France: the railway workers' strike and the ‘convergence of struggles’

The railway workers' strike has encouraged other sections of the working class (and also the students) to mobilise. Refuse collectors, Air France workers, civil servants, lawyers, postal workers, hospital workers and care workers assisting the elderly (among others) are gearing up for action, and every day new layers are joining the fight. The ‘convergence of struggles’ is no longer just a slogan; it has become a fact.

However, in order to force the government to retreat, this will have to be stepped up, because Macron and his ministers are determined not to make any concessions. They want to inflict a heavy defeat on the railway workers, this ‘vanguard’ of our class, which will make it easier to attack all the other workers, in addition to also the unemployed, pensioners, high school students and university students.

The railway workers are carrying out a militant strike under a barrage of media slander. All day long, journalists and politicians pouring out their sympathy on television for the ‘passengers’ united in their hatred of the strikers. With every movement of the railway workers, we see the same hypocritical fanfare in the big media. Despite this, many passengers support the struggling railway workers, as most of them are also victims of the reactionary policies of recent governments, including that of Macron.

Rank-and-file must overcome the passivity of TU leaders

Support for the railway workers' strike is expressed in various ways, including the success in raising strike funds. This is very important and also significant. But the best way to support this struggle – and in fact, the only one that can guarantee its victory – is with the mobilisation of a growing number of workers in an all-out strike. The union leadership should throw all their forces in this direction. Instead, they are involved in so-called consultations with the government. From the point of view of the government, the main role of such ‘consultations’ is to weaken the struggle on the ground by claiming that ‘dialogue’ is continuing and that therefore there is no reason to stay out on strike.

CGT 2 Image Flickr Rafael LopezA strong strike by one or two sectors of the working class could trigger a rapid expansion of the strike movement / Image: Flickr, Rafael Lopez

That said, the passivity of the trade union leadership is not an absolute obstacle to the extension of the movement. France is the country of June 1936 and May 1968, two powerful, general all-out strikes that did not come from the union leaders, but the rank-and-file. There is no shortage of militant workers and trade unionists in the public and private sectors, who see what is going on every day and are ask themselves if it is not time for them to join in as well. Different workers are asking themselves what to do, and are sending each other signals of encouragement. In this explosive context, a strong strike in one or two sectors could be enough to trigger a rapid expansion of the strike movement.

The rise of student mobilisations is another important element in the situation. In the space of a few days, a large number of universities have mobilised. Massive General Assemblies are being held, pickets and occupations are being organised, links are being forged between students and the labour movement. The government is reacting with police violence – in addition to attacks by far-right groups. But this violence only has the effect of strengthening the mass movement of students. They also have the effect of increasing the workers' anger. If the government wants to have a ‘replay’ of May ‘68 to celebrate its 50th anniversary, they are going about it right!

General Assembly Image RévolutionMassive General Assemblies are being held at universities all over France / Image: Révolution

Resist austerity and attacks on working conditions

Different sections of mobilised workers have their own particular demands, of course, but taken as a whole, they converge into one. Hiring and firing, wage levels, working conditions, casualisation are they key questions. At every turn the workers are mobilising against wage austerity and the deterioration of their working conditions, which have been worsening for many years. The Macron government wants to go even further in the casualisation of the workers, cutting their real purchasing power and, in general, destroying of the social gains of the labour movement. Even assuming that Macron were to back down this time, it would only be a delaying tactic and he would return to the offensive at a later stage.

Therefore what is needed is for various sectoral struggles to converge into one united political struggle: a general struggle against the Macron government and its entire programme. Political demonstrations can be a powerful lever of the strike, opening up the perspective not only repelling this or that counter-reform, but bringing the government down by dissolving the National Assembly and calling early parliamentary elections.

CGT Image Flickr Gwenael PiaserThe workers must converge into a general struggle: bring down the government! / Image: Flickr, Gwenael Piaser

Of course, this would require a powerful movement of strikes in the factories. The mobilisation of 14 April in Marseille shows the way. At the national level, the date of 5 May has been set by Mélenchon for a political rally. The principle of calling such a political demonstration is absolutely correct. But can the railway workers, for example, hold on until 5 May? An earlier date would have made it possible to connect the national political demonstration to the strike movement, which alone can push back – or even bring down – the government. On its own, a political demonstration will not be enough, even if it is massive.

Considering all the above, it is impossible to predict the dynamics of the struggle in the days and weeks ahead. The 5 May demonstration could be huge and could be taking place in the context of a rising strike movement, or could even give renewed energy to this movement. But in the coming days, the initiative of 14 April, in Marseille, is an example that should be taken up at the national level – and the sooner the better.