We have translated this report from comrades connected to the Communaut project. They share some first hand impressions and more general thoughts about the background of the movement against the pension reform. For a wider historical background please check out this previous translation.
From a UK perspective we have to mention the recent collaboration between British and French intelligence services to arrest a French publisher on terrorism charges based on his ‘alleged involvement’ in the movement. We have to see this indiscriminate ‘blind shooting’ as a weakness of the European state system. They know what is coming for them.
Our thoughts are with our comrade Serge.
Updates on the report from the class struggle in France
18th of April 2023
Almost a month has passed since we wrote our report on the French movement against the pension reform. The struggles have not yet disappeared from the scene, despite declining numbers in strike and demonstration participation. While initially the movement managed to expand its strikes to areas of the economy where it really hurts capital, such as the refineries or public-private waste incinerators (who have now re-started their strike on a lower scale), this dynamic could not be maintained during the week of indignation after Macron’s “undemocratic-unparliamentary” rule pushed through the reform.
Since the 25th of March, the brutal state repression, which has characterised the Macron government’s relationship with social movements since his election in 2017, has been casting its heavy blanket on another struggle that we briefly mentioned in the last paragraph of the original report. On that Saturday, around 30,000 demonstrators protested in the commune of Sainte Soline against the planned construction of an artificial water reservoir. The movement, led by the environmental activist collective ” Les Soulèvements de la Terre ” (“The Revolts of the Earth”), is directed against this construction project. The reservoir is intended to cover the needs of the agricultural industry in phases of water scarcity, i.e. especially in periods of drought and shortages in the summer months. These “mégabassines” are huge artificial, plasticised and impermeable basins that cover an average area of eight hectares, equivalent to about ten football fields. These basins are not simply fed by rainwater, they require the pumping of water, whether from the already disturbed groundwater cycle or from rivers. They thus have an impact on the surrounding environment and biodiversity, as water that normally goes into the ground is removed from the surrounding ecosystems. Evaporation losses as a result of such installations are said to be between 20 and 60%. This would further exacerbate water scarcity in local cycles. According to the eco-Marxist Andreas Malm, these projects are forms of capitalist adaptation to climate change that will limit the availability of water resources, especially in southern Europe or the southern hemisphere. 
In fact, such projects are part of the problem and not the solution. The water reservoirs are intended to stabilise the prevailing agro-capitalist model in agriculture and animal husbandry in the context of climate change. In particular, they aim to maintain the production of water-intensive maize, which is predominantly used to feed animals in livestock farming, and therefore primarily serve the private capitalist interests of agricultural big business. In 2016, only 24% of cereals in Europe were grown to feed people directly and more than 71% of the EU’s agricultural land is used for livestock feed production. On their way to one of these planned water reservoirs in Sainte Soline, the protesters were brutally stopped by French riot cops on the 25th of March. 3000 cops fired more than 5000 tear gas grenades and dozens of rubber bullets in the space of an hour. This police brutality resulted in many serious injuries: more than 200 people were injured, 40 of them seriously (one person went blind in one eye, another is currently in danger of losing it; another person lost the ability to walk and another has a broken jaw). Many people were severely injured in their legs and hands or have suffered from hearing damage – there are also numerous psychological traumas and states of anxiety. Two people were put into comas with a life-threatening prognosis: Mickaël, who was hit by a rubber bullet (he has woken up now and left the hospital), and Serge, who was hit in the head by a grenade (he remains in a coma and his prognosis is still life-threatening).
In response to this brutal repression, rallies were held all over France on the 30th of March. There was solidarity with the victims of the violence and the comrades in comsa, as well as sharp criticism of the media, which quickly turned the protesters into criminals who ‘deserved’ this violence. The events in Sainte Soline had a big impact on the movement against the pension reform. The movement is now also directed against state repression, as it has become clear to many that it is the same repressive state power that orders the forced recruitment of workers during strikes, that violently clears strike pickets and blockades in front of the factory gates of waste incinerators and refineries, and that mutilates environmental activists.
