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January 14, 2020

French strike


January 14, 2020

Gabriel Rockhill

Labor and capital are at loggerheads in France. As the open-ended strike launched on December 5 against a neoliberal overhaul of the pension system continues to expand, the Macron regime has dug in its heels to defend the advantages this so-called reform would have for the wealthy.

In order to fully understand the nature and importance of this battle, it needs to be situated in relation to the recent history of the Yellow Vests movement as well as the global context of contemporary class warfare.

Emmanuel Macron, a former investment banker, came to power in 2017 as a purported centrist bulwark against the right-wing extremism of the National Front, and his administration thus needs to be understood as part of a broader historical shift of electoral politics to the right. His proposed overhaul of the pension system, which would be financed by measures like increasing the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64 and basing one’s pension on average earnings across an entire career (effectively lowering average pensions), aims at dissolving the 42 different retirement programs that currently exist into a unique system that sharply reduces benefits for many workers.

These different programs, which include benefits such as early retirement, were the result of hard-won struggles by those employed in physically demanding or dangerous jobs. The proposed change would thus, in practical terms, be financed on the backs of workers, who would be expected to work longer with less pay and security, rather than being paid for by increased taxes on corporations or the wealthy (Macron’s government notoriously abolished the French solidarity tax on wealth or the ISF in 2017).

Workers for the French National Railway Company (SNCF) and Paris’s public transportation system (RATP) rely on these “special” pension plans, and they have been at the forefront of the strike, which has become the longest “continuous period of industrial action in the history of the country’s state rail company.”

The strike has been joined by other unions, including France’s two largest (the CGT and the CFDT), as well as by both public and private-sector workers in the transportation industry, education, healthcare, law, sanitation, culture, energy and communications. Across the country, trains and subways have ground to a near halt, numerous flights have been grounded, France’s eight major oil refineries have been on strike, more than a hundred schools and universities have been closed and some are being occupied, and over 1.5 million people are protesting in the streets.

Excerpted from: ‘Understanding France’s General Strike in the Context of the Yellow Vests and Global Class Warfare’.

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