Revolution or War n°24

(May 2023)

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Communique on the Working Class Struggles in France – March 19th 2023

Warning: this communique was written on March 18 and 19 for the internal discussion of the IGCL and to specify its orientations of intervention in the situation of the workers’ struggles in France. It was therefore written before the rejection of the motion of censure [no-confidence vote] of Monday March 20 by the French Parliament. The result of the vote, only 9 votes were lacking for the government to be overthrown, does not fundamentally change the analysis and the dynamic of struggle that is underway. It has only exacerbated the anger and combativeness on the one hand and weakened the government itself on the other. For all that, the global control of the anger and of the workers’ struggle by the whole bourgeois state apparatus, in the first place, the unions, leadership as radical base, remains untouched for the time being and we do not see any material clue allowing us to foresee a break in the present dynamic. (March 21, 2023)

March 17th : “France erupts in strikes and protests.” (The Guardian) “The violent overnight protests around the country raised worries that opponents to the pension changes might turn to more radical tactics.” (New York Times) “A country in flame.” (El Confidencial from Spain) That is how the bourgeois international press is presenting the new development of the working class mobilization in France against the pension reform. It is quite close to what the leftist bourgeois forces say this same March 17. For the American Trotskyist World Socialist Web Site, “Anger explodes in the working class, which enters into a direct and revolutionary confrontation with the Macron government.” [1] The most active Trotskyist group in France in the present mobilization, Révolution Permanente, very active in the radical union SUD, declares that “the 49.3 [2] has allowed the struggle of the masses to unfold potentialities that were previously contained by the inter-union. We are entering a pre-revolutionary moment.” [3]

So, what is going on in France since March 16th ? Has the refusal of the Macron’s government to submit the pension reform to the Parliamentary vote changed the whole dynamic of the proletarian mobilization in France, which lasts since January ? Do the so-called spontaneous immediate reactions, particularly through street demonstrations in many cities since late Thursday and still going on this Sunday, often ending up with confrontations with the police, present a dynamic of proletarian overwhelming of the state apparatus control of the situation ? An open questioning of the unions and their tactics of day of action? Does the relative extension, in number, of renewable strikes, particularly in the transports and energy companies, sometimes even against the advice of the official unions represent a first expression of an open process of mass strike that the unions would have difficulties to prevent and even manage ? Should we therefore change our basic orientation of intervention in the present situation and adopt new slogans ?

We will limit here our attempt of analysis to the genuine dynamic of the working class mobilization. We refer the comrades to our previous communique of January 23 [4] and analysis of the situation we had discussed, on which these comments are based. Let’s just recall it here briefly: the dynamic in the making was still the same until that last Thursday and it is characterized by a complete control of the situation by the unions, without any attempt to question their tactics, nor any overwhelming, had expressed to date. It is also important to say that we will not deal with the political difficulties or tactics of the bourgeois parties in the Parliament and in relation to the government. Many bourgeois journalists and propagandists present the situation as a political crisis. If the no-confidence motion would be adopted next Monday, then we would have to reflect on the meaning of the new situation such an event would actually represent and politically signify for the state political apparatus and game.

Until the use of the 49.3 and the vote against the law last Thursday, March 16th, the 7th and 8th union day of action, last Saturday and Wednesday, has gathered fewer demonstrators than the previous ones even though their number was still impressive. The number of strikers tended to reduce significantly and the most probable scenario was to see minority and sectors strikes of blockage of the economy, essentially in transport and energy (electricity and refineries), lasting and exhausting the most combative part of the proletariat, without any possibility of changing the unfavorable dynamics of the immediate balance of power. The forcing through of the law by the government with the 49.3 has obviously exacerbated the anger and renewed the combativeness: it was a question of, let’s say pride, to react in front such an arrogant and provocative policy. Then, there was no doubt that, once the 49.3 was publicly known, it would provoke spontaneous fights-backs among the most combative part of the proletariat.

1) The street demonstrations

As soon as the use of the article 49.3 became known, around 3pm, demonstrators began to gather in the biggest cities of the country but also in the smallest ones. Let’s only present what occurred in Paris, in Place de la Concorde. Since 11 am, the radical union SUD – mostly radical Trotskyist militants, particularly of Révolution permanente the railway and post office – had called for a gathering authorized by the police. So, already the leftist forces were in the square in advance. Then a student demo in another Paris neighborhood – we have serious reason to think the Trotskyists were organizing it too – decided to join Place de la Concorde. It is the greatest square in Paris. It is not a usual place for demonstrations. It is very rare because it is separated from the National Assembly, the Parliament, by a bridge over the river Seine, which was closed by anti-riot police. On the other side of the square, are the Champs Élysées, the US Embassy and the Élysée Palace, where French Presidents are located. These avenues were also closed in advance by the police. Then, on the TV news, they began to film live the gathering and the radical discourse of the leftist unionists and actually encourage people to join it: “for now, there are only 6000 people, but more and more are coming and there will be much more in the hours to come. The gathering is peaceful…” And actually, many people were running to the place. Little by little, without any other thing to do, the demonstrators began to face and pressure the police barrage of the bridge. Little by little, some began to gather bricks and rise up some improvised barriers, very weak and stupid barricade, against the police own barrage. Around 7.30/8 pm, vans and union balloons from SUD and CGT, which had joined the demos, disappeared from the square. It was the sign that the police had called them – unions and police are in constant contact in such a legal demo – and warned them they were going to charge and clear the place. A few minutes later, the police charged and began its evacuation of the place. Then, ebbing and dispersing in the streets, the demonstrators set fire to the garbage cans, in particular to those, that were numerous, because of the strike of the garbage collectors. That is what the international bourgeois press calls Paris in flames. The same occurred in the other main cities of the country that night, the following one and yesterday Saturday. So, the leftist and anarchist radicalness of the demos has to be, in itself strongly relativized, and has no real proletarian significance other than the immediate powerlessness, given the lack of concrete political perspectives.

