PARIS, May 16 — Yesterday, according to the government’s understated figures, 860,000 public workers struck against job cuts and government policies dismantling public services, demonstrating in over 130 cities. It was particularly strong in education, with over half of junior and senior high school teachers and nearly two-thirds of primary school teachers on strike. Large contingents of high school students livened up the protests.
In Marseilles and five other cities, teachers’ general assemblies voted to renew their strike on May 19, in some cases over the opposition of the union leaders. They hope to spark a break with the ritual 24-hour protest strike.
Longer and more intense strikes are needed to force the government to back down from the 22,900 education job losses programmed in the 2008 budget. Indeed, President Nicolas Sarkozy’s reaction to yesterday’s walkout was to propose new strike-breaking laws to “protect” the “right to work.”
The government’s onslaught on public workers — which includes last year’s elimination of special retirement plans for mainly rail workers performing particularly hard jobs — is not driven solely by budget-balancing needs, after giving the rich tax breaks of 222 million euros ($350 million) in 2007 (to increase this year). Privatizing public services is also part of the bosses’ strategy to cut wages and benefits for ALL workers.
France’s 5,000,000 public workers cannot be laid off or fired for union activity as easily as private-sector workers. They form the core of the French trade union movement. About 15% of public workers belong to unions, as against 5% of private-sector workers.
Given that French bosses are competing with rivals worldwide, they need to smash the French labor movement in order to maximize profits. For instance, while from 1996 to 2007, labor costs in Germany fell 5%, they rose 20% in France. (Charlie Hebdo, 5/7/2008) Nevertheless, with inflation, real wages in France have fallen 4.2% in the private sector and 7.0% in the public sector since 1994. (Council on Employment, Income and Social Cohesion)
Furthermore, French bosses are participating in on-going wars to re-divide the world. The French expeditionary force in Afghanistan now numbers 3,200 soldiers, and France is suspected of having tried to overthrow Sudan’s government (Le Canard Enchaîné, 5/14/08). The bosses need a docile workforce on the home front.
Successful extension of the teachers’ strike movement would build the May 22nd national strike called by all the major unions to protest government plans to increase the number of work-years needed for a full retirement pension. Previous pension “reform” laws have already led to a 30% relative fall in pensions as against wages. Air France and rail-worker unions have joined the strike call.
While it’s necessary to fight against job cuts and for decent pensions, as long as capitalism exists so will the bosses’ drive to increase exploitation and launch imperialist wars. That’s why workers here and worldwide must go beyond struggles to “reform” capitalism and organize for communist revolution to destroy capitalism. J
BULLETIN May 19 — About 40,000 teachers and their supporters demonstrated in Paris yesterday. An inter-trade union federation meeting today proposed no action except to renew the call, initially launched by the French PTA, for a demonstration on May 24. It also ignores the high school students’ protest movement. In short, most of the union “leaders” are doing everything they can to alienate the teachers’ potential allies and keep the movement “manageable.”
In such a situation, communists put forward organizing the widest possible support for striking teachers, forging the links necessary to help develop the revolutionary potential of the working class.