "who does not believe in it", he says in an interview, will take up and disguise as a ’convergence of struggles’ to better empty it of all proletarian content and liquidate it. The extension, which in March depended on the open and renewable strike at the SNCF (even though it was only undertaken by a minority of depots and stations) was the only way to give confidence to the greatest number of proletarians, including railway workers, and to many other sectors, and for them to resolutely engage in the common struggle. And, thus, to impose on the State the only terrain that it fears and that could ultimately have pushed it back: that of the extension ’without control’, i.e. without union control, of the class struggle, i.e. of a mass strike dynamic.

The Political Passivity of the Railway Workers Delivers Them to Union Sabotage

In order to be as effective as possible, our intervention also tried to take into account another reality that greatly weakens the prospect of extension: the fact that with the sudden and brutal announcement of the attack on February 19th with the publication of the Spinetta report, which was particularly provocative, the railway workers remained passive and allowed the unions to act... while they were already in discussion with the government. This situation lasted until the day of action on March 22nd, when two different demonstrations were organized in Paris because of the strike in the civil service. The SNCF trade unions, led by the CGT, did not call for a strike and ’allowed the individuals to decide’ on their participation in the Paris demonstration [2]. They thus avoid holding general meetings that could have put them in a difficult situation. It is during this period that the extreme left and the trade union SUD incessantly push the CGT, the principal trade union, to organize the strike because otherwise, according to them, "defeat will be inevitable" [3] thereby bringing down and locking up the most combative railway workers on the terrain of the trade union unity ’which must be preserved’. Even though it is with the CGT, opposed to the immediate strike, that defeat is inevitable! On March 15, to the amazement of the greatest number, all of the different unions gathered in an Intersyndicale [4] [Inter-unions committee] set up in the name of trade union unity and on the altar of which the leftist union SUD was to push the most combative railway workers to renounce the fight for extension and workers’ unity, did not call for a renewable strike but for a series of rotating strikes over several months. During this whole period, at least until April 3rd and 4th (date of the first two rotating strikes), leaving the initiative and control of decisions to the Intersyndicale, the passive railway workers gave themselves hands bound to their class enemy. They gave it time to organize and impose the terrain, the conditions and the moment of ’confrontation’, while other fractions of the proletariat, weaker and less central, but some already in open struggle, were waiting and hoping for a central focus of struggle around which they could break their sense of isolation and engage themselves.

Our Intervention by Leaflet Was Late

For our part, we were also late. Our leaflet should have been produced earlier – by March 22nd at the latest. Certainly, when we realized and diffused it starting on March 28th, it was still possible that the class orientations that we put forward could have been taken up by railway workers, or even by other sectors: the extension and a united struggle remained a possibility in the situation. But it was shrinking day by day until it disappeared definitively the day after the first rotating strikes on the 3rd and 4th of April: the absence of assemblies renewing the strike in opposition to the trade union slogans indicates the inability of the railway workers to break with the dynamic imposed by the Intersyndicale and all the forces of the State. In our opinion, from that moment on, the proletarians abandoned any possibility of disputing, even if only minimally, the initiative to the bourgeoisie. It could thus bring the railway workers to exhaustion until the last days of the strike in July and impose an additional setback, after the ’labour law’ of 2016 (see the assessment we made in Revolution or War #6 [5]) and that of autumn 2017 (the ’reform’ of the labour contract already carried out by Macron).

After April 4th, The Impasse and Defeat Assured

After April 3rd and 4th [6], only a "contingent" or external fact to the events themselves – unlikely on this occasion – could have broken this dynamic of confinement and isolation: for example, the explosion of a conflict in another sector – as around the FORD factory in Bordeaux for example –, or even a police blunder. This was not the case: the State took great care to ensure that its anti-riot police controlled demonstrations and clashes with the Black Blocs, or during police evacuations from occupied universities, without any significant victims; as on May 1st in Paris, for example, on the Austerlitz bridge. Politically, it tried and succeeded without difficulty to occupy the whole "social" space in order to counter any eventuality of new conflict: following May 1st, the veterans of Nuit Debout [Up All Night of 2016 [7]] woke up to call to "faire la fête à Macron" [’beat Macron up’] on May 5th in a demonstration in Paris. They were joined there by their acolytes from the leftist France Insoumise of Mélenchon. Just as the union SUD, organizing an ’Inter-stations assembly’ [Intergares] in Paris, took great care to keep the most combative railway workers locked up in the impasse of the dead-end strike and to ensure that all remained on the unionist, the Intersyndicale and union unity terrain: "we call on all the [trade union] federations to harden the strike and propose the renewal of the movement as of May 24th per 24-hour period decided in the General Assemblies" (motion adopted by the Paris Inter-stations assembly on the 14th of May [8]).

