The Theatre National De Chaillot was closed Tuesday September 7th- from the building hung a huge white sheet spray painted in big red and black lettering stating – “The theatre is closed as the workers are on strike!”.
In Paris the protest march far exceeded organizers expectations and had to be split into two parallel routes to facilitate the massive crowds. It is estimated that up to 2.7 million people took to the streets with protests in 220 sites across France.
Under the slogan “Let’s refuse austerity plans” the working class has shut down Planes, Trains and Public Sector workplaces (including the Postal Service). The entire Atlantic port of St Nazarre was completely closed.
Although the main issue behind Tuesday’s protests is the suggested raising of the pension age from 60 to 62 years people are furious with a government with scandal trailing in its wake. Minister of Labour, Eric Woerth, is implicated in a funding scandal involving the l’Oreal heiress Lilliane Bettencourt. Although Mr. Woerth can brazenly attack workers and state that he believes his governments attacks on the rights of workers to a decent retirement age are the ‘duty of the state’ and are the product of ‘courage and reason’.
“If we need money we know where to find it” said Guy Garrett a 55 year old representative of the ‘Workers Force’ Union, as he marched in Lyon, “when it was necessary to bail out the banks we knew where to find the money”. And it’s that understanding – that the working class are being squeezed to line the pockets of the rich – that has led to the present strike having 70% support amongst the populace in France.
The protests also attracted thousands of young people, unemployed and workers from the poorer suburbs. As the NPA, a radical left party, stated – they wanted to make these protests a focus for all those dissatisfied with the government.
With the Union leaders (under immense pressure from the rank and file) promising escalation and Sarkozy claiming a back down is ‘out of the question’ it seems France is set for even bigger confrontations. With massive protests planned in the Czech republic on Sept 21st and a general strike in Spain set for the 29th we need to take inspiration from our fellow workers in Europeand build for the October 20th day of action in New Zealand against the National GOvernment's attacks on workers and unions.