Statement

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Communique on the Strikes in France - IGCL, December 8th 2019

Note : We were unable to verify the translation of this document by Spanish-speaking colleagues which may make it difficult to read and, worse still, lead to political errors. In such a case, we call our readers who refer to the French version.

Very little mention is made in the international press of the strike movement and the massive demonstrations that are affecting France and paralysing in particular transport, trains, buses, subways and planes since Thursday 5 December. Strikes also affect many sectors of the public service, as some private companies, where it is much more difficult today to go on strike. This communiqué therefore aims both to provide ’international’ information (certainly incomplete) on the one hand and, on the other hand, to draw an initial statement and draw up immediate political orientations for this mobilization and to share them with as many people as possible.

1) Social Revolts and Proletarian Struggles on all Continents, France is no Exception

This proletarian mobilization takes place in an international context of popular revolts - most of which are directly opposed to poverty and misery [1] - which affect all continents (which we cannot list here). Everywhere, the national bourgeoisies are responding more and more, if not only, with massive, violent and bloody repression, including in ’democratic’ countries such as Chile and France. This dynamic of revolts and international struggles can only strengthen the consciousnesses and determination to fight capitalism - however vague and confused these consciousnesses may be - in each country. There is no doubt that it promotes the current struggle in France.

2) One Year of social struggles in France

Since Macron’s election in 2017, the French government has passed roughly ’Ordonnances’ [a government Order without presenting it to the Parliament, translator’s note], aggravating the precarious conditions of employment contracts (September 2017), then successfully attacked the SNCF railway workers and their specific contract (spring 2018) thanks to the sabotage of the unions and their tactics of staggered and dispersed days of action over time. Barely six months after the end of the railway movement, the break-up of the ’interclassist’ yellow vest movement surprised everyone and there is little doubt that it was also an attempt to respond to the impotence of previous struggles for its ’salaried’ or proletarian component. The fact that, following the violent demonstrations of December 2018, without any trade union or political control, a government was forced to give in to some of the demands of the yellow vests, the first (albeit very relative) withdraw since 1995, left its mark on people’s minds - particularly some of the railway workers still suffering from their painful failure.

Since then, and until today, a few thousand yellow vests continue to demonstrate all over France every Saturday despite systematic and violent repression. In addition to various local and limited conflicts, hospitals and especially emergency services have been on ’strike’ - even if they continue to provide care - for several months and hospital workers have demonstrated on several occasions. Both movements, including the first, remain popular and are supported by the majority of the population to this day according to the polls.

3) From September to the end of October: from the massive strike at the RATP to the wildcat strikes at the SNCF

It is in this latent climate of struggle and anger that the government has announced a new attack on pensions for this winter. In September, a first 24-hour strike took place in Parisian transport (RATP), metro, bus and suburban trains, against the threat over their own peculiar pension system. The mobilization was massive (85% of strikers) paralyzing the Paris region. Faced with this new expression of combativeness, and in this general climate, the unions set a day of action for... December 5, three months later! Probably in the hope that it would bring the fever down. But above all, that this would provide enough time for the entire State apparatus, government and trade unions of course, but also political forces, especially those of the left, the media, to organise themselves, to set the timing and the field, the demands in particular, that they were best suited to, and thus ensure that the unions controlled events.

It is this planning, this timing and terrain that the wildcat strikes that broke out at the SNCF in October tried to contest to the bourgeoisie. National traffic was then paralysed for the first time two to three days following a train accident on 16 October, then the TGV [High Speed Trains] of the western network were blocked following a one-week wildcat strike at the Châtillon maintenance centre. In this ’tense social’ climate, railway workers tried to open a breach in the system that the entire state apparatus, led by the trade union, was setting up to control the situation until the strike day on 5 December and the following days. Not only was there the possibility of getting ahead of the trade union tactic, but above all there was the possibility of dragging other sectors into an ’uncontrolled’ and ’uncontrollable’ movement by the ruling class forces.

This is why it seemed necessary and even essential to us at that very moment to support and call as much as we could, the railway workers of Châtillon to extend their strike and the other sectors to join them. That is why we then reproduced the leaflet of the ICP-Le Prolétaire of November 1, which defended the same orientation, and published our accompanying communiqué [2].

Overwhelmed in the centre of Châtillon since the strike began on Monday, the radical trade union SUD has managed to maintain its control over the other two maintenance centres in the Paris region - thus avoiding the national blocking of high-speed trains - by organising temporary work stoppages and delegations to local management during the week of the Châtillon strike. And this until the following Monday. Instead of a firm call for a strike and sending massive delegations to other sectors to encourage them to join the strike immediately. For its part, the management gave in to the specific local demands of the Châtillon centre. The moment (the concrete possibility) of the past extension was over. Isolated in this new specific moment, the workers of this centre went back to work, after having ’gained something’ on local demands. But the episode, the moment, the opportunity had passed.