For our part, after April 3rd and 4th, aware that the window of opportunity for an extension is probably closing definitively, we think that the action orientations of our ’agitation’ leaflet were no longer corresponding to the immediate potentialities of the struggle – even if we could have still disseminated it from a ’propagandist’ point of view. We sought the emergence of minorities of workers who were at odds with the dynamics of the movement imposed by the trade unions and who wished to combat it in a form that can only be collective and minority, of the type of struggle committee or ’interprofessional’ assembly. To our knowledge, there appeared none apart from... those formal ones put in place by Trotskyists in universities between students and the trade unionists of SUD, which led to the Inter-stations [l’Intergares] assembly whose purpose was to bring down any combative will onto the trade unionist ground. While our prediction that all extension dynamic was extinguished in the aftermath of April 3rd and 4th has been verified, it is clear that at a time when the Inter-stations were calling for ’hardening the strike’, the CGT and the SUD were only seeking to drag the maximum number of railway workers who remained combative into defeat, exhaustion, disgust and the deepest discouragement. Had we had numerical forces a little more consequent than we do, we certainly would have produced a second leaflet drawing the lessons of the movement and warning against ’the fight to the finish’ of the CGT and SUD in the rotating strikes – in the end, there were 36 days of strike [9] - precisely to limit as much as possible the extent of the failure by promoting the sharing of the lessons of this episode of struggle with the greatest number.

Finally, on June 14th, the law was passed in Parliament and the rotating strikes, with fewer and fewer participants, continued until July in... a growing general indifference and with isolated railway workers, divided between strikers and non-strikers, exhausted, desperate and suffocated by wage deductions because of the 36 days of strike...

Macron and The End of The Fetish of The General Strikes of 1968 and 1995

The French bourgeoisie has won a series of important victories against the proletariat in France both at the level of its economic exploitation and at the political level since spring 2016 and the ’El Khomri labour law’ [10]. It is possible – we deliver these elements for reflection – that the defeat of the railway workers marks the end of a particularity of the working class struggle in France. The European bourgeoisie, interested in the elimination of all bad proletarian examples, is not mistaken. As early as 24 April, the right-wing Spanish newspaper El Mundo headlined that "Macron wants to bury May 68 and Autumn 95" noting that in France, "the myth of revolution in the street remains. But that, Macron is going to bury it". In addition to a relative ’adjustment’ of the price of labour power, i.e. the exploitation of the proletarians, to the level of the main European rivals, the French bourgeoisie has thus won a political victory against the proletariat [11]. Undoubtedly, the tactics of the trade union days of action carried out systematically since 2003, and based precisely on the mystification of the general strikes of 1968 and 1995, in particular as an expression of trade union unity, is now worn down to the core – if only because it has led only to setbacks and bitter failures despite massive mobilizations, sometimes counting in millions of demonstrators and strikers, on multiple occasions. Moreover, modern forms of capitalist production have liquidated most of the large factories or sectors on which the leftist and anarchist fetish of the general strike is based, to the benefit of small production units in which ’management’ is omnipresent both ideologically and politically – prohibiting assemblies or even intervening directly in them if it cannot prevent them. As a result, any initiative to fight or strike is much more difficult. But paradoxically, because of these ’modern’ conditions of labour exploitation, the need for immediate extension beyond the enterprise and largely on a geographical – and not corporatist – basis becomes all the more acute and vital and this in contrast to the large factories of yesteryear or vital sectors such as railway workers who could wrongly believe that they alone could bend management and government. This corporatist mystification carried and fed by the unions can only lose its power in view of the modern conditions of capitalist exploitation.

The proletariat in France has thus suffered several political failures and setbacks in its working and living conditions. However, we do not believe that these failures represent any sort of ’historic’ defeat at the French level; and even less at the international level. In our opinion, and without being able to elaborate here, these significant setbacks do not represent a real rupture in the development of the international class struggle that would significantly weaken the world proletariat. The class struggle in France, under the impetus of the bourgeoisie and especially the Macron government, which has already announced yet another pension reform to come, can only become more accentuated, as in all the other countries, because of the crisis of capital and its pushes towards generalized imperialist war.