In retrospect, it must be said that the dynamic described in our text, in which forms of struggle unfolded beyond the weekly mobilisations prescribed by the unions, lasted only a short time. At the end of the day, it was probably a sequence of a bit more than one week in which the social partnership trodden paths were crossed on a mass level. The impression we described of the two mobilisations in the first half of March, namely that the movement largely skipped from one union-called day of action to the next, was unfortunately also true for the last week of March. On the 14th of April, the Constitutional Council declared the law legal and Macron proclaimed it immediately. Nevertheless, the final outcome of the current situation is still quite unforeseeable. The CGT has called for a new sequence of reconductible strikes  in the refuse sector in Paris. The strikes had ceased during the end of March after three weeks of continuous strike. Moreover, the mobilisation for the 1st of May is expected to be very important. New strike dates are announced by the “Intersyndicale” for the 20th of April and the 28th. In general, though, it is rather doubtful that the approval of the law will stop the current downward spiral of the movement.
There are probably two reasons for this tendency of decline: on the one hand, the police massively intimidated demonstrators through mass arrests. “More than 1,200 people have been detained since the 16th of March”, wrote the Financial Times on the 26th of March.  On the other hand, the strategy of weekly strike days decided by the union bureaucracies inside of the Intersyndicale is rather moderate, as it is traditionally the case during anti-pension reform movements in France.  We should not forget that the Intersyndicale comprises also very reformist unions like the CFDT or the CFE-CGC (the union for managers). Since there are no union strike funds in France, strikers must bear the loss of wages themselves through ad-hoc strike funds. Anyone who goes on strike against a law that has already been passed must be very sure of their cause and see a realistic chance of winning the fight. So there is a very banal materialistic explanation for why strike participation decreased from week to week in France. For workers who have been involved in a reconductible strike dynamic for many weeks, it is very hard to bear the loss of wages. This is exacerbated by the ‘week by week’ strategy of the unions which imposes an unbearable time frame on workers who would need an antagonistic outbreak here and now in support of their strikes.
This situation expresses a more general peculiarity of French unionism, capital-labour regulations and their evolution. As France was only weakly industrialised until after WWII, the state pushed a rapid industrialisation based on wage depression and labour intensification after the war. The trade union movement, on the other hand, remained weakly developed. This weakness has its historical roots in the structure of the French economy, which is dominated by small businesses. This does not offer favourable conditions for unionisation. The project of German-styled ‘social partnership’ which gives unions relatively great influence in return for peace in the workplace, could not develop in the same way. Resentment over the alienated factory work could not be channeled through negotiations between unions and capital. The terrain of class struggle was not the factory, but the street. This was because pressure had to be exerted not on the employers, but on the state as the main actor, if labour disputes were to be won. The impulse to break this dynamic came from the workers’ strike movements themselves, which were successfully exploited and politically reintegrated by the unions.  This is the background to the French model, which, because of its higher and perhaps more visible conflict potential, tends to impress many observers from abroad.
In response to the revolt of ’68, the state attempted to strengthen unions at the shop-floor level, thereby establishing them as negotiating partners with capital to better contain future social discontent, but this attempt failed due to the weakness of the unions. Thus, the state was forced to assume the role of social partner in place of strong unions and to establish a class compromise on its own (the adjustment of wages to price indices, the increase of the minimum wage, the extension of collective agreements of individual companies to entire sectors and the extension of unemployment insurance.)The basis for this form of state-mediated class compromise was the willingness of capital to accept the intervention in the ‘free play of market forces’. During the 1970s, however, the conditions of exploitation changed and so did capital’s willingness to economically integrate the working class in favour of social peace. Ever since, French unionism has lost its already fragile power. Under pressure from capital, the state increasingly cancels the class compromise from above, for example by establishing the primacy of company agreements over collective agreements, realised by the labour law of 2016. 
