French Workers Fight Pension Reform: Is a General Strike Next?


The fight against the pension reform in France that began in January is still raging. Last Saturday, February 11, French working people and students filled the streets again, in a massive protest against the government’s plan for pension reform. The government wants to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 and the population says, “No way!” This massive “No!” on the part of the population is taking place all across the country, with demonstrations in big and small towns and cities. Students have also joined the movement and flooded the streets. This fight is also taking place against a background of smaller struggles for higher wages, and against a general degradation of living standards and the precariousness of work. There were smaller demonstrations this Thursday, Feb. 16, just days before winter vacation. There will be a big day of action on March 7, called by eight unions, and supported by all the organizations of the left. At that point what direction will this strike take?

The workers have led a fight that has won the heart of the great majority: No to retirement at 64! And it is clear to the majority that the National Assembly and Senate is not where their voice will make a difference. This past Friday, February 17, the debate on this reform in the National Assembly ended in total chaos, with parties arguing over literally thousands of amendments. It ended abruptly at midnight with no resolution. Now the discussion moves to the Senate. There, if the discussion takes a turn that President Macron doesn’t approve of, he can invoke article 49.3, which gives him the right to pass a law without a vote. Such is “democracy” in the capitalist world.

The question is, what will make the government back down? The only answer is workers’ power. The inter-union is calling to “bring the country to a halt.” And we agree! If the workers engage in a general strike and shut down the profit machine for shareholders, Macron’s plan will fail. A strike on March 7 could be a first step toward a general strike. However, these eight unions in the “inter-union” are controlled from the top by bureaucracies that have their own agendas. Most don’t support the continuation of a strike following March 7, and they are not preparing for it. The revolutionary left has leadership positions in some individual workplaces but not at a national level, and there is no national-level organization to coordinate such a fight at the moment other than the officials of the union bureaucracies. As of yet, the unions have been setting new days of strike or demonstration weeks apart, and dissolving the power that the workers have: First was January 19, then January 31, then February 7, then February 11, and so on.

To promote the need for a continued struggle, the revolutionary socialist left is organizing meetings of the most active workers to promote a democratic organization of the fight: working people need to meet to discuss how to organize such a strike: when and how to continue the strike more than one day, without waiting for a new strike date to be set by the top union officials sometime in the future. How can they grow the movement, convincing their co-workers who are not yet mobilized and address other workplaces and sectors?

For now, they are having meetings to prepare, and for the strike itself they are promoting general assemblies of strikers. Without such assemblies, it is unavoidable that at least one major union will drop out because of a decision at the top, and thus endanger the overall mobilization. Workers’ democracy is the only insurance for a winning fight that can do away with the pension reform, and win higher living standards for the workers in the same breath. The next weeks will be crucial in the outcome of what is shaping up to be a historic fight in France.

What an example for us, in the U.S., we who only dream of retirement at 62!