4) The December 5th Day

This attempt having failed, a sign of the strengths and weaknesses of the proletariat in France, of its capacities and limits at the time, the entire State apparatus was then able to regain control and focus all attention on preparing for the strike day on December 5. The closer the date got, the more improbable it became that there was a real challenge to the unions’ control over the timing - wait passively until the 5th - and the field - government-union discussions, incessant talk shows in the media on the impossibility of maintaining the current different pension systems, etc.... - of the mobilization. Every passing day, the bar became too high for the proletariat in France, even for a sector, or its most combative sectors to counter the mobilization of the entire bourgeois state apparatus. The whole field of possible positions was occupied: from so-called ’reformist’ unions willing to discuss a new pension system to the most radical ’demanding’ the withdrawal of the project; from calls for a strike of only 24 hours for the 5th for some to the unlimited strike for others.

As the range of possibilities narrowed, the most obvious challenge became massive participation in the strike and demonstrations on the 5th and... the renewal of the strike the next day. But there too, the ground was occupied by the entire trade union apparatus, up to the leftists.

This tightening of the proletarian space of struggle was even more evident during the Parisian demonstration itself (we cannot address the many massive demonstrations, between 1 million and 1.5 million demonstrators, in other cities which also saw, for some of them, clashes with the police). From the beginning, the Paris demonstration was blocked by the police. The clashes quickly broke out at the head of the procession. Black blocks and yellow vests were present. But, once again, many demonstrators gathered at the head of the procession, in front of the trade union processions despite the gas, the disengagement grenades and the risk of flash ball. Nevertheless, this ’head procession’ [’cortège de tête’] that refuses to march behind the unions processions does not offer, or no longer offers, if it has been able to do so in other mobilisations of the past - 2016 in particular -, any real perspective for the mobilisations. We clearly noted this in 2018 when, in response to police provocations, it had in fact participated in blocking the demonstration of the railway workers of 22 March 2018 [3] which should have joined the demonstration, certainly organised by the trade unions, of the state employees. By focusing on physical clashes with the police - the fact that more and more demonstrators refuse to give in to repression is in itself a positive fact - the possibility of transforming these massive street demonstrations into a moment of extension or unity is suffocated by gas smoke and deafened by the bursting of grenades. And, on 5 December, by the sound system set up within the ’head procession’, outside the trade union procession, by, obviously, radicalized SUD militants, and probably largely members of the Trotskist NPA.

5) The Revolutionaries’ Intervention for December 5

Under these conditions and before the 5th, it seemed pointless to us - we wondered - to make a particular intervention on the call for a strike and its renewal, which would have been added to all the others coming from trade unions, local unions, left-wing and leftist political groups and even revolutionary forces.

Among these, the ICP-Le Prolétaire and the ICC each published a leaflet, Pour la lutte de classe ouverte contre les attaques capitalistes ! [only in French: For the open class struggle against capitalist attacks!] and, translated into English, Unify our Struggles against the Attacks of our Exploiters! [4]
that both correctly advanced general orientations of struggles and slogans aimed at the development and the general unification of the struggle, which we generally agreed with. We decided to distribute one of the two leaflets during our participation - and the distribution of our journal - at the demonstration on December 5 in Paris. We were hesitating between the two. We finally chose the first one, that of the ICP for the following reason: in addition to being much shorter and more like an agitation leaflet, it called on "workers to take charge of their struggle" for "unlimited and with no legal advice strike, independent organization of the struggle, elected and revocable strike committees, strike pickets lines or occupation of the work places to effectively stop the activity, extension of the movement to other companies, etc." (translated by us). While the ICC leaflet insisted that "only the coming together within open, massive and autonomous general assemblies, really deciding how to conduct the movement, can constitute the basis for a united struggle" (we underline). The difference may seem small, even insignificant to many and may not have a real impact on intervention in this particular moment of this mobilization. Nevertheless, one gives a concrete and political content to the organization of the struggle: the organization of workers, in this case the General Assemblies (GA), must be at the service of the struggle. In this sense, it cannot be a prerequisite for the struggle itself. The other position, that of the ICC, opens the door to the fetishism of self-organization by situating the GAs as a prerequisite condition for the struggle, by making self-organization itself a recipe to follow [5].

The other element that seemed to us to favour the choice of the ICP leaflet was its willingness to present demands allowing all the proletarians in France to engage and unite around them in the current battle: "for the general increase of wages, pensions and all social minima! For the reduction of the retirement age!". Where the ICC leaflet called for the GA to "put forward demands which concern everyone: the struggle against precarious conditions, against cutting jobs, against productivity increases, against pauperisation...", i.e. demands that are not directly linked to the mobilization, and therefore abstract and of no use for its real generalization [6].

