“What the legislature has done, the streets can undo!” This was the slogan on many banners in the huge demonstrations that have swept through all of France this past week. Workers from the public and private sector, workers from small cities and Paris – immigrant workers who are told they are illegal – all have joined together. Millions of railroad workers, bus drivers, oil refinery workers, postal workers, hospital workers, garbage collectors, autoworkers, farmers, teachers and high school students have been on strike, in demonstrations, and rallies all over France. All generations of the French working class from children to grandparents are out together. Why? Workers are angry at attempts by French President Sarkosy’s government to raise the age to qualify for pensions from 60 to 62 years old.
The anger isn’t just over pensions – it is over the fact that workers in France, like workers here, have seen that bosses push for sacrifices to make the working class pay for the economic crisis that the bosses and bankers have created. And the government in France, like the government in the U.S., is the errand boy for the bosses and bankers, using its political power to do the bidding of the wealthy at the expense of the workers and poor.
Multiple times over the last few months the workers have shown their power. Without the workers there are no products, no transportation, no mail, no gas, no food, no health care, no garbage is picked up. The workers do all the work that makes society run and when the workers stop doing that work – society is brought to a halt. And despite the inconveniences of the strikes and demonstrations, played up by the media, the overwhelming majority of the country supported the actions of the workers.
There is talk in the French media about where all of this could go. In 1995 there was a similar fight that lasted for several weeks and prevented the government from instituting a pension reform. And many in France today are also asking could this be a new May ’68, when the explosion of protest by the students was joined by the workers and changed the face of political life in France.
A new protest and general strike is being called for Tuesday, October 19th. Hopefully it will be even larger, deeper and stronger than this week’s actions. Hopefully it will not stop with one day of action but will continue. And hopefully it will go beyond the issue of pensions and turn into a generalized fight by the working class, the farmers and the students of France – against the attacks by the bosses and bankers, against the unfair laws of the government and for the kind of justice and economic equality that the workers and population deserve.