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No Faith in the Constitutional Council: The Movement in France Needs a Winning Strategy

While President Macron hoped that the mobilizations would weaken on their eleventh day, protests and strikes are holding strong across France. The need for a strategic shift has only become more urgent, as the Inter-Union places its hopes in an impossible reversal of the pension reform by the Constitutional Council, the highest constitutional authority in France.

Paul Morao

April 8, 2023
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On Thursday, 2 million people demonstrated throughout France, including 400,000 in Paris, 170,000 in Marseille, and 60,000 in Bordeaux. It marked the 11th consecutive day of protests across the country. The struggle against President Macron’s pension reforms has been raging for nearly two months, and is far from over — particularly since the bill was pushed through with the help of an anti-democratic constitutional measure. 

When it comes to the sectors on strike, the energy sector remains highly mobilized, with actions all over the country. Refinery workers are holding strong, with four out of seven refineries standing idle despite attempts to break the strike. The railroad and transportation workers’ strikes have weakened slightly but continue to significantly disrupt service throughout the country. In education, the nationwide strike rate is at the same level as that of March 28 when the strikes began, and youth and high schoolers have joined the mobilizations. 

These factors show a deeply rooted determination, despite the contradictions of the movement after eleven days. The movement is struggling with the absence of strategy on the part of the Inter-Union to generalize the strike and actively support the sectors in renewable strike, which is reflected in the declining number of striking workers. Statements from the leaders of the Inter-Union are very much in line with this approach.

No Faith in the Constitutional Council

In their statement, the union leaders mention only that they are “sending arguments to the Constitutional Council stating that this law should be declared contrary to the Constitution.” The Constitutional Council is the highest constitutional authority in France, with nine members appointed by the President and the presidents of each of the Houses of Parliament (National Assembly and Senate). They are also calling for another isolated day of cross-sector mobilization on April 13. Rather than seeking ways to strengthen the balance of power in the face of an inflexible government, the Inter-Union is placing its hopes in an unlikely censure by the Constitutional Council.

This refusal to face the question of generalizing the strike and the obstacles to doing so has led the union leaders to propose the following as the only way out for the movement: either a favorable decision by the “wise men” of the Constitutional Council, all of whom are faithful servants of the State and the ruling class, or an illusory, non-binding “popular referendum,” which would only wear down the activists in pursuit of a futile goal. Already, Laurent Berger, leader of the national trade union federation CFDT, is making no secret of his willingness to recognize the future decision of the Constitutional Council, paving the way for an exit from the mobilization.

Meanwhile, the statement still says nothing about the repression and police violence, a term denied by Berger, which struck the protests again this Thursday. Nor does it say anything about the requisitions, which continue to be used to break the strikes, despite a victory on Thursday with the court of Rouen suspending the requisitions at the Normandy refinery. These omissions are a way for the Inter-Union to avoid facing the tasks at hand to consolidate the movement and strikes.

Another Strategy Is Possible

This strategic impasse can only serve to benefit Macron and prepare the demoralization of the sectors that have been in the vanguard since March 7. That is why 250 activists — workers, students, and intellectuals — called out the Inter-Union on Wednesday in a statement issued by the Network for the General Strike and published in the French publication Politis:

This is not the time for compromise, but for a break with what has not worked so far. We need a winning strategy. This is the opposite of what the Inter-Union is doing by calling for a new isolated strike day — nine days after the previous one — while some sectors have been on renewable strike for 20 days and on the eve of the next school vacation.

Likewise, Olivier Mateu, the head of the union UD CGT 13, explained during the demonstration in Marseille on Thursday: 

After almost four months, we have to ensure that the Inter-Union moves away from the usual weekly demonstration and that we go on a renewable strike. We need a real coordinated approach, organized at the national level, where each person contributes in the way they can, but where they know when they must join in the struggle.

This feeling was present in the marches all over France.

Sustaining this anger will require an organized approach. The leaders at the head of the unions in renewable strike or with a widespread influence in the workers’ movement, like Olivier Mateu, have a central role to play in taking this issue to the end. This could be done, for example, by calling a meeting of all the workers and groups who understand the urgency of an alternative strategy, beyond the union labels. This is the only way to achieve victory. The Network for the General Strike will organize a national meeting next week after the Constitution Council’s decision on April 14.

Originally published in French on April 6 in Révolution Permanente.

Translated by Emma Lee

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