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Transport workers in France suspend strike

Published Dec 2, 2007 10:25 PM

After a nine-day strike resisting a cut in pensions, transportation workers in France Nov. 23 suspended their action for a month. Meanwhile three-sided talks among the transportation unions, the companies that run the French system and the French government will take place.

One union confederation, the CFDT-rail which pulled out of the strike after a few days, has filed a notice of its intent to strike Dec. 20. Other confederations have hinted that they are considering the same step.

The French government has said it will insist on its “reforms,” meaning benefit cuts for workers. Xavier Bertrand, the minister of labor, said he wanted no negotiations while the strike was going on and that the government should refuse to participate in them.

When he finally agreed to the structure of talks the unions demanded, it was after it became clear that without this step the strikes would continue to the detriment of the government’s public support. The government actively worked to mobilize public support among right-wing and pro-capitalist sectors, but the unions also had a solid sympathy among many French workers.

During the transportation strike, the public service workers—teachers, nurses, air traffic controllers, post office, Bank of France, and government office workers—held a one-day strike Nov. 20 to protest their low salaries. About 5 million workers walked out and about 970,000 people throughout the country participated in marches and demonstrations.

It is clear on the government’s part that while they will talk, the “reform” will proceed. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, congratulating himself in a press conference announcing the end of the strike, said, “I promised this reform and I have kept my promise. It happened because we chose the way of dialog and firmness.”

While Sarkozy claims he is confident about his eventual victory, the workers in transportation are still preparing to struggle. Liberation, a major French newspaper with a strong financial connection to the super-wealthy Rothschild family, ran an article Nov. 23 on the radicalization and anger that the strike produced. Some workers in Marseilles called for blocking tracks and forcing the cops to play a cat-and-mouse game.

The British Guardian interviewed Herve Berthome, a bus driver in Paris, outside his depot on the last day of the strike. Berthome said, “We’re the human stones ready to be lobbed at the government. We’re the last line of resistance to protect France from neo-liberalism, capitalism and the end of society.” Berthome’s father used to reminisce about striking in May 1968, when 10 million workers went on an unlimited strike. “Sarkozy is our Thatcher,” he continued. “He’s a provocateur, he plays one France against the other. He’s ready to serve his class and his cronies, the rich who eat caviar off a golden spoon.”

The French working class is confronting an ever more unified and vicious ruling class, but has shown it is prepared for long and protracted struggles to protect the gains it has won over the last century.