For the proletarians and the communists, both the unfolding and the impotence of the struggle of the railway workers and the broader political implications that we can see following the last episodes of struggles in France, underline how much the proletarians’ hesitations, even passivity, in the face of the political struggles that the enemy class imposes on them in struggles, in strikes, in assemblies are fraught with consequences. Neither proletarians nor communists can do without confronting all the political forces, particularly those on the left, trade unions, politicians, media, police, etc. of the bourgeois state apparatus. And first and foremost to confront the unions in the immediate struggles. The ’economic’ proletarian class struggle, because it inevitably confronts the state regardless of the level and degree of struggle and because it carries within itself the revolutionary perspective of the workers’ insurrection and the dictatorship of the proletariat, is essentially a political struggle. That is why our leaflet ends with a call for the consolidation and organization of proletarians and revolutionaries. This is also why we consider that political indifferentism, whether it is economist, anarchist – including radical of the Black Bloc type, or even councilist – is to be resolutely combated both by the workers, by taking direct control of the political fight in their struggle, and by the communist groups in their general intervention.

RL, July 2018

[Warning for the English edition of this leaflet April 10th : the following text should have been published in English more than a week ago. Unfortunately, we were unable to do so for translation and technical problems.

Since the publication and distribution of this leaflet, the situation in France has not changed much except that the ruling class and particularly the unions manage to control quite well the situation. This makes the already very limited potentialities for the railway workers’ dynamic to spread and generalize the struggle to other sectors strongly reduced. Now, the railway workers struggle is already almost fully enclosed within the trap of the union’s corporatist and “diehard” strike while no other sector seems, for the moment, able to take over the lead, or be the core, of a possible general movement. Thus, according to us, unless “something”, any contingent event (spontaneous strike in another sector, violent demonstrations, etc.), comes to break the present dynamic and provides another perspective, this episode of struggle will now certainly remain under the full control of the ruling class and its state until the planned rolling strikes run out. Consequently, if we had the forces to intervene again directly and daily in this working class mobilization, this understanding would not change for the present moment the validity of the main orientation of the leaflet – extension and unification of the strike, demonstrations and the class fight!and regroupment and organization of the most militant workers who want to fight for the extension and the unification of the struggle!. But it would change the focus of the revolutionaries’ intervention from the railway workers themselves to other sectors]

Introduction of the leaflet for the ’no French’ readers, March 28th : We reproduce here the leaflet that we’re giving out in France these days before the strike of April 3rd in the state railway company, the SNCF. Its workers are presently suffering a direct attack by the Macron government, that is by the state and the French ruling class. The difficulty for French capital is that it happens while various sectors or factories have been on strike these last weeks and months or are passing through more or less open conflicts in the midst of a generalized increasing discontent in front of the many measures adopted by the government. After more or less secret discussions between the government and the unions, the latter (with very radical words but without any content of struggle) have planned in advance, and without having called on any workers’ assemblies to pronounce, several days of action; that is the classical union tactic in France of isolation and exhaustion of the working class struggles. Already in Paris, a street demonstration has taken place March 22nd in two different places at the same time with, on one side the “public employees” and on the other the railway workers. And the days of action at the SNCF will be rolling strikes and they are planed until… next June! Thus the unions and the bourgeoisie in general occupy the entire terrain of the working class fight-back and it remains to the working class to… submit to this imposed tactic leading to defeat or rise up frontally against it and the unions. The stakes are high.

For an Efficient and Powerful Proletarian Fight-back, Generalization and Unification of the Struggle against French Capitalism! (March 28th 2018)

After the March 22nd demonstration, the railway workers will be on a rolling strike from Tuesday April 3rd. They will be on strike every five days and the agenda is already established until… June. Once more, the union tactic of the days of action that has systematically lead to defeat in the massive mobilizations of 2003, 2007, 2010 and 2016, is served up again with the variant that the workers will make a rolling strike! If this scenario and this agenda is not questioned by the general assemblies and the strikers, not only will the railway workers be defeated but, moreover, the other struggles and sources of social conflicts won’t be able to identify and unite with the first ones to impose a genuine relation of forces to the government and French capitalism. Yet, the working class discontent is expressed almost everywhere: in the health sector, in the public services, Air France, but also in the private sector, the threat of mass redundancies in Ford and in various other companies all around the country, or still among the pensioned and the students of the faculties – often children of proletarians and future proletarians themselves for their most part. With the union’s days of action, all these struggles will remain isolated and will then be also defeated, while their extension and unification would be the best means to force the government and the state withdraw all these attacks.