This is the long-term context, which explains new forms of class struggle in France, as illustrated by the movement of the ‘Gillets Jaunes’ in 2018/19. It made clear that an antagonistic movement can be sustained over many months with a high level of conflict. But the long-lasting mobilisation of the Gilets Jaunes can also partly be explained by the fact that their actions mostly took place on weekends and, thus, did not burden the private strike funds or capitalist profit rates. In this sense they were therefore another symptom of the weakness of the traditional workers movement in France.
Social anger and hatred against the establishment remains high in France. Macron’s second, and therefore also last, mandate lasts until 2027. With the pension reform he has shown that – freed from the hesitancy due to a possible re-election – he does not shy away from unpopular social attacks on waged workers.  At the national council of the Macronist party ‘Renaissance’ on the 15th of April, Elisabeth Borne  said about new reforms to come: “we are determined to accelerate”. The government has recently announced the project of a new labour law. It is hardly to be expected that the French working class will let this go so easily. The next social movements are already on the horizon. Maybe this one will have enough breath to fight off the attacks. One thing is for sure, we will be back on the streets.
Strikes whose continuation is voted for by strikers, without having to serve a new strike notice to the employer.
“The pension movements in France have a rather inter-classist nature, given the history of trade union demands, particularly among managers (cadres). The current movement is lead by the broadest possible coalition of unions within what is called an Intersyndicale.” Fx Hutteau, https://notesfrombelow.org/article/french-unions-strike-back
Nicely illustrated in the short movie ‘La reprise du travail’, directed by students about the 1968 workers’ struggles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ht1RkTMY0h4
For further reading, see the German text collection about the Yellow Vest movement Une situation excellente? Beiträge zu den Klassenauseinandersetzungen in Frankreich, online : https://translibleipzig.wordpress.com/2019/10/01/gelbwestenbroschuere-als-pdf-zum-download/
As Sebastian Budgen also emphasized : https://www.patreon.com/posts/pto-extra-social-80819561
Report from the class struggle in France
28th of March 2023
Falling birth and profit rates
Reforming the pension system is one of the projects close to French President Emmanuel Macron’s heart. He announced his intentions as soon as he came to power in 2017. He launched a first attempt at this project in the winter of 2019/20. The announcement of this reform in September 2019 immediately triggered a massive wave of strikes and protests.
The mobilisation in 2019/20 went down in history as the longest general strike to date since 1968. From the 5th of December to mid-March 2020, a broad movement protested against this systematic extension of working time and reduction of the time we spend free from work. From the usually strike-happy railway workers to dancers at the Paris Opera, people walked off the job. Although the government announced in February 2020 that it would use section 49.3 to push through the reform in the face of parliamentary opposition, the corona pandemic ultimately put the reform project on hold for the time being.
At the beginning of January 2023, the President of the Government, Elisabeth Borne, announced that she wanted to introduce the amendment to the law after all. The law raises the retirement age from 62 to 64, and at the same time, the pension reform aims to integrate everyone indiscriminately into the same pension system. State employees such as metro drivers, rescue workers and police officers have benefited from special regulations up to now. They have a lower retirement age than workers in the general pension system. On the one hand, this reflects the status of these occupational groups, but also the fact that they are exposed to special dangers or risks. Train drivers, for example, have a retirement age of 57 years because of the night work, physical exertion and pollution they are exposed to, while for most workers it is 62 years. For ballerinas it is even 42, which dates back to times when life expectancy was much lower. The pension reform sets out to abolish lots of special regulations and equalise pensions, e.g. in the case of employees of the Paris transport company and employees working to supply gas and electricity. It should be noted that a full pension at the age of 62 is currently only possible after 43 full years of contributions. In reality, the current project is an extension of the Touraine reform from 2014, with the difference that it accelerates the speed of this reform: instead of reaching the limit of 43 years of contribution for a full pension in 2035, with this reform we get there in 2027. Everyone else in France, as in Germany, has to work until the age of 67 if they want to receive their full pension. The government justifies the reform with a technocratic argument that is often used for such projects: It argues that the demographic transition and ageing process, due to falling birth rates and rising life expectancy, is leading to an ever-increasing proportion of older people in society. The resulting increase in pension expenditure is no longer affordable for pension funds.
