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Issue #1898      December 11, 2019

France paralysed by mass strikes

France was shut down by strikes across the public and private sectors last week as workers took action against President Emmanuel Macron’s attacks on pensions and the retirement age. The Eiffel Tower was closed, trains did not run and aircraft were grounded as rallies took place in all the country’s major cities.

Schools and businesses did not function and the presidential palace was barricaded shut, with an extra 6,000 police deployed to the streets of Paris and 65 people arrested before the main Paris demo even began.

Marchers wore yellow vests in solidarity with the huge gilets jaunes (yellow vests) movement against neoliberalism or red ones symbolising their trade union membership.

Health workers, students and environmental campaigners joined demonstrations to decry the “social crisis” provoked by Macron’s neoliberal regime, which has attacked workers’ rights and launched a wave of privatisations.

Supportive unions included the CGT (General Confederation of Labour), Force Ouvriere, Solidaires, civil servants’ union the FSU (Finance Sector Union) and many more. Unions say the action is open-ended and they hope to force government concessions within a week. The Paris Metro strike will last at least until Monday, organisers said.

The movement has also received backing from most political parties, including the Socialists, Communists and Jean-Luc Melenchon’s France Unbowed on the left and Marine Le Pen’s fascist National Rally on the far right.

The conservative Republicans said they did not approve of the action, but were also opposed to Macron’s pension raid.

A guide to the action by France Unbowed said Macron was determined to lower the value of pensions and make men and women work longer.

“Why work longer when by retirement age one in two people is no longer employed anyway and an employee produces on average three times more than in 1970?” it asked. “Progress is not about working more and more.”

France Unbowed’s Adrien Quatennens said that “under the alibi of universality, the government is picking everyone’s pockets.” Party leader Melenchon, who marched with strikers in Marseille, has warned that the government’s bid to standardise pension arrangements undermines collective bargaining agreements and pays no attention to specific circumstances in different lines of work.

Communist leader Fabien Roussel said the plans “attack the principle of solidarity that is the basis of French social protection,” being based on changes to pension calculations that “individualise” pension pots and which Macron says will “encourage some people to work longer.”

Security guard Joseph Kakou had to walk an hour to get home because of the lack of transport, but he told reporters: “It doesn’t please us to walk. It doesn’t please us to strike. But we have to. We can’t work until we are 90 years old.”

Morning Star

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