by Charlie Kimber in Paris
The fightback in France against attacks on pensions has shown magnificent resistance.
Workers are fighting President Nicolas Sarkozy’s attempts to make them pay more for their pension and to work to 67 before they get a guaranteed full pension.
It is the main symbol of the rich trying to make workers pay for the crisis.
Mass strikes, demonstrations and student protests were in full flow on Tuesday.
Petrol shortages were spreading across the country as all 12 oil refineries had joined a continuous strike. Some 2,700 of France’s 12,600 petrol stations had completely run out of supplies.
Blockades of oil depots continued at Caen, Reichstett, Dunkirk, and Saint-Pierre-des Corps.
Lorry drivers were also on strike, launching go-slow “Operation Escargot” (snail) protests on many major roads.
Almost 1,000 of France’s 4,300 secondary schools were on strike, with 600 of them blockaded. In several areas school students had barricaded roads and fought back against police attacks.
This workers and students’ revolt has the power to break the austerity offensive—if it is used to its full potential.
Tuesday’s protests were the culmination of a tumultuous few days.
A week earlier 3.5 million people joined marches and strikes. On Wednesday all-out strikes began on the rail, in oil refineries and some other sections.
On Thursday thousands of school students and some university students joined the battle.
Under pressure from the strikes and protests, Sarkozy unleashed the police last week.
He sent riot squads to clear the roads outside refineries. Police fired flash-ball rounds—a “less lethal” alternative to live ammunition—seriously injuring students in Paris, Bordeaux and Lyon.
But this did not stop the revolt. Striking workers piled up tyres in front of a refinery at Grandpuits, east of Paris, after authorities issued a legal order ordering them to reopen.
Other workers and residents formed a “human chain” to defend the refinery workers from the police. Meanwhile, school students continued the battle.
Last Saturday 310,000 demonstrated in Paris.
Isabelle, a school student- “Sarkozy’s attacks on pensions also matter for us. One day perhaps we will have a pension, if we don’t die first!
“But we are also here because we hate what he has done in attacking the Roma and by saying young people are criminals.
“Look at us here, we are united, we don’t hate people because they are from another country or another religion.
“The newspapers and some politicians say we are being used, but we can make up our own minds and can see what is happening.
“I would like all schools to stop, and the workers too.”
Yves, a rail worker, said, “I am on strike and so are many of my mates. But it is hard if you don’t feel wider support.
“Many workers are scared they will be sacked if they come out. I am proud of my union in supporting us, but we need clear calls everywhere for solidarity.
“I am fighting for my daughter as well as myself.”
Jean, a lorry driver- “I am on strike now because we want to stop the government moving oil to break the refinery strikes.
“We need a continuous general strike of all workers to make sure we win.”
Sarkozy, urged on by all of Europe’s bosses, has said he will stand firm. More action is needed to beat him.
‘I want to see our union leaders call out everyone’
When the protests over pensions began in France in May, nobody expected them to become such a serious revolt.
Most of the union leaders knew they had to respond to such a major attack.
But, says Patrice, a health worker, “It felt like they were doing it without much heart. They expected to have a few stage-managed protests and then it would end.
“But the enthusiasm and determination of the strikers surprised everyone. And then they had to call more serious action to catch up.”
Virginia, a teacher, adds, “The protests in June and on 7 September surprised us all. Suddenly everyone was on the streets! And it came days after big protests against Sarkozy’s attacks on the Roma.”
Activists used the opening provided by the union leaders’ support for action to take the struggle to new levels.
“They gave us the chance—and we took it,” says Patrice.
Union leaders knew they had to accelerate the resistance as the pensions bill was at its final parliamentary stages.
This meant sanctioning continuous strikes in some key industries.
But making them happen, and spreading the example, was largely up to rank and file activists.
Gael, a member of the CGT union federation’s oil sector, told Socialist Worker, “We are in the front line of the strikes and are proud to be there. We know everyone is watching us.
“But oil and rail strikers, and those elsewhere, need to see the movement spreading.
“That’s what we want to see the union leaders doing, and they have been slow. I hope they will call everyone out this week.”
One of the most popular slogans on last Saturday’s demonstrations was for a general strike of more than one day. But it will take immense pressure to get it.
Bernard Thibault, CGT general secretary, has said of the call, “It’s a slogan for me that is quite abstract. It does not match the practice by which we manage to increase our strength.”
But many workers disagree. They need to organise.
To beat Sarkozy, French workers need to extend the action by maintaining and widening the continuous strikes, pushing for an all-out general strike, and uniting students and workers.