This demographic argument serves as a purely technical justification for neoliberal reforms in the name of “constraints” and “necessities”, as Macron put it in a television interview on the 22nd of March.
The argumentation of the French bourgeoisie in this regard is as follows: In order to cope with demographic pressure, the coffers have to be filled. However, this can only be done through redistribution and deductions from labour income, since higher taxes on capital would otherwise nullify the incentives to reindustrialise the French economy. At the same time, due to the precariously low income of many pensioners, low real wages and inflation, neither pension benefits can be lowered nor wage-earner contributions increased. Therefore, the only way to finance the pension system is to extend the working life. This argumentation, which at first sight seems obvious to the everyday mind, should not obscure the fact that this is a simple question of distribution, which can only be decided by the class struggle: Should the costs of reproducing the elderly (used up labour power) be borne by wage earners or by capital?
Since the announcement of the plan in mid-January, there have been numerous mobilisations and strikes by the trade unions. The days of action are currently very powerful and regularly break new records. The strike day on the 23th of March was the ninth protest day called by the unions. It was called jointly by all the major unions, the so-called ‘Intersyndicale’. There had not been a joint mobilisation of the ‘Intersyndicale’ since 2010, as in previous reform projects the strongly social-democrat oriented trade union CFDT had usually quickly disengaged in order to enter into ‘social partnership’ negotiations with the government.
The government, on the other hand, seems to be in the process of completely abolishing the social partnership from above, which is expressed, among other things, by the fact that the trade unions are no longer even allowed to take a symbolic seat at the negotiating table. The French economist Frédéric Lordon said of Macron’s reign that, “Because he himself has torn down all mediation, the autocrat is now separated from the people (peuple) only by a line of policemen.”
That this is a persistent tendency in French politics was already noted in our analysis of the yellow vest movement in 2019:
“The means of the state to pacify social conflicts has always consisted in the integration of antagonisms through social mediations, of which the legal mediation of labour disputes is paradigmatic. However, as the neoliberalism of recent decades has progressively weakened trade union mediations, and parliamentarism also seems to have exhausted itself with the demise of social democracy and the authoritarian style of government, social conflict now articulates itself increasingly antagonistically, as the Saturday riots in December made clear to us.”
An inert movement?
Since the beginning of March, we have been participating in the movement against the pension reform in Marseille and Paris. In the following we want to share our subjective impressions and draw some preliminary conclusions. The first demonstration we took part in was in Marseille, on the strike day of the 7th of March 2023.
“The starting point at the old port is set for 10 am. When we arrive at 11am, there are already a lot of people present. From a purely quantitative point of view, the mobilisation is definitely a success. Nevertheless, everything seems rather tame. When the procession finally starts to move, it is already 1 pm, three hours after the planned start. Accordingly, the demonstration seems exhausted before it’s even started. Moreover, the march only moves along the harbour basin, which isn’t frequented much. At the fringes of the march, the usual radical groupings set up their stands, the Trotskyists of ‘Lutte Ouvrière’ and ‘Révolution Permanente’ or the anarcho-communists of the ‘Union Communiste Libertaire’. They distribute their leaflets and chant slogans via megaphone. This is almost the only content that can be heard during the demonstration.”
According to the trade unions, more than 200,000 people joined the demonstration. This number doesn’t seem exaggerated to us, even if it seems fantastic from a German point of view. According to the trade unions in the whole of France more than 3.5 million took part in the strike demonstrations; according to the cops there were 1.28 million. Nevertheless, for a general strike, the strike activities were quite manageable and limited to a few sectors. The sectors involved were mainly those in which the French trade unions have been well positioned for a long time. These include education (with a strike participation of 60% according to the unions and 30% according to the public authorities), electricity (with a participation of more than 50%) or the railway workers of the state railway company SNCF. Because of these sectorally limited strikes and the very well attended but overall rather tame demo, our first impression of the movement tended to be pessimistic. We suspected that the movement would not last long and that this ritualised protest would remain within the framework of state negotiations.
