France: Thousands Strike Against Job Cuts

UZES, FRANCE, Sept. 11—The summer holiday season is over and the first strikes and demonstrations against job cuts and worsening conditions are breaking out. A case in point: high school teachers struck the whole first week of classes in this small town in Southern France (pop. 7,800, 2004 unemployment rate: 19%, average weekly household income: 275 euros), occupying the principal’s office on Sept. 1. The strikers were mobilizing against obligatory overtime and over-crowded classes. The local board of education refused even to receive a parent-teacher delegation on Sept. 4.

The French banks have lost nearly 20 billion euros since the beginning of the subprime crisis, practically throwing the economy into recession. According to UNEDIC (the French unemployment agency), 35,000 workers lost their jobs in the second quarter of 2008. And the real income of the average French household fell over the past year, according to the National Consumption Institute. But workers are fighting back:
Hospital workers struck at the public hospital in Strasbourg yesterday to protest the administration policy of placing profits over patient lives and the resulting multi-tasking of hospital workers.

Over 2,000 auto workers struck Renault plants across France today against the planned axing of 4,000 jobs, which comes on top of 10,000 job losses over the past three years.

And thousands of teachers demonstrated today in over half of France’s 100 départements (the equivalent of a county), with strikes in five départements (Ardennes, Champagne, Essonne, Guadeloupe and Marne) to protest job cuts: 11,200 this year, 13,500 planned next year, and 40,000 over the next three years.
Five postal workers’ unions are calling for a 24-hour national strike and demonstrations throughout France on Sept. 23 to protest government plans to privatize the postal service.

Finally, six trade union federations are calling for a national protest on Oct. 7, the “world day for decent work” organized by the reformist International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
But all this indicates is that the reformist and reactionary trade union leaders, with the radical unions in tow, are pursuing their usual strategy of launching isolated local protests and 24-hour strikes in the hope of “building momentum” for a big national demonstration, and possibly a nation-wide 24-hour strike. This piecemeal strategy has failed to obtain any gains for workers since 1995.

As a result, Education Minister Xavier Darcos felt safe heaping scorn on the protesting teachers when he appeared on national television today, proclaiming “I love teachers” while denouncing teachers unions as promoting a “strike first, negotiate later culture,” and denying that job cuts are resulting in larger class sizes and poorer education.

Leftist trade unionists here are trying to overcome the piecemeal strategy by pushing for an unlimited general strike, like the one that shut down France for two months in 1968. But that experience shows that even an unlimited general strike, if it leaves the capitalist system intact, falls short of what the working class needs— particularly in this age of worldwide capitalist crisis, more racism and endless wars. Workers here need to turn these struggles into schools for communism, and build a revolutionary internationalist movement to fight for the only real solution to the bosses’ attacks: communism.

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