By ERNIE GOTTA
Transportation in France was brought to a halt on Thursday, Dec. 5, in a general strike against the Macron government’s attack on pensions. Ninety percent of France’s high-speed TGV rail line are shutdown, as well as 80 percent of the local trains. Thousands are flooding the streets across the country to support the demonstrations. Thirty percent of domestic flights and 15 percent of international flights are canceled. Airlines are offering shuttle services with private vans because travelers have no way of getting from the airport to the city center.
Many are making comparisons to the 1995 general strike in France that paralyzed the capital city and much of the country’s transport. At that time, right-wing President Jacque Chirac had just been elected and Prime Minister Alain Juppé was making deep cuts to social programs to balance the budget on the backs of the working class. This reality, coupled with attacks on women’s rights, including abortion, set off one of the largest social movements since the revolutionary upsurge in France of May/June 1968.
Today, Macron is similarly trying to drive a deeper austerity program to boost the rate of profit for French capitalists. Workers in France have won the right to retire and live with dignity through decades of struggle. In 2010, the French government under Nicolas Sarkozy began an assault on retirement by increasing the minimum age a worker can collect a pension from 60 to 62 and full retirement from 65 to 67. This touched off a general strike that was significant but able to win only a few small concessions.
A majority of workers in France support the general strike today, and it is reflected in the mobilizations and strikers outside of the Parisian center. This includes 55% of kindergarten and elementary schools shut down.
Most recently, discontentment in France has been expressed in the form of the gilets jaunes or the Yellow Vest movement, which started in October 2018. Taking on the cost of living and fuel prices, the Yellow Vest movement became a militant populist phenomenon that has had characteristics of both left-wing and right-wing politics. French university students have also been active recently in the struggle against police repression and austerity. Even minor increases to university costs are recognized as serious attacks for working-class youth to have access to a university education.
The French postal workers of SUD-Poste 92, in Haut-de-Seine, give an even greater example of how to take on the government and win. For 14 months, a small group of workers led a militant strike that fought back privatization and subcontracting. They took on Le Poste, one of France’s largest employers, and the French state and won concessions, including the defense of trade-union leader Gaël Quirante. Their victory was successful because they connected their fight to the broader social struggles for LGBTQIA+ rights, the student movement, the Yellow Vests, and the fight against labor law reforms.
Solidarity with the general strike in France! Macron, hands off the pensions of French workers!