Immediately after the last night’s intervention of Chirac, thousands of youth demonstrated spontaneously in the streets of many cities across France. In this way, they showed that Chirac’s proposals had precisely the opposite effect of what was intended. The mobilisation continues and gathers strength and next week will be decisive.
While millions of school and university students and workers have demanded through strikes and demonstrations the withdrawal of the CPE (Contract of First Employment), Chirac has attempted a vile manoeuvre by proposing two meaningless amendments. On the one hand, it gives the possibility for the workers to “be acquainted with the reasons” for their sacking. Some big businesses have already explained what this means. They are ready to give a “reason” for the sacking of a worker under the CPE, on condition that these reasons cannot be appealed in a labour court – that is, on condition that the employers have no other obligation than to give a reason which will have no legal value for the worker that they are throwing out!
On the other hand, the reduction of the trial period to one year from two years will not change anything. The threat of being made redundant at any time for one or two years is unbearable pressure for workers on CPE contracts. Furthermore, by playing with the trial period, the employers can always replace one CPE for another CPR – as they already do with trainee workers, workers on fixed period contracts (CDD) and temporary workers.
With more than 3 million people on the demonstrations all over France – a figure unseen since May 68 – the March 28 day of action strengthened the morale and determination of the workers and youth on struggle. It also increased the divisions within the UMP. The ruling class is in a state of panic, justifiably, at the idea that the stubbornness of the government could provoke a revolutionary explosion. They are mortally afraid of the traditions of the French workers’ movement, of which the powerful mobilisation of the school and university students is a good example.
In pretending to make concessions, Chirac is trying to reunite the ranks of the UMP. Some of those who yesterday criticised the “rigidity” of de Villepin, are today greeting the intervention of the head of state. But this is extremely superficial. This apparent unity will probably not last the day of action of April 4, which could and should be a decisive stage of the present struggle.
The role of the working class
The mobilisation of university and high school students is reaching historic levels. However, the defeat of the government requires the entry of the working class in the struggle in a massive way, since they are the only ones that can hit the ruling class at a sensitive spot, by paralysing the country’s economy. The students’ movement should therefore dedicate the bulk of its energies towards the mobilisation of the working class. The general assemblies should take concrete initiatives in this direction, like for instance the mass leafleting of local factories and workplaces.
The slogan of the trade union leaders for April 4 is exactly the same as for March 28: “a day of action with strikes, work stoppages and demonstrations”. We have already said it somewhere else: this call is much less clear than that of “24-hour general strike”. The trade union leaders should clearly explain that victory can only be achieved through a mass mobilisation, in the form of a strike of public and private sector workers.
In general it is more difficult to strike in the private than in the public sector. There is less trade union organisation in the private sector and the threats of reprisals on the part of the bosses have a bigger impact. While developing the mobilisation in the public sector, the trade union leaders should take specific measures to mobilise the workers in the private sector. For instance, trade union committees should be set up at the local, regional and a national level to plan the strike and to identify those workplaces where mobilisation is more difficult, in order to strengthen them with the might of those companies where the trade union movement is stronger. These committees should also include elected representatives of the school and university students.
Given the breadth of the movement, the slogan for the “withdrawal of the CPE” is too limited. After all, the CPE is nothing more than the continuation of the CNE, which has already been implemented in companies with less than 20 employees. All the articles in the law of “equality of opportunities” are reactionary – for instance the section that lowers the age of apprenticeship to 14 years. The might of the current movement opens the possibility of demanding not only the withdrawal of the CPE or the resignation of de Villepin, but the resignation of Chirac and the dissolution of the National Assembly. The stubbornness of the government, which has almost no support amongst the population, creates the conditions for such a slogan to have a wide echo amongst the youth, the workers, and all of those who have suffered the attacks of the right-wing government in power. Rather than appealing to the right wing to “reason” and attacking it for “pouring petrol on the fire”, the leadership of the left parties should mobilise to bring down the government.
An explosive situation
The government is betting on the movement running out of steam. At the same time it is using brutal repression against the youth on struggle. In the last three weeks hundreds of youth have been questioned, tried and convicted by emergency procedures, in some cases they have been given prison sentences. But this attempt to intimidate the youth has only had the effect of radicalising the movement and provoking the indignation of both parents and school students. This is the case particularly after Minister of Education, Gilles de Robien demanded the evacuation “by force” of all blockaded high schools, where the clashes have multiplied.
In the current context, any incident – like for instance an “unfortunate mistake” by the police – could provoke a revolutionary explosion. But even without such an incident, it is not excluded that in the next days and weeks, the massive intervention of the working class could move the country towards an all out general strike, that is a revolutionary crisis akin to that of May 1968 – and this regardless of the demands and slogans of the trade union leadership, as was also the case in 1968.
With its intransigence, the right-wing government is about to teach a severe, but precious, lesson to the youth and the working class of France. On the one hand, all the talk about the benefits of capitalist “democracy” and the “Republic” appear to those who are on struggle as nothing more than cynical lies. The ruling class shows how, when it comes to their interests, they will laugh sneer at the will of the majority of society. On the other hand the stubbornness of the right wing is linked to the deep crisis of the capitalist system. This crisis means that the ruling class is not prepared to make concessions in a light-minded manner. Capitalism can no longer tolerate social reforms. On the contrary, it constantly demands more counter-reforms. In this context, the struggle for reforms and against the attacks of the bosses must be firmly linked to the need to overthrow the capitalist system itself.
No to the CPE and the CNE!
For a 24-hour general strike!
Immediate general and presidential elections!
(Also available in French)
- France prepares for a massive mobilisation on April 4 by our correspondent in Paris (April 3, 2006)
- France: Faced with the arrogance of the government and the bosses, workers and youth take to the streets! by Mikael Duthu (March 30, 2006)
- March 28th 2006: French workers and youth mobilise on a scale never seen since 1968 by Greg Oxley (March 28, 2006)
- France - Faced with the intransigence of the government: for immediate presidential and legislative elections! (March 28, 2006)
- Mass protests and strikes in France: the dawning of a new era by Greg Oxley (March 21, 2006)
- Audio interview with Greg Oxley on the protests in France (March 20, 2006)
- French workers and youth unite against the First Employment Contract: No to all precarious contracts by Mikael Duthu (March 16, 2006)
- The revolt of the French estates by Greg Oxley (November 8, 2006)