Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

Three Keys Points to Understanding the Strike Wave in France

This article focuses on the anti-labor employment reforms of the Hollande government. According to recent polls, over 70 percent of the population rejects the new draft bill. Disaffection has sparked labor unrest and a youth-led mass movement. Here are three key point to understanding the wave of strikes in France.

Facebook Twitter Share

Image from Izqueirda Diario

Our first printed issue A New Generation Rises Up is out. Get it at your nearest radical bookstore or order online . For shipping outside the US please contact us.

This is an adapted and updated version of an article first published on March 10 in La Izquierda Diario.

1. The Socialist Party wants to implement labor reforms that attack working people

The draft labor law bill known as the “El Khomri law” (named after Minister of Labor Myriam El Khomri) has been put forward by the Socialist Party (SP) government of President François Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls. These reforms, if implemented, would deliver a strong blow to labor rights. As a whole, they seek to transform France to be more like Germany, Italy, or Spain, where labor is subject to a greater degree of flexibility, informalization, and precariousness.

What rights does the El Khomri law undermine?

* Increases the maximum working day from 10 to 12 hours.
* Reduces the compensation for unfair dismissals.
* Makes it easier for companies to dismiss or suspend workers if they can justify their “losses” to a government body.
* Allows companies to decide on salary reductions and the number of hours considered “overtime”
* Increases young apprentices’ maximum number of working hours (up to 40 hours per week, 10 hours per day).
* Removes the minimum 24 hours per week rule for part-time contract workers.
* Descentralizes collective bargaining to the enterprise level, thereby making these agreements take precedence over an industry-wide collective.
* Allows for collective dismissals to take place in circumstances that include: “declines in orders or turnover,” “technological changes,” or “restructuring in order to maintain competitiveness.”

The El Khormi law formally maintains the current 35-hour work week. While President Hollande says that contracts will become more flexible, the truth is that the new reforms are designed to make it easier for companies to lay off workers–and further, grant bosses greater control over unions and collective bargaining. These “reforms” come at a time when France’s economic downturn is worsening and the fate of workers appears increasingly dismal (unemployment is at a record-high, with the national average at around 10.5 percent and 25 percent for young people). According to Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve, the reforms are expected to improve business competitiveness.

Media outlets have described these reforms as “a return to a hundred years ago” and the reappearance of “the France of L’Assommoir and Germinal” (books by French naturalist author Émile Zola). Gerard Filoche, member of the Socialist Party left and government Labor Inspector has described these counter-reforms as “the most important counter-revolution in a century”. The primary sectors supporting these ‘reforms’ are the Mouvement des Entreprises de France (MEDEF, the largest employer federation in the country) and the nation’s right-wing parties.

2. Wide-ranging social rejection and mass meetings across the country

Various surveys have shown that 70 percent of French people reject these reforms. A change.org petition which proposes a national mobilization “for a convergence of the struggle of workers, the precariously employed, the unemployed, retirees, and of all persons who are just managing to survive, ” has already gathered over 1.2 million signatures. Video artists have launched a campaign called #OnVautMieuxQueCa (We are worth more than that), which has had a wide impact on social networks.

This widespread rejection of these reforms has been transformed into action in the streets by dozens of youth organizations, which trade unions and the major union federations have now started to fall in behind.

A broad front of student unions, young workers groups, activist organizations and left-wing youth groups have engaged in mass demonstrations. These include CGT Jeunes, Solidaires Etudiant-e-s, UNEF, FIDL, SGL, UNL, DIDF Jeunes, Génération Précaire, JOC, Maison des Potes, MRJC, OLF, SOS Racisme, AL, Ensemble, Jeunes Ecologistes, Jeunes Socialistes,Mouvement des Jeunes Communistes, ND Campus, NPA Jeune, Réseau jeune du Parti de Gauche and the UEC.

Their joint communiqué states: “By means of the labor law bill, the government has unleashed an unprecedented offensive against youth and workers. With this reform, we high school students, university students and young people, who already face precarious conditions in our education and in our ability to find work, are now expected to accept these precarious conditions for the rest of our lives.” The communiqué also denounces the bill as a “work more to earn less” scheme; and this, as the press release highlights, while 25 percent of young people are unemployed in France.

As we have pointed out in La Izquierda Diario, there have been numerous assemblies held at various universities and high schools. “Broadening out, coordination and convergence” are becoming the watchwords of the youth. The Société nationale des chemins de fer français (SNCF – cheminots / rail workers’ union) has also joined the strike in response to the demonstrations. Many argue that the climate in France is now similar to that seen in 2006 during the youth mobilizations against the Contrat première embauche (CPE – First Employment Contract).