It is clear for all that the attack against the railway workers is also an attack, economically and politically, against all the workers of this country. After the 2016 attacks against the work contracts, the French bourgeoisie aims to impose new sacrifices on the railway workers of course but also to continue its offensive against the whole working class.

Over time and struggles, the railway workers have been presented as the last bastion of the working class that does resist in France. Rightly or wrongly, the myth is there and the Macron government and, behind it, the whole French state capitalist apparatus, wants to bring it down. The French ruling class wants also to definitively put the memory of the great strikes, 1995 or still 1968, and the threat it is for it, in the drawer of past history. The time to hesitate in front of the proletariat is over if French capitalism wants “close the gap” with its rivals :

"France won’t have any motive capacity if it does not have a clear discourse and a lucid look at the world. But it won’t have it neither if it does not reinforce its economy and its society. That is why I have asked the government to engage the fundamental reforms which are indispensable for France. Our credibility , our efficiency, our strength are at stake. But the strength of some cannot be nourished by the weaknesses of the others for long. Germany which made its reforms fifteen years ago, notes today that this situation is not viable. My wish is thus that we can build a common force.” (Emmanuel Macron’s interview to many European newspaper of June 21st, we translate from the Swiss newspaper Le Temps,, since we could not find the whole interview in English).

The discourse is clear. One must further lower the living and working conditions – what they call the reforms – of the proletariat so that French capitalism can play a role in the world imperialist and warlike arena on Germany’s side and in front of the American, Chinese and Russian great rivals. Not only must the proletariat pay for the economic crisis of capitalism but also, and more and more, for the imperialist war to which the first, the crisis, inexorably leads. Yet it is the only one able to oppose this infernal dynamic… by refusing the sacrifices through its struggles and by offering another historical and revolutionary perspective, that of a communist society without misery and war – and of which it is necessary to recall that Stalinism has been the main and bloody gravedigger in the USSR and in the whole world.

Oppose the Union Confinement and Isolation by the Strike and the Extension

The tactics that the unions have put in place isolate in advance the fight of the workers of the SNCF in the corporation and in a schedule of days of strike which can only lock them even more in a strike without any other perspective than to make it last ’to the end’... which, very quickly, will cause division within the strikers between those who want and can strike and those who will not, or less, and who will be discouraged.

The union tactics of the days of action is to be rejected. It imposes demands and fights that are corporatist and isolated. Worse still, by imposing legal notices to strike and by no longer calling general meetings in many SNCF depots - on this point, ’management’ and unions work together in all companies - union days of action make the strike a purely individual and not collective decision, which weakens all the will to combat and the feeling of workers solidarity, each worker being referred to his ’individual’ consciousness or will, including now at the SNCF by making a prior individual notice of strike.

What is to Be Done in Front of the Union Impasse?

How to outflank the union’s slogans? During the strike at the SNCF from December 1986 to January 1987, and while the CGT had set up working picket lines to prevent the strike from starting on Friday, December 19, 1986, the railway workers had imposed their general assemblies (GAs ) and went on strike against the CGT and the other unions. This is the path that must be taken again. Imposing GAs to decide on the strike where unions refuse to do so is the way. Continuing the strike in SNCF depots and assemblies after April 3rd is certainly a first step.

But if it is necessary, it is also insufficient. The object of the strike should not be in itself the simple blockage of the economy – capital knows how to organize itself to face and circumvent the points of blockages – but the extension of the strike to the other sectors and companies. To this end, it is necessary to advance the most unitary possible demands that the other workers can take back on their own account.

Some proposals among others (and to discuss, even to decline, depending on the particular local situations): the workers of the cleaning company of ONET who clean the Paris railway stations are on strike. It must be maintained that they have the same working and salary conditions as railway workers - or, depending on the strength of the strike, demand the termination of the subcontractors and their hiring by the SNCF. Faced with the redundancies at Ford Bordeaux, maintenance of wages and the employment contract until the end of their unemployment, or even hiring in public services. Or, since the retirement of railway workers will be attacked again, advance the demand for the upgrade of all pensions, public-private, to the present one of railway workers or the ones of public transport. Or again, in the wake of demands at Air France, increase wages and pensions for all ... All that goes in the direction of unity is to supported. All that goes in the direction of isolation is to be rejected.