The next mobilisation in which we participated on the 15th of March in Paris further confirmed our previous impressions.
“The demonstration is again very large, but overall everything seems a bit anaemic. Unlike in Marseille, there are only a few autonomous people in Paris who set fire to a rubbish bin here and there and have small skirmishes with the cops. Nevertheless, the cops never seem to lose control. Nothing is reminiscent of the wild demonstrations during the Yellow Vests movement, when in the winter of 2018 the protesters virtually took control of entire neighbourhoods in the bourgeois west of Paris.However, this mobilisation is again breaking participation records. They are now even overtaking the last big movement against a reform of the pension law in 1995. What is nevertheless very impressive in Paris is that the “Éboueurs”, i.e. the refuse collectors, have been on strike for weeks. While many strikes disappear into the semi-public sphere of the workplace and the factory, this strike manages to leave its mark on the public space, making people aware of it every time they go for a walk. Up to 10,000 tonnes of rubbish pile up on the streets of Paris and only the inhabitants of certain streets in very rich neighbourhoods in the west of Paris have the financial means to pay for private rubbish disposal. There, things look as proper as ever.”
The nights of the rubbish barricades
The movement was to take its decisive turn on the 16th of March. Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne announced that she would make use of Article 49.3 of the French Constitution to push through the change in the law. Although the government had been claiming for weeks that only parliament could decide on the reform, uncertainty about the outcome of the vote, given the reluctance of many conservative MPs, finally prompted the president to resort to the infamous decree. The article is a peculiarity of the French Constitution of the Fifth Republic of 1958, which allows the government to pass a law without the consent of parliament. Having made use of Article 49.3 eleven times since taking office, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has already broken the record previously held by the Socialist Michel Rocard (1988-1991). If a motion of no confidence in the government is not tabled within 24 hours, the bill is deemed to have been adopted. Such a motion must be tabled by at least one-tenth of the MPs and only becomes effective if it is adopted by an absolute majority of MPs. The adoption of the motion would therefore lead to both the resignation of the government and the rejection of the text.
After this announcement, the anger in the country grew noticeably and the movement gained momentum. In the evening, wild demonstrations take place all over the country. The movement, which until now had remained within the classic channels of French social protests of mass demonstrations and strikes in the public sector, now seemed to be upping the ante and started using forms of action that respond more militantly to the government’s announcement. As the evening progressed, thousands poured into the Place de la Concorde and spontaneous demonstrations moved through the parliamentary district, setting up barricades, setting fire to the rubbish piled up by the strike and fighting with the cops, who took almost 300 people into custody. In retrospect, the evening was to prove to be the manifestation of both the new forms of action and the police strategy of total intimidation.
From now on, spontaneous demonstrations took place every evening, called for on Twitter and Telegram channels. They were spread out all over Paris to make it difficult for the cops to intervene. On the following Saturday, for example, an assembly took place on the Place d’Italie in the south of Paris. The cops tried to surround the square, but in the meantime wild demonstrations by smaller groups kicked off; people marched angrily through the nearby streets and neighbourhoods. Memories of the “Nuit Débout” movement of 2016 come to mind, when such assemblies and protests took place for weeks around the Place de la République. The rubbish strike did not stop either: the rubbish bags in the streets of Paris were now piling up metres high, which proved very useful for the wild demonstrations. All over Paris, at any given time, enough material can be found for barricades that are quick to erect and easy to burn.
On Friday the 17th of March, a call circulated to support the strikers at Europe’s largest waste incinerator in Ivry-sur-Seine. The 10,000 tonnes of rubbish in the streets of Paris were not only a consequence of the waste collectors’ strike, but also of the work stoppage of the workers in the waste incineration plant. Talking to strikers at the factory gate, we learned that the plant had already been at a standstill for a fortnight. A worker who has been working at the plant for several decades noted that this is the biggest strike at the plant since 1995. Back then, the plant was paralysed for a month and the entrance gate was welded shut.
