The French workers are right - all out, all together!

Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials
28 March 2023

This Tuesday hundreds of thousands of French workers and youth again demonstrated their opposition to President Macron’s so-called “pension reform”.  And it’s not just the issue of pensions that inflames their anger, but the same fall in living standards which is hitting workers everywhere...

    Their protests - and the ongoing strikes, of refuse collectors above all, piling the streets of Paris high with rubbish - even caused Macron to cancel the “Royal engagement” with Britain’s King Charles at the ridiculously lavish palace of Versailles this week... Aka “King Emmanuel” knew very well that the sight of such an outrageously expensive farce would only add fuel to the fire!

    The British media and the political big mouths have had a lot to say about the “revolutionary” French working class and its “love” for striking and protest.  So one wonders how they explain that since last summer, workers right across every section of the British working class have been striking for a pay rise and against the so-called reforms which cut working conditions (and pensions) to shreds?

Striking is in all workers’ DNA!

In fact it’s been hilarious to listen to some of these commentators.  Apparently, unlike British workers the French have striking “in their DNA”!  Actually the French media have said precisely the same thing about British workers this past year!

    Obviously, striking is workers’ only effective weapon against the constant attempts by bosses to cut jobs, wages and conditions - because turning the screw on the working class is in their DNA!  The more they do it, the more profits they get: it’s always and only at workers’ expense...

    More’s the pity then, that our strike wave seems to be coming to an end, and without the wage rises which workers need to keep up with the on-going price rises.  Overall, the cost of food in shops is 15% higher than it was 12 months ago, another “record annual rate of prices inflation”!

    Like the French union leaders, who today call for Macron to “pause” the pension reform, which could thus stem the huge tide of protest in France, here in Britain the postal, teachers’, nurses’ and railway workers’ leaders have decided to suspend strikes and engage in talks.  Yes, even though what’s on the table are below inflation rises - and in the case of railway and postal workers, “reforms” which are radical cuts in jobs and conditions.

    It should be added that were never any grounds for the political hysteria over the strikes.  The timidity of the union leaders meant that strikes did not even go as far as the, albeit union-shackling laws, allowed, and were never called for more than a few days at a time (with the exception of very small sections of the civil service).

Our retirement sucks even more

But what about “clever” right-wing British comment which calls the French workers work-shy for “refusing” to work after 62 years of age - comparing them to us in Britain?  Apparently the fact that over here we can only receive a full state pension afer 66 - at 67 in fact - and that this is meant to rise to 68 - is something to boast about!

    Yes, never mind that British pensioners are amongst the poorest in the league of “rich” countries and amongst the least healthy, with declining life expectancy!

    In 2018-20, “disability-free life expectancy” was almost 20 years lower than total life expectancy – only 62 years for men and 60 for women!  Yet according to Tory politicians and their fan club (including many Labour MPs), it’s a good thing that workers must struggle on for another 4 (or 6!) years before they can retire?  And when they do retire, if they don’t have a decent occupational pension, or didn’t pay enough years of NI contributions, they get just £141.85 basic state pension per week!  No wonder pensioner poverty is on the rise - now at 20% for single pensioners!  In France and Germany the state pays pensioners around half of average earnings. If the British state did likewise, it would push the rate up by another £100/w...

    Of course, the fight over wages is still not over - and a fight over pensions has yet to begin.  But the big problem faced here (unlike in France today!) is the lack of conscious co-ordination between the different sections of striking workers.  So the enormous strength that our united ranks represents, has never been activated!

    True, union leaderships can’t and won’t organise this co-ordination from their position, sitting on chairs around the bosses’ tables.  It can only come from an initiative taken by workers on the ground.  That is, by activists seizing the time themselves and convincing their fellow-workers to do likewise.  In fact, that’s how revolutions begin.  And if we’re honest, it’s a revolution that’s needed, in France and over here!