Unity With African, Arab Workers Critical to Union Fight vs. French Bosses, Hacks

PARIS, January 9 — Workers are searching for effective ways to fight the government’s continuing attacks on them. The next test of strength will be a public workers’ strike on January 24.

Yesterday President Nicolas Sarkozy admitted he wants to abolish the 35-hour work-week and impose racist immigration quotas. On January 6, Budget and Civil Service Minister Eric Woerth repeated his refusal to uniformly raise public workers’ wages, which fell 6% between 2000 and 2006 due to inflation. Wage negotiations for public workers will begin January 14.

On November 20, some two million public and private workers struck for higher wages. (See CHALLENGE, 11/28/07 and 12/12/07) When Woerth refused to consider an across-the-board wage hike on Dec. 19, six union federations representing public workers called for demonstrations and a strike on January 24. Five teachers’ unions joined the strike call, demanding higher wages and protesting the government’s decision to eliminate 11,200 jobs.

Education Minister Xavier Darcos then announced he will test strike-breaking “minimum service” in public schools in at least four cities that have signed strike-breaking contracts with the national government. Scabs will baby-sit pupils to keep them in school and not disrupt parents’ work schedules, minimizing the strike’s impact.

Scabs will be paid with money docked from the strikers’ wages. The unions denounced “minimum service” as an assault on the right to strike.

These attacks stem from the inter-imperialist rivalry that is pressing the bosses in each country to drive for maximum profits by taking them out of the pockets of the working class, smashing the social contract that has existed since World War II. Only international working-class unity can begin to meet these attacks.

Increasingly, workers here realize that they must meet escalating government attacks with greater working-class unity across public sector-private sector divisions. Responding to this rank-and-file pressure, the FO union confederation called for private-sector workers to join the January 24 demonstrations, but stopped short of calling on them to strike.

The SUD-Education union in northern Brittany issued a sarcastic statement denouncing “an isolated, one-day strike by only public workers,” asking why the major trade unions insist on: (1) pursuing the losing 24-hour-strike strategy, (2) negotiating crumbs while abandoning fundamental demands, and (3) allying with the government’s effort to smash the welfare state. SUD-Education 22 nevertheless backed the strike call.

Several recent developments underlined workers’ and students’ combative mood. The public television union is calling for a strike to oppose plans to merge the five public TV companies and lay off workers.
The CFE-CGC nurses’ union is calling for a strike to protest unpaid overtime hours. Each nurse is owed an average of 70 hours overtime pay from 2007.

Tolbiac University students here voted to strike and occupy university buildings to protest Sarkozy’s “reforms.” Classes were disrupted and cancelled, and access to elevators was blocked. The students condemned “the privatization of the universities, and the axing of some academic departments,” and also raised the anti-racist demand of “papers for all undocumented immigrants.”

This is an important step in making the fight against racism central to workers’ and students’ overall demands. The rank and file must link their struggle to that of African and Arab workers and youth against racist unemployment and police terror. Otherwise, the rulers will have accomplished their goal of dividing and weakening the entire working class.

Nevertheless, as of today, the CFDT union confederation — whose leader was denounced as a sellout and expelled by angry workers from the November 20 Paris march — still wanted to look at government proposals before considering joining the strike.

These pro-capitalist union misleaders will push workers to the bottom. Communist leadership is needed to turn workers’ and students’ growing frustration with the union hacks’ betrayals into an understanding that only communist revolution can abolish the whole capitalist system, with its bosses, reactionary governments and labor fakers.