In the same way, the GAs must seek the links and the extension of the struggle around it, geographically, by their opening to the other workers in struggle or even by the sending of mass delegations to the other sectors and companies, even in the so-called popular neighborhoods. The extension of the strike should not be reduced to the extension to the SNCF especially as the main unions opposed to the strike will succeed in blocking it in the least combative deposits while exhausting the strikers on the pretext that the entire SNCF must first strike before extending. It must be done on a geographical basis, by district, city or region and, in return, its success will convince the less militant SNCF workers to join the fight. In addition to the companies and sectors in struggle, it is also the means to train neighborhoods and young people, and younger generations, in the class struggle against capitalism and thus offer them a real solidarity, in the struggle, and a perspective of class struggle. The perspective of class struggle against capitalism is the only remedy against social despair and impasses.

Regroup for the Fight for Extension and Unification

Finally, wherever possible, it is appropriate that the most combative workers and the most convinced of these orientations, the need to fight against isolation and trade union traps, join together in committees of struggle or ’interprofessional assemblies’ - it does not matter what the name is - in order to organize and to intervene collectively wherever they can to take up this fight both for the extension and the unification and against their sabotage by the trade unions. For the struggle for extension and unification will not be able to do without this political confrontation against the particular organs of the capitalist state that are the trade unions and the left-wing parties, because they act directly in the working class environment.

From the 3rd, in all SNCF depots, general assemblies to impose the renewable strike!

In the factories, the neighbourhoods and the cities, extension and unification of the strike, demonstrations and the class fight!

In the factories, the neighbourhoods and the cities, regroupment and organization of the most militant workers who want to fight for the extension and the unification of the struggle!

The International Group of the Communist Left, march 28th 2018



[1. The numerical weakness of our intervention capacities inevitably limits the ’immediate’ impact of our intervention on struggles of a national scale. Nevertheless, we are convinced that the expression and dissemination, however limited, of political orientations for the struggle are part of it, constituting a material force on the condition that they correspond to the immediate stakes and needs.

[2. Only strike notices were filed to allow individual railway workers to decide for themselves to participate in the demonstration through a legal strike. Moreover, on that day, two demonstrations were supposed to meet at the Place de la Bastille in Paris. The unions wanted to avoid at all costs any expression, however limited and weak it might have been at that time, of extension and general struggle of all sectors. The two demonstrations ultimately did not meet at the Bastille at the end of the afternoon ’thanks to’ the... Black Bloc which, at the head of the procession of railway workers, sought confrontation with the police, which was very discreet that day, and blocked the demonstration many times, in particular on Boulevard Beaumarchais.

[3. The Trotskyist group Permanent Revolution quoted by the blog Matière et révolution. For a more detailed history of the 2018 movement, the reader can refer to the blog article:

[4. The inter-union committee that ’unites’ all the different unions from the most rightwing, CFDT and UNSA, that the press calls reformist unions in opposition to the others, up to the FO, CGT and SUD called ’radical’ and even sometimes ’revolutionary’...

[7. Que se pueden comparar a los indignados del 2008 en España...

[8. Since we could only publish the English version of the leaflet that we intended to make known to ’non-French’ readers on April 10th, we accompanied its publication on our website with a short update, only in English, which tried to take into account the workers’ impotence to call into question the rotating strike after April 3rd and 4th and to which the reader could refer.

[9. Of course, the communist militants who would have been railworkers themselves would have carry on being on strike, adapting the intervention of the political group as a whole according to the moments and the places, until their own local station or deposit assembly would have call to end it up. This is obvious for revolutionaries but it is better to say it considering certain petty-bourgeois confusions (’an every man for himself’ individual in front of the defeat to come) which can circulate in the ranks of certain circles or groups of the Communist Left, for instance as in the ICC in many occasions..

[10See Revolution or War #6

[11In connection with the fetish of the general strike of 1968 and 1995, in the collective imagination – which can also represent a material force in the class struggle – deliberately maintained by the unions and the media, the railway workers had taken the place of the workers’ fortress of the Renault Billancourt factory in the Paris suburbs closed in 1992. ’When Billancourt sneezes, France catches a cold’, it used to be said...