French workers angry about pensions and more


Tuesday, for the second time in seven days, more than 3.5 million people turned out in militant demonstrations across France. Led by workers and students, the protests demanded defeat of legislation to raise the retirement age for pensions in the state and private sectors. The Parliament was scheduled to act on Wednesday but postponed the vote till later in the week.

In addition to the demonstrations, oil workers and longshore workers continued strikes that shut down all 12 of France's oil refineries. Gas and diesel shortages were reported in hundreds of gas stations, including hours long lines of anxious motorists hoping to fill their tanks. An estimated 2500 of Frances 12,000 gas stations reported running out of some or all of their product.

Truck drivers blocked major highways and intersections around the country with slow moving caravans. Airline and rail workers continued rolling job actions causing major air and rail transportation disruptions. Unions reported additional stoppages in construction, armored car and security, infrastructure and chemical sectors. Rolling strike action also hit public sectors including garbage removal, teachers and school workers.

Perhaps one of the most dramatic changes in the demonstrations is the marked increase in youth and student participation. Over 1100 schools were shut down for the demonstrations as students joined marches and rallies. This compares to some 300 shut down in last week's protests. Polling shows parental support for the student involvement, citing fear for their children's futures. In some areas the student built physical barriers to block intersections and highways. Riot police have clashed with the students in several places. A 16 year old, Geoffery Tidjani was struck in the eye by a rubber bullet and may lose it.

Labor and left activists in France note that the protest go far beyond the issue of pension reform. As a labor expert put it, "maybe we are witnessing a more global rejection that goes beyond the pension reform to a rejection of the government." This at a time when Nicolas Sarkozy and his government's popularity are at all time lows. This 18 months before presidential elections. Polls show that if the election were held today the left would win.

Several labor leaders are saying that the actions are about a more general feeling of rising anger. Workers feel they are being forced to bear the brunt of the economic crisis while the corporations and the rich continue with their lavish free spending lifestyles.
While the French protests are the largest and are getting the most attention worldwide, protest movements and anger are growing all over Europe. In Greece riot police used tear gas to break up a strike by culture ministry workers who has shut down the Acropolis, Greece's top tourist attraction, for three days last week. In Prague there were large street protests against government efforts to cut unemployment benefits, halt infrastructure projects, and cut public sector wages by 10%. In Italy thousands of students and teachers protested planned cuts in education. And in Britain the coalition government has just announced plans for drastic cuts that will result in the loss of 500,000 public sector jobs. Needless to say the unions are discussing "industrial action."

Photo: Demonstration in Amiens, France. Jean-Marie Faucillon correspondent of l'Humanité,

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  • What outlandish government or private sector action will set off U.S. workers? Reagan's firing of air-traffic controllers didn't. Theft of the 2000 election didn't. The invasion of Iraq didn't.


    Posted by Chester Steorra, 10/25/2010 10:36pm (5 years ago)

  • The Left is alive and well. The French strikes will have global impact, if the CGT can stop the French ruling class from getting their way. All support to the CGT. Get out and vote. We need to stop the Right!

    Posted by Jay Marvin, 10/25/2010 2:56pm (5 years ago)

  • NPR reported Saturday that 70% of French citizens agree with the strikers and are weary of the Sarkozy policies.

    Posted by Beth Edelman, 10/25/2010 1:38pm (5 years ago)

  • It isn't for us to envy the militancy of the French. There are important historical and organizational differences. It is for us to unite our own working class behind such demands!

    Marshall has certainly helped with this fine article!
    --jim lane in Dallas (where teachers are protesting over pensions today)

    Posted by Jim Lane, 10/25/2010 12:54pm (5 years ago)

  • A worker , a trade unionist from the USW stated ,"I wish that we were more like France. We need to take the aggressive stance against the Tea Party. We need to take to the streets. We need to do something!" I agreed.

    Posted by Rev. Irving C. Jones, 10/25/2010 11:19am (5 years ago)

  • Side by side with these actions,in France,Britain,Italy and Greece,along with what is happening in Prague,the force of socialism itself is felt with the economic moves in Italy and Greece,as pointed out by our W.T. Whitney Jr.-from the colossus,China.
    Add to this the pressure for the U.S. to trade(we should fight to increase this pressure) with both Cuba and Venezuela,with the host of burgeoning democracies in Central and South America pressuring for the same,the prospect of peace and progress for the working class is multiplied.
    The possibilities of "industrial action" in Europe along with a militant showing by the unions,in the AFL-CIO,the NAACP,La Raza,with the other tens of civil rights,economic rights,jobs and justice,solidarity,constitutional rights and others,at the polls 2 Nov 2010,and there would be quite a showing of unity in action for the international working class.
    The coordination of this action becomes more and more important as we fight to release the grip of the Great Recession. If the different components of these actions can be unified and coordinated to show self-consciousness in its action,it can be wielded as an international force for the working class to fight the austerities pushed by ruling circles in Britain,France,the U.S.,Greece and Italy.
    Capitalism and Imperialism have all but destroyed the industrial manufacturing base in many of these countries,not least in the U.S.
    Activity for clean energy for Jobs,Jobs,Jobs with training in the energy sectors,in unions,with wind,solar and geothermal technologies to address the education,jobs and racism crises in our urban and rural centers,is sorely needed and China can be a dependable trade partner for the these.
    Positive" industrial action" with the support of forces for African American,Latino America,women and trade union freedom,in the U. S., would help our cause much.
    Of course the need to fight anti-socialism,anti-communism,whiffs of fascism,fascism itself and racism becomes more and more pronounced in this real context.
    The attempt of the ruling financial circles to mask the influences of the KKK and the SS Waffen as a populist "TeaParty" movement needs to be exposed.
    The intergenerational unity of the working class,crystallized in the election of president Obama,will not stomach the rotten swill of the fascists and racists who have no solutions,only more racism,more anti-socialism,more anti-communism,more war,more austerity,and more poverty and destruction for the working class,despite the positive programs of peace,unionization and progress,starting to be proposed by a more unified international working class.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 10/25/2010 5:27am (5 years ago)

  • I believe dues are still mostly collected in person.

    Posted by Scott Marshall, 10/24/2010 10:09pm (5 years ago)

  • In US union dues are automatically deducted from paycheck by faceless computer. Last I heard French workes pay dues in person. Thus French unions are constantly hearing from members and vice versa. Is this still the case?

    Posted by Butch, 10/24/2010 5:49pm (5 years ago)

  • Damn! I love the French! They've got the gumption to stand up for their rights, unlike too many brainwashed workers here in the USA who, as often as not, side with the bosses.

    Posted by John Whiskey, 10/21/2010 10:55pm (5 years ago)

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