6) And now, Sunday 8th?

Strikes were massively renewed in the transport sector, particularly at the RATP and SNCF from Friday 6. The continuation of the strike has been unequal in other sectors (e.g. education). From the evening of the 5th, the unions called for another... day of action and demonstration for this next Tuesday. The government is expected to present its project on Wednesday. The fact that the unions felt obliged to set another day so early shows that the will to fight today, openly and without delay, is strong in many parts of the proletariat in France and that the unions certainly do not want to be overwhelmed. We can therefore assume that the strike will continue, in an unequal manner depending on the sector, at least until Wednesday and the government’s announcements. Similarly, yesterday, Saturday, many ’yellow vest’ demonstrations, often composed of proletarians who went on strike on the 5th, or even still are on strike, had taken place in many French cities despite, once again, massive repression. The bourgeois press mentions 10 to 15,000 demonstrators.

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. 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. Participation in the street demonstrations is important but not enough. If there is no real extension of the strike to sectors other than transport, the unions that already master the timing and the field will be able to ’play’ with the wear of railway and RATP workers, or even with truck drivers, to be able to definitively lock this mobilization on their field and ’their demand’ and thus make it defeated and put an end to it.

Only an entry into struggle and a renewable strike in other sectors can make it possible to overcome a strike whose sole objective could become only the ’production blockage’, a field on which the unions will have even more control and leadership over the movement. If there is one ’positive’ lesson that can be drawn from the yellow vests, it is certainly the fact that an ’uncontrolled’, ’out of control’ movement - ’uncontrolled’ by the state apparatus and ’out of control’ for the trade unions - can frighten the bourgeoisie and really make it retreat. For this to happen, this movement must be controlled by the workers themselves, that is, they must take charge of the struggle and its extension-unification. To this end, they cannot avoid disputing with the unions over the direction of the fight, action decisions and demands, and even negotiating tasks with the government if they are to take place.

That is the issue for the two next days, probably until Wednesday and the government’s announcements. The cards of this mobilization will then undoubtedly be redistributed in favour of one or the other class according to the conduct of strikes and demonstrations between now and then and the dynamics of the evolution of the immediate relation of forces.

7) What Orientations and Slogans between Now and Tuesday?

To ensure that this relation of forces is strengthened for the proletariat by then, we present some orientations that we submit for reflection and discussion. Even if these will certainly take place post-festum, after the events, it seems important to us to share our experience and to allow communist groups and revolutionary militants on all continents, not only in France or Europe, to reflect on the concrete and changing conditions of a communist intervention directly in a massive proletarian mobilization aspiring, rightly, to play a real role of political leadership. Of course, not limiting oneself to general orientations and often abstract, and trying to provide immediate answers according to the places and times, present a much greater risk of errors of analysis and orientation. But it is precisely by sharing these experiences and submitting them to scrutiny and criticism that all communist forces, including us of course, will be able to develop our capacity of vanguard political leadership, i. e. of party leadership.

- pension right at 60 years of age at the maximum, 37.5 years of contributions for the full rate of pension, removal of any discount!

- increase in wages, pensions and so-called ’social’ income;

- strike renewable wherever possible;

- massive delegations from sectors on open strike to non-strike sectors (particularly in the private sector where it is more difficult to strike) or partially strikers and holding collective general assemblies;

- regrouping combative and isolated proletarians into struggle committees on the basis of the call for a strike and the sending of massive delegations to extend it based on the unitarian demands.

The IGCL, December 8th 2019.

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Notes:

[1. Not all of them have the same meaning. In particular, the pro-independence demonstrations in Catalonia and democratic demonstrations in Hong Kong have no character or perspective of a fight against capitalism, even if they are also, in their own way, expressions of the breakdown of capitalist contradictions due, in the last resort, to the crisis and economic impasse of capitalism.

[5. In the context of this communiqué, we cannot go back over our criticism of the ICC councilist drifts in workers’ struggles, in particular its fetishism of self-organization...

[6. At the level of demands, it seems to us that the revolutionaries should push even further those, just, advanced by the ICP. For example: return to retirement at age 60 minimum, return to 37.5 years to have a pension at 75% of salary, and above all abolition of any discount in all pension systems; increase in salaries, pensions and social minima. It seems to us that the discount is the central measure on which all workers, everyone is affected, could unite and engage in a general struggle that would overcome the false opposition that the bourgeoisie seeks to impose between workers of the different pension systems in force. For all systems, the discount applies to the amount of the pension up to 5% (!) of it for each year of missing contribution, knowing that 42 years must be contributed. Its consequences are terrible both on the effective, delayed, retirement age and on the often miserable amount of the pension itself. All the proletarians, and even beyond, cannot fail to recognize themselves in it and make this unitary claim their own.