Fifty years ago, the french revolt in 68 began already on the 22nd of March. Starting in Nanterre with the claim by the male students to be allowed to visit the female students in their room, with some anti-repression and anti-war topics, developed into a wild political may that marked history. Last week, in 2018, the national day of strike and demo was deliberately organised on the 22nd of March to echo the start of nationwide protests in 1968 that led to the country’s biggest-ever strike and notorious street battles between police and students.
Will it be enough to start a movement of the same importance?
Situation France – “Sarko en prison, Macron demission!”
Macron is facing difficult times. Since the beginning of its presidency, he used to pass reforms without negotiations, without letting the time to his opponents to get organised and to react to his attacks. But he is now in a situation that can be considered as “his first big test”.
Rail workers are protesting against Macron’s plans to push through sweeping changes to France’s vast state rail system, including cutting costs by limiting special employment rights for rail workers. From 3 April until 28 June rail workers unions have planned national strikes of two days every five days.
France’s large public sector, which has 5,4 million state workers, is angry about Macron’s belt-tightening plans. Unions accuse him of seeking to dismantle the state sector. After his election promises of better recognition and remuneration for public sector staff, there has been fury among state workers that Macron has gone back on his word and in fact seeks to slash budgets, rely more on contract workers, introduce merit-based pay and make voluntary redundancies. Workers complain of unfair pay stagnation and increasingly difficult workplace conditions. Macron has promised to cut the number of public workers by 120,000 over five years.
In the schools and the universities, students are starting to take actions against what is called the “selection law” and a reform of the baccalaureate. A dozen of universities are mobilised, some of them are occupied by the students (some other by migrants who are facing the most repressive politics ever). In the high schools there are also regular attempts of blockades and strikes. But everywhere the students are confronted to some administrative lock-downs and some hard repression by the cops. Repression might not be the smartest move from the authorities: in Bordeaux and Montpellier, the violent evictions of the university seem to have reinforced the determination of the occupants.
What happened – Strike, clashes with police and disruption of daily normality!
As a result of the 22nd of March strike hundreds of flights and train services were cancelled and scores of schools closed their doors on Thursday. The strikes also affected hospitals, libraries and other public services. The greater Paris region of Île-de-France was particularly badly hit by the action in industrial sector. Although Metro services were running as normal, RER and commuter trains were severely disrupted. Around France TGV services were severely impacted by the strike with around 60 percent of trains cancelled.
There was similar disruption at airports, particularly in Paris where some 30 percent of flights were cancelled. Budget airline Ryanair was also forced to cancel over 100 flights to, from and over France, which left the airline’s chiefs furious. The walk-out by air traffic controllers also caused disruption in several airports around France.
180 demonstrations of public service workers and students took place all over France, while the rail workers gathered for a national demonstration in Paris – more than 500.000 people joined the streets ! In Paris there was a morning demo with students, and in the afternoon, there was a specific demo for the public service workers, alongside the one of the railway workers. In this last one, one could see the big blocks from the different unions: CFDT, FO, CGT and Sud Solidaires. The rail workers unions are known for their unique and big fire crackers and long bengal flares which filled with smoke the whole route of the demonstration.
Before the demonstration the media tried to discredit the strongest union in the railway business CGT by accusing them of sending out mails which call out for a more offensive strike. The media attacked “the message, attributed to a member of the hardline CGT union, urged colleagues to go beyond officially notified work stoppages announced for the coming months and cause network disruption on non-strike days as well”. “I’ve never seen anything like it, never seen a threat like it,” Guillaume Pepy, state-appointed chairman of the SNCF rail company, told RTL radio. In public opinion this goes along with an overall demonisation of the rail workers: not only they risk the disruption of the country, but their supposed “privileged” status.
When the demonstration started a huge autonomous block formed in the front, the so-called “cortege de tete” which has become standard since the movement against the “Loi travail”: a block without structured organisation and leaders. This autonomous block is composed by a lot of youngsters and students, but also by independent demonstrators of every age who don’t identify themselves to a specific block, by unionists who are bored to demonstrate in a neutralized space manage by their chiefs, and by more militant and organised groups. As the demonstration was moving slowly forward, more and more people were joining the “cortege de tete”, which finally gathered several thousands of people. During the whole route of the demo clashes with police occurred, banks, advertisements and other capitalist institutions were smashed, hundreds and hundreds of tags were made. The ambiance cooled down at the end of the route, in place de la Bastille, where the participants of the two demonstrations gathered.
We don’t know how the protest will go on in the next weeks, how will react the government, but yesterday’s strikes and demos clearly showed that the anger and the desire to fight are nowadays broadly shared in France.
The CGT union has already mentioned the proposal of another day of general strike on the 19th of April. And some student assemblies have already affirmed that they won’t wait so long for the next days of action…
Nothing is over, everything begins now…