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The French Union Bureaucracy Walks Back Demand for Complete Withdrawal of Pension Reform

After calling to put the pension reform “on hold,” the Inter-Union has requested “mediation,” even though the French government has rejected outright the proposal, showing that compromise is impossible. This proposition symbolizes the Inter-Union’s strategy of defeat. We urgently need to organize the rank and file to broaden our demands and generalize the strike.

Damien Bernard

March 30, 2023
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Photo credit: AFP

On Tuesday, in the city of Clermont-Ferrand, CGT secretary-general Philippe Martinez announced that coming out of this demonstration, the Inter-Union would ask French president Emmanuel Macron for a “mediation session.” “As was decided by the Inter-Union,” Martinez explained, “we have offered a new proposal to the government and especially to the president of the republic to suspend the reform and call a mediation session. “When there is a lasting social conflict,” he added, “we try to find a solution.”

“Hold” and “Suspension”: The Inter-Union Walks Back the Demand to Completely Withdraw the Pension Reform

On Wednesday morning, Laurent Berger, secretary-general of the CFDT union, made the same request on France’s national public radio. “There is deep disagreement,” he said. “It would be madness on the government’s part to not take the time to delay the reform. We have to go through a mediation process.” He added, “It is necessary to put the measure on hold,” specifying that he represents the Inter-Union.

These statements must be clarified. If, since the beginning of the movement, the trade union leadership considered withdrawing the reform nonnegotiable, the Inter-Union has abandoned this minimum demand in favor of “suspending” the measure, which would raise the retirement age to 64.

Abandoning this demand signals a major capitulation and an alignment with Berger’s positions by the whole of the Inter-Union, particularly the CGT and Solidaires unions.

The Inter-Union Signs the First Betrayal of the Movement’s Demands

Abandoning the demand to withdraw the reform is problematic for several reasons. First, the Inter-Union has not received any mandate from the rank and file to do so. The union leaders have unilaterally decreed this, even as millions of people have been protesting for several months to demand the immediate withdrawal of the pension reform.

Second, the abandonment of this demand can only sow confusion among union members. While the demand was considered an achievement of the movement, its desertion for limited, vague, and hypothetical objectives can be interpreted only as an unwillingness to continue fighting. Instead of limiting our demands, we should be broadening them in an effort to unify workers by including, among other things, the question of wages.

Third, replacing the demand to withdraw the reform with putting it “on hold” leads us down a path that, rather than seeking to put “France on hold,” aims for a “compromise” with Macron. But as with any “compromise” with our enemies, the workers will lose. Berger is well aware of this and is already mentally preparing by saying, “If we do not agree within six months … then we can come back to the 64 years but make room for social compromise.”

Neither “On Hold” nor “Mediation”: We Must Organize the Rank and File to Oppose an Alternative Strategy

Abandoning the demand to withdraw the reform and calling for “mediation” can only disarm us. Far from seeking to increase the balance of power to defeat Macron, the Inter-Union leads us down the path of compromise to find “a way out and appeasement.” This perspective not only is utopian but also leads us directly to defeat. The opinion of a few mediators will not change Macron and the big bosses’ aims.

Yet the Inter-Union intends to push in this direction, as shown by Berger’s statements. All this time, Macron, via spokesman Olivier Véran, has brushed off Berger and the Intersyndical’s proposal, saying that there is “no need for mediation” and that “the law is intended to take effect in September.” Despite the government’s clear rejection, Berger simply retorted, “This refusal to discuss and dialogue will begin to wear us out… It is unbearable that their answer is stonewalling,” adding, “The Inter-Union’s proposal is only three hours old, and it has already been refused.”

Even though the government has rejected any compromise and the rank and file of the movement is hardening, Berger and the Inter-Union’s persist in wanting to return to the negotiating table, this time via mediation. This strategy can lead only to the further walking back of initial demands. After having backed down on a total withdrawal of the reform, what will they be ready to give way to?

Now that we are faced with this betrayal, it is all the more urgent to organize at the grassroots level. Thus, the Network for the General Strike seeks to build action committees to take things into our own hands. As explained by the call voted by the Network, these action committees are a concrete and urgent measure that will bring together all workers from all localities who are determined to fight to whatever extent necessary. This network for the general strike, which is currently made up of several hundred workers, trade unionists, and students, must spread throughout the country to build the generalization of the strike through action committees.

First published in French on March 28 on Révolution Permanente.

Translation by Stacey Bear

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Damien Bernard

Damien is an editor of our French sister site Révolution Permanente.


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