Article from the Feb. 2005 issue of the Socialist , newspaper of the Socialist Party, Irish section of the CWI

France hit by strike wave

by Fiona O'Loughlin

ON 5 February huge protests took place throughout France in protest at the proposed scrapping of the 35 hour week introduced in 1998 by the previous government led by the French Socialist Party. Over half a million private sector workers in more than 100 towns and cities took to the streets. Polls are showing up to 70% public support for the protesters. The polls show most people in France do not want to work longer hours. The new bill would raise the working week up to 48 hours. The scale of the protests and the amount of public support within society is putting the Prime Minister Raffarin under increased pressure.

The scale of public support for the protests is quite significant particularly coming on foot of a series of public sector strikes and protests held over a five-day period in January. The January strikes were part of the ongoing campaign against the attacks of the conservative government against public sector workers and so called reforms in the labour laws and welfare system.

The week of 16 January saw huge waves of workers go on strike and take to the streets. The railways were practically shut down with 84% of trains in Paris cancelled and postal workers, health service employees including surgeons took strike action. On 20 January over 50% of teachers in France went on strike and more than 25% of the public sector took part in the strike movement. The mood of workers on the demonstrations was militant and determined. This is the biggest movement of French workers since the protests against pension reform in early 2003.

The public sector workers in particular have shown regained confidence and a renewed willingness to struggle particularly given their long battle with the Raffarin government.

The mood of anger and determination must be built on to give a decisive blow to the French ruling class and their neo liberal agenda. The leadership of the trade union movement must build links and unify the struggle between the public and private sector. However, it will be the rank and file of the union movement who will have to push the leadership into organising effective and decisive action. The trade union leadership has shown time and again that they are prepared to back down before the government and the employers. But workers must prepare to resist any attempts by the union leaderships to sell out their movement.

Earlier reports from France.

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