French workers stage 148 strikes

The largest and most militant of France’s five major trade union confederations, the CGT, filed 148 “strike notices” for actions to take place on Feb. 6. The unions hit growing income inequality and raised concerns about employment, wages, working conditions, public services and benefits. They called for “another division of society’s wealth.”

These protests are a response to the French government’s decision to institute a policy of even more rigorous austerity.

The CGT accused the government of giving the bosses between 30 and 50 billion euros (from $42 billion to $67 billion in U.S. currency) while imposing austerity on workers.

Most of the strikes were short. None lasted more than a day. In cities like Paris, where 16,000 workers marched, this enabled workers to take part in marches and demonstrations on a workday without risking their jobs.

Some 35,000 workers marched in Marseilles “for jobs, against unemployment and part-time, temporary jobs.” In Strasbourg, one of the cities where the European Union Parliament meets, the workers demanded “a halt to austerity, keep us working.” Thousands marched in Lyons and Nice; other cities had outpourings in the hundreds. At Le Havre, a Channel port, dockworkers burned tires and threw rocks at the office of the port authority. (Agence France Presse, Oct. 6)

Beyond making political demands on the French state to end its pro-boss policies, the CGT called for raising the minimum wage, currently around $12 an hour. (

Feb. 6 was a big success for the CGT, drawing together workers from many different industries and sectors, but did not get much support from other French unions.

A major issue in the European labor movement has been the struggle against the harsh and demanding working conditions in Amazon’s logistic centers in France and Germany. Amazon has 9,000 employees in France and 23,000 in Germany, its largest operation outside the U.S.

Struggle against Amazon

In June 2013, Amazon workers in Saran, France, had struck over working conditions, low pay and the stress of working a whole shift at top speed. A book about the shocking and horrible conditions in Amazon written by French journalist Jean-Baptiste Malet, who did a stint working for the company, has been selling well.

German workers at Amazon, organized by the large Ver.di union, walked out during the holiday rush, leading the company to threaten to move its centers to Poland. Ver.di recently announced it was talking to Polish unions, leading to speculation that Amazon’s intransigence could lead to a pan-European trade union.

On Feb. 6, the CGT section that is organizing inside Amazon held actions at all four logistic centers. At the Amazon facility at Sevrey, some 75 miles north of Lyon, about a hundred workers organized a blockade of the facility, keeping big trucks from either entering or leaving.

A clip from TV 3 showed empty truck docks. The blockade was maintained for over five hours, with many women and African workers participating. Amazon filed a complaint about the CGT interfering with the “freedom to work.” Alain Jeault, a CGT delegate and spokesperson for the strikers, explained that the workers took this drastic step because Amazon violated labor laws and ­re­gulations.