The strike strategy in the waste sector in the Paris region seemed to be working: workers at both the incinerator and the rubbish collection were on strike and the entrances to the rubbish trucks as well as to the factory were blocked, mainly thanks to student support from outside. A CGT leaflet said: “The vast majority of sanitation workers have a life expectancy 12 to 17 years less than the average working person.” When we asked if the strike could last longer, one worker replied: “We’ll hold out until the end. We have nothing to lose. If we stop now, we will pay for it later anyway.” Another says: “There is no more rubbish here. That’s why they would have to order 2000 wooden pallets in the first place to get the incinerator going again. So far they are getting around our strike by temporarily storing the rubbish in pits, polluting the soil and the environment.” The state’s response to the rampant strike is coercion. The police or bailiffs force individual strikers to return to work. They explained: “If you are called up for service, you usually have to do a specific task. The plan is to get that over with quickly so we can go back on strike.”
At the spontaneous demonstration on Sunday, you could tell that the participants have been part of the movement and on their feet for days. We started so late that the cops were able to kettle the demonstration after only a few minutes. A small group of us were nevertheless faster, managed to escape and spent the rest of the evening showing solidarity with those who were kettled and arrested. Scenes like the following took place that evening: A slightly older lady dressed in rather middle-class attire was led away to the prisoner transporter, protesting loudly. She sat down next to the van, gesticulated and loudly proclaimed that it is out of the question for her to be arrested and taken away now. She refused to be searched. She was merely in the street singing the Marseillaise and the Internationale. No one could forbid her to do that. She was so determined that the cops did not dare to continue the arrest, especially as a crowd of protesters in solidarity had formed around her. She could only be taken away when another unit of cops dispersed the crowd. “Libérez nos camarades!” chanted the crowd as the cops put on their helmets.
On the following Monday, the 20th of March, the motion of no confidence is due in parliament. The opposition, grouped around the centrist parliamentary group’s motion, needs 18 votes from the ranks of the centre-right Républicains party to topple the Borne government. The absolute majority for the motion is missed by only nine votes. France almost saw the fall of the government.
In the evening hours, the same scenario as the days before was repeated in Paris: a spontaneous demonstration with several thousand participants marched from the west of Paris along Rue Rivoli towards Châtelet and set fire to everything that crossed its path. No police to be seen. In the late hours of the evening, demonstrators and cops engaged in small street fights on the Place de la Bastille. With hundreds of other demonstrators, we wandered around for at least an hour, chanting, “Paris, debout, soulève-toi” (“Paris, stand up, rise up!” ) until the massively overwhelmed police finally end the action with tear gas. That evening it became clear that this new phase of the movement was largely carried by radicalised youth, pupils and students. Before the demonstrators were forced into the metro by the tear gas, the new slogan of the evening was heard, alluding to Article 49.3: “Nous aussi, on va passer en force! (“We too will prevail by force!”)
The extent to which the country is now mobilised is also reflected in the arts. Social reality is now also appearing on the theatre stages. At the performance of Adeline Rosenstein’s anti-colonial documentary theatre play “Laboratoire Poison” on the 17th of March in the Paris suburb of Gennevilliers, early signs of this became apparent. An actress addressed the audience before the performance and explained that the actors are in solidarity with the movement and the strikes. While she expressed her hope that capitalism will “croak” as soon as possible, a colleague handed out flyers with QR codes that can be used to pay directly into the strike funds via Paypal. In France, such collections are desperately needed, because unlike in Germany, the trade unions here do not pay for the wage losses caused by the strike. A few days later, before the performance of the piece “Mystery Sonatas. For Rosa” (referring to Rosa Luxemburg and Rosa Parks) by the Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker at the Théâtre du Châtelet, a delegation of the theatre section of the CGT trade union, which is close to the French Communist Party, stormed the stage and chanted slogans against the pension reform. In this theatre in the city centre, the audience is much more bourgeois. There were a few boos. However, the majority of the audience showed solidarity, stood up from their seats, chanted slogans against the pension reform together with the trade unionists and applauded the trade unionist who was mobilising for the upcoming strike on stage. After about 10 minutes, the spectacle ended and the actual performance began. One does not even want to imagine what the reactions would have been if strikers had carried out a similar action in a German theatre.
