PARIS, January 24 — A 24-hour general strike called by eight trade union confederations is set to rock France. Both government and private-sector workers are likely to participate in large numbers. Demands include: limiting job cuts; reducing income from stocks and bonds to increase wages; changing European Union policy to bolster consumption, the welfare state, and social housing; and regulating international finance.
These tepid reformist demands show that, in the name of “unity,” the most radical confederations are once again lining up behind the lowest common denominator acceptable to the right-wing unions. Even in their independent position statements, the radical unions go no further than calling for renewing the general strike, day by day, and “refusing to pay for the capitalist crisis.”
All this is a far cry from what workers here really need: revolutionary leadership to overthrow capitalism and establish communist workers’ rule.
In addition to private-sector workers in the metal trades, mining, banking, telecommunications and retailing, public workers in health, rail and urban transport, the post office, gas and electricity and education will join the strike.
The January 29 walkout will also hit the campuses, where teachers and researchers are feeling the lash of an increasingly authoritarian government. In December, French president Nicolas Sarkozy increased his control over the broadcast media. This month he shattered illusions of “judicial impartiality” by eliminating the examining magistrates who supposedly counter-balance executive power. Now he’s moving to bring the education system under greater autocratic control.
This constitutes a three-pronged attack: (1) changing the status of faculty, (2) changing the recruitment of primary and secondary school teachers, and (3) reinforcing religious education.
Previously, all faculty pursued research and teaching in equal measure. Now university presidents will use their new powers under last year’s LRU law to give the “best minds” more time for research and administrative tasks, while the others take up the slack and teach longer hours. Thus the presidents will be able to advance teachers who side with the bosses.
In the past, many teaching positions were filled by national competitive exams. Successful candidates were then paid during one year of teacher training. Now, three roadblocks will make it harder for working-class people to become teachers: (1)candidates will have to write a master’s thesis while studying for the competitive exam (difficult if you’re working to pay your way through school — as do 70% of the students in the working-class Paris suburbs, many of whom are of North or sub-Saharan African origin); (2) candidates’ “files” (their social background), will become a selection criterion, in addition to exam results; and (3) there will be no paid year of teacher training.
Before, the French government did not recognize diplomas awarded by Vatican-controlled universities on a par with those from state universities. Now a treaty with the Vatican will allow conservative Catholic institutions to play a bigger role in shaping the French “meritocracy.”
The situation on the campuses is a microcosm of French society. With inter-imperialist rivalry mounting in recent years, the French bosses have steadily increased their state’s capacity to regiment and control society. This accelerated with the May 2007 election of President Sarkozy. Now the financial and economic crises are pushing the bosses to move even faster, with full-blown fascism becoming an increasingly probable outcome.
In the past, the union leaders and many workers have looked the other way while immigrant workers and youth from the former French colonies in Africa suffered police terror and racist super-exploitation. The lack of anti-racist unity with these immigrant workers and youth has weakened ALL workers. The best outcome that can emerge from this general strike and many other struggles is the building of an anti-racist, multi-ethnic revolutionary leadership to fight the sharper attacks the working class is facing. That’s the road that will lead to building a society without any racist bosses: communism!