This has put pressure on the country’s main trade union federations to reject the bill. However, these federations are instead demanding radical changes to the bill, and not its removal. After a March 7 meeting with the government, these federations called a one-day general strike for March 31. A number of unions have since held their own strikes. Strategic sectors of the economy including oil refineries, nuclear power plants and car manufacturers have been hit by industrial action, while rail workers, truck drivers, dockworkers and Air France pilots have repeatedly brought sections of the transport industry to a halt

3. The “socialist” government of Hollande is looking to deliver a heavy blow to the unions

This bill is the most controversial piece of legislation presented during Hollande’s term. For the big MEDEF bosses who support these reforms, this bill is “moving in the right direction.”

In the face of the outbreak of social condemnation, Prime Minister Valls avoided his presentation of the bill before the March 24 Council of Ministers meeting and instead bypassed Congress by using the article 49.3 of the Constitution (a sort of decreé). This manoeuvre demonstrates the strength of the discontent surrounding this reform, and the fear that can transform this fight into a great struggle of workers and youth. Those fears are becoming true now.

Within the Socialist Party itself the first cracks are starting to appear. There are those in the party that reject the reforms, of which some suggest that even the previous right-wing government of Nicolás Sarkozy would not have dared to implement.

France is living a new climate of mobilizations, where youth and labor unite to bring down this bill. The mid and long term consequences of this spark of social unrest are still uncertain.

Translation: Sean Robertson

Facebook Twitter Share

La Izquierda Diario Argentina

Our Argentinian sister site, part of the international network of La Izquierda Diario

Europe

Eleanor Marx: A Punk in the 19th Century

Eleanor Marx, the youngest daughter of Karl Marx and herself a socialist activist, was born on this day in 1855. A citizen of the world, she resonated with Shelley and Ibsen and participated in the main theoretical and political debates of her time.

Celeste Murillo

January 16, 2022
Protesters carry a banner that says "Johnson Must Go, He Partied While People Died."

Why “Partygate” Threatens to Bring Down UK Prime Minister

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in the midst of a growing political crisis after it became clear that he and his aides violated Covid-19 regulations by having parties. These parties are a slap in the face to the working people of Britain, who were banned from seeing their families while the Prime Minister drank with his cronies.

Ezra Brain

January 16, 2022

French Government Gives Crumbs in Response to Historic Education Strike. The Mobilizations Must Continue and Expand!

Tens of thousands of education workers, students, and parents, took to the streets across France on Thursday, January 13. The government is trying to calm the anger with crumbs, but the chaotic Covid-19 protocols and lack of resources remain unchanged. It’s time to keep up the mobilizations and demand that the unions create a battle plan going forward that will involve the entire working class.

Cécile Manchette

January 15, 2022

Ukraine on the World Chessboard

Historically, Ukraine has been strategically important in the confrontation between Russia, the United States, and NATO. Today, as Russia mobilizes its troops to the Ukrainian border, the drums of war are beating. But will Russia invade? This article analyzes the situation from the beginning, addressing the various dimensions of a conflict that is much more complex than it appears, as well as the strategic views of each competing power.

Santiago Montag

January 15, 2022

MOST RECENT

The Problem of Wanting Biden to “Succeed”

While Joe Biden has dismal approval ratings, many Democrats are still wishing for him to “succeed.” But success for bourgeois capitalist politicians like Biden always comes at the expense of the working class.

Adnan Ahmed

January 20, 2022

Is America Back? Biden and Imperialist Decline

In 2021, President Biden inherited a regime that was deeply unstable, both within and without. Now, a year later, many of those challenges remain a thorn in his side as he attempts to reestablish the United States’ global supremacy.

Sou Mi

January 20, 2022

The Fight for Socialism After a Year of Malarkey

Despite the progressive promises, Biden has shown in his first year of office that he's a neoliberal enemy of working class and oppressed people. We shouldn’t put faith in capitalist politicians — the way forward in the fight for socialism is now and has always been in the movements of working class and oppressed people and in our ability to turn anger into organization against this capitalist system.

Tatiana Cozzarelli

January 20, 2022

Mine Workers in Peru Protest Over Covid-19 Infections

Faced with the inaction of the Ministry of Labor, mine workers in Peru staged a massive protest on Tuesday demanding that Anglo American mining company cover quarantine expenses for those infected with Covid-19 caused in the mining camps.