The strike movement explodes
On Thursday the 23rd of March, the ninth day of strike action since the beginning of the movement, spontaneous demonstrations had been taking place every evening for a week in the capital. Meanwhile, some refinery workers had also gone on strike. “A swarm of spontaneous initiatives is exploding from all sides, unannounced work stoppages, blockades of major cross roads, riots or wild demonstrations, student rallies on every corner, the energy of the youth on the Concorde, in the streets,” Fréderic Lordon summed up euphorically.
In the morning the newspapers reported that fuel is no longer available at 15% of petrol stations. In the Loire-Atlantique region, this affected more than 50% of the petrol stations. Of particular strategic interest is Total’s refinery in Normandy near Le Havre, which supplies the Paris region and airports with fuel. The disrupted distribution chain for aviation kerosene and strikes by airport staff were causing massive flight cancellations. The government responded by forcing refinery workers in Fos-sur-Mer, Gonfreville and Donges to work, which the CGT lawyer described as political instrumentalisation: “The reality is that the government wants to end this strike and pretends that there is a compelling reason. But we’re not talking about petrol for ambulances, we’re talking about kerosene for planes.”
As expected, the mobilisation on the 23rd of March was proving to be massive. According to figures from the CGT union, up to 800,000 demonstrators gathered in Paris and a total of 3.5 million throughout all of France. At first, the demonstration passed without further incidents. The return of the autonomous demonstrators, who line up in front of the trade union marches, brings back memories of the movement against the Labour Code of 2016. On the Grands Boulevards, the atmosphere between the cops and the demonstrators became more tense and the first clashes, followed by the firing of tear gas, quickly ignited. In the meantime, as in 2016, the police kettle the protest leaders and isolate them from the rest of the demonstration. The crowd responded with the slogan: “Nous aussi on va passer en force” (“We too will prevail with force”), whereupon the cops showered us with tear gas until we were breathless. After a short period of disorientation, the march regrouped and was able to push through to the Place de l’Opéra. There, a kettle finally awaited the demo.
In the early hours of the evening, things were heating up all over Paris: in the west near Opéra, in the east near Bastille, in the centre near Les Halles. Construction site equipment, fences, rubbish bins, e-scooters, bicycles blocked the way of the police. These demos, once again extremely young, have adapted to the new form of state repression. While at the time of the yellow vest protests the newly deployed mobile and motorised BRAV units of the police could easily restrict the demonstrators’ freedom of movement, now the diffuse, mobile and clandestine spontaneous demos undermine the police strategy. We moved wildly through the streets and as soon as the revving engines of the units were heard, the crowd dispersed to avoid arrest. The police moved on and a few minutes later the march regrouped.
In Marseille, things were more relaxed that day. More than 200,000 people, almost a quarter of the city’s population, took part in the strike demonstration. But it remained quiet there. In the evening, numerous rubbish bins burned in the La Plaine neighbourhood, causing flames several metres high and a stench throughout the neighbourhood. In Marseille, too, there have been spontaneous demonstrations every evening since the 16th of March, in the course of which the rubbish that was no longer collected went up in flames – here, too, the rubbish collectors have now joined the strike.
“Should we fear the return of communism?”
A strong acceleration of the movement and a radicalisation of its forms of action could be observed during the last few days. On the one hand, this concerned concrete strike activities – such as blockades of refineries and waste incinerators – and on the other hand, the demonstrations in the cities were becoming more unpredictable and militant. A new generation of radicalised youth from the cities seems to be joining the movement, and their hatred of the status quo and the police is increasing.
