In the battle against French President Emmanuel Macron’s attacks on the working class, unions and students have launched a highly politicized struggle consisting of intense strikes and university occupations. On March 22, this movement reached a turning point. Unions and students came together in massive protests across France. The SNCF, or the publicly owned train system that traverses France, is facing privatization. Macron seeks to change the