From these facts, we can conclude that, for now, the ruling class is politically controlling and even managing the development of the street demonstrations.

2) The new strikes and the 9th day of action, Thursday 23

Faced with the general feeling of anger and a relatively renewed combativeness of the proletarians, all the unions immediately called for a 9th day of action… a week later. Evidently all the leftist groups criticized the unions for waiting so long, while there is a widespread anger due to the use of article 49.3. For us, it is the usual tactics of day of action and division of work between official trade-unions and radical rank-and-file unionism and leftism.

Already underway, the strikes in the refineries became renewed and the physical blockage of gas by means of picket lines systematized. Harbors tend be blocked for a few days of action by the dockers, different railway workplaces or deposit are on strike, not all and not always in majority. There has a been a so-called, by the local SUD unionist, wildcat strike in the maintenance technicenter of Châtillon for the west lines of high speed trains. The main cities garbage services are partly on strike – in Paris for instance – for more than a week now. Until now, and under the leftist union leadership, all these strikes are directed to make March 23rd a union success. These strikes fit within this timing. Thus, the various and dispersed strikes are still under control of all the unions, thanks to radical and rank-and-file unionism.

These strikes, as well as the demos from March 16th, express a renewed and radicalized proletarian anger and militancy. Thus, if we could say that it was highly improbable that the previous dynamic of the whole mobilization could be questioned by the workers until the use of article 49.3, by using it the ruling class takes the risk of re-opening a little bit this possibility, by transforming it into a concrete and immediate political stake between the classes. For instance, there have been signs of open discontent and potential struggles, about wages rise, in Amazon or in the PSA car company (Peugeot, Citroen, Audi), that the present general mobilization can favor this open expression. Thus, since March 16 and for a short period of time, we cannot therefore totally exclude that some new factor may break with the present dynamic of the mobilization against the pension reform and its control by the unions.

That is how we have to understand the Révolution permanente ‘s initiative to set up comité d’action to create and develop a network for the general strike [5], thus allowing leftism to anticipate any proletarian overflow. In fact, we can say these committees, if they are to be effective and successful, will certainly substitute the former interpro-assemblies of the previous massive mobilizations of 2010, 2013, 2016 and 2019.

3) Adapting our orientation and intervention?

Globally speaking, we do not think we should change our general orientation. For instance, that we return to a direct and massive agitation intervention calling the whole proletariat to go on strike, extend it and unite it – through a leaflet for instance – as at the very beginning of the demonstration (see the B&P-ICT leaflet [6] that we had taken over). The whole “field” is still occupied by the whole union apparatus and particularly the base and leftist ones. In that context our slogan could only be, formally, the same as the leftist ones. Thus they would become useless in the present situation, [7] or could even play objectively in favor of the union general sabotage. So, the group as such, and the party, should… wait – on this occasion, yes! – for the coming days to see if the small probability of breaking the unions control and the present dynamic, which is the same as the one before March 16th even though the anger and militancy is greater and renewed, has some kind of realization or not. Then, we will be able to see if the dynamic dominated by the unions is confirmed or questioned and adapt our intervention accordingly.

We call on the most combative proletarians in the workplaces to be active part of the strikes or even at their initiative when their workplace is not yet on strike and the potential exists for it. We should also watch closely any gathering of potential struggle committees, even when they are set up by leftism and unionism, as the comité d’action of Révolution permanente. In these committees, even though there is no real space or door opened for presenting a real and immediate alternative, the communist groups should intervene and defend not only the general needs of extension of any struggle – all participants will agree – but also to denounce the unions and call for openly contesting the leadership of the mobilization and the initiatives by the unions. Specifically and concretely from today to next Thursday, we call these committees for organizing specific processions within the March 23rd demonstration, with their own specific slogans. That is, we put forward the orientation of transforming the union day of action into a day of extending the strikes and centralizing the movement around the committees, whether they are called comité d’action or interpro-assembly, or whatsoever, as well as extending the slogans and goals to wages increases.

We stop here this communique, which initially was for our internal discussion. By publishing it, our first concern is to share this new experience with all the comrades. In particular, it is important that the international new generation of revolutionaries experience the degree of radicalization the base unions can develop and how they can occupy the whole terrain in order to prevent the autonomous proletarian movement to develop. If this generation, the ones who will set up and lead the world communist party of tomorrow, wants to be up to its tasks, then it has to develop its political experience and ability to exert a genuine political leadership of the whole proletariat in the historical drama which is coming.

The IGCL, March 19th 2023.



[2. The article 49.3 of the French Constitution that enables any government to force the adoption of any new law without asking the Parliament to vote. Actually, the use of this constitutional rule is required when any government is not sure of its majority in the Parliament, to the point that there is a risk that the adoption of the law would be refused. Macron has used it for the adoption of the pension reform. Then, only a no-confidence motion adopted at the majority by the Parliament can stop the law from being adopted. But this means the government has to resign. Hence, the rise in anger because Macron did not respect democracy...

[6. See the ICT leaflet we integrated in the previous communique of January (page 8)

[7. It is not because our slogan might be the same as the unions’ or leftists’ that they would useless. But because the timing, the present moment. For instance, we can call for the strike and its extension as the leftists do in the beginning of a mobilization. We are not “anti-unionism” in itself… but in regards with the direct goals of any struggle and according to the different battles and barricades...