‘On the March’ toward a new May ‘68?

Paris, April 13 — President Emmanuel Macron is right: “France is back!” But not postcard France — angry France! Its anger broods at the foundation of French society and has its reasons, plenty of them. There is no need to review them all; one article would not be enough.

But one factor dominates all others: for decades, the continued, stubborn pursuit of neoliberal policies has torn apart the social fabric, impoverished the working class, made jobs more precarious, compressed wages, thrown masses of people out of work, shredded ties of solidarity, sharpened selfishness, glorified the despicable values of capitalism, promoted the crude reflexes of consumerism and promoted an attitude of submission.

And we would expect the people not to react?

Appointed by Macron, the current government, led by Prime Minister Édouard Philippe, supposedly “neither right nor left” (but then what? “extreme-center”?) has eliminated the tax on extreme wealth and increased fees paid by employees and retirees. He has offered astronomical grants to transnational corporations that lay people off, but compressed public service budgets. Day-by-day, drop-by-drop, he pushes the country toward a Europe that is anti-social, authoritarian and subordinate to U.S. hegemony.

Although Macron has a parliamentary majority under his total control, he is pushing through his employer-dictated program by a parliamentary maneuver that enacts a bill without a vote. Such ordinances bypass the deputies even of his own new party, La République en Marche (On the March). Macron also has announced new privatizations, as if neoliberalism had not long proven its universal failure.

This is why a revolt is growing in France.

The backdrop to the rising conflicts lies in defeats suffered by workers in recent years. One was the fight against pension “reform,” which the disunited unions lost in 2010. Then came the fight against labor law “reform,” which started out as the “Macron law” and then was renamed the “El Khomri law,” which likewise lost last year. [El Khomri was minister of labor in the last Hollande government.] This battle to defend the rights and interests of workers was led by the CGT (General Confederation of Labor) until late 2017.

Because it fought alone, or almost alone, the CGT could not prevail, especially since some of its leaders are less than combative. The unions had to resist the repression directed at these struggles. This repression extended to the “criminalization” of such trade union actions as the “sequestration of executives” at Goodyear, the “tearing of executives’ shirts” at Air France, and resistance at Peugeot and in other companies where activists have been discriminated against and even condemned to suspended prison sentences.

This is why struggle is intensifying.

For the moment, these struggles are scattered: railway workers’ strikes (currently two days out of five, until June), Carrefour retail store staff (April 13), Air France (March 30), education and research (March 10), territorial medical and social services (Feb. 14), hospitals (Jan. 31), institutions serving the elderly (Jan. 30) and postal workers (Jan. 9). In addition, workers in social service organizations, the gas and electricity company, the chemical and oil sectors, the civil service. …

Even temporary workers were able to lead strikes — which is unprecedented — including those in fast food outlets and Afro hairdressing salons. In no particular order, the unemployed, homeless, undocumented, retirees, pacifists, anti-fascists, ecologists and other activists have also protested.

All over France on March 22, nearly half a million protesters were in the streets for a big day of action against the “Macron reforms.”

For weeks, students have been mobilizing. Many of them oppose the government’s education “plan” to make university entrance more selective. They have totally blocked several university centers, including those at Paris 1 (Tolbiac), Paris 8 (Saint-Denis), Montpellier and Toulouse. The authorities responded to the student uprising by sending in the CRS national police brigades on April 9 to club young rebels on the Nanterre campus!

The university at Nanterre is where the May 1968 revolt began. At the entrance to one of the occupied universities, one can read this banner: “May ‘68, were they afraid? 2018, we will make them more so!”

Herrera is a Marxist economist, a researcher at the Centre National Recherche Scientifique, who works at the Centre d’Économie de la Sorbonne, Paris. WW staff translated.

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