On a positive note, the demonstrators do not subscribe to the bourgeois democratism of a movement á la “Nuit Debout”. Even if the movement then, as now, was formed on the basis of the perception of a democratic “betrayal”, which in the case of “Nuit Debout” led to the questionable demand for a 6th republic with a new constitution and is currently expressed in the scandalisation of the anti-parliamentary Article 49.3, the potential of the struggles today seems to be greater. No democratic faction has yet been able to put itself at the head of the movement and paralyse it with its democratic formalism and endless debates. Of course, also no movement of communists has yet succeeded in sublimating the energy and discontent.
Instead of fantasising, as Lordon does, about a “pre-revolutionary situation”, it is therefore necessary, despite all the beauty of the various promising tendencies, to soberly illuminate the movement’s limitations. In a populist manner, it still focuses strongly on the ‘autocrat’ Macron. Thus, at worst, parts of the movement could regress to becoming the extra-parliamentary arm of the parliamentary opposition led by the social-democratic-left populist “France Insoumise”. On the other hand, the failure of the parliamentary motion of ‘no confidence’ could also be an ideological antidote, showing the movement that the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ of a reform can no longer be decided in the form of “parliamentary illusions” (Marx), but only in class struggle. An anxious newsfeed on the private television channel BFMTV already read: “Should we fear the return of communism?”
What a comrade from Marseille tells us is also hopeful. There is currently cooperation between people from the radical left milieu and parts of the trade unions. On the one hand, many trade unionists are becoming radicalised because they realise that their traditional forms of action are no longer sufficient: The government persistently ignores the millions on the streets and simply rules through force. More radical practices can now be observed, be it very decisive strikes, blockades or burning barricades. The trade union secretary Olivier Mateu of the CGT Bouches du Rhône – one of the candidates for the new election of the CGT leadership due at the end of March – said on French television that, despite the compulsory services in the refineries, that the workers in Fos-Sur-Mer will not let themselves be stopped from blockading and occupying their plant even by the riot police CRS. If the government decides to use them to retake the refinery or to carry out forced recruitments, they will realise that the workers will not just let them do it.
Likewise, our comrade reports that the radical left from Marseille participated in the blockade of the access roads to the Fos-sur-Mer refinery. During the plenary meeting of the movement this week, there was a discussion on how to further converge with the workers’ struggles. Many French left radicals who have focused on urban ‘insurrection’ for the last 20 years now seem to realise that this tactic also has its limits. After all, even mass mobilisations on the streets and the riots that accompanied them, as during the movements of 2016 or 2018 onwards, were unable to do anything against the government projects. A stronger connection with workers’ strikes and struggles was therefore an important further development. Or as our comrade says with a wink: “In my heart, I have remained a 16-year-old high school student, and I just love the burning bins at the spontaneous demos every evening. Factually, however, I am now a communist in my late 30s and I know that a few burning bins won’t be enough. So this increasing link with the struggles and strikes in the workplaces and factories is a very important development.”
What is clear in any case is that the political crisis will intensify. A new day of strikes is set for Tuesday, the 28th of March. Macron is currently cancelling all public appointments and the planned visit of the British King has also been called off. It remains to be seen whether the Constitutional Court will censor Macron’s reform and thus uphold the complaints filed by the opposition. Meanwhile, old battle fronts that could converge with the protests against the pension reform are also deepening: in Sainte Soline, 30,000 demonstrators protested on Saturday against the construction of a huge water basin that would threaten the water cycle and local ecosystems. Again, the cops are using massive repression. One of the demonstrators was hit in the head by a grenade and is still in a coma. Macron’s reform uses the argument of demographic sustainability as a justification, which basically only serves the short-term interests of capitalist profits. It wants to finance the ageing process of society without lowering profit rates. But those who really want to counteract the ageing process in a sustainable way fight against the extension of working hours and for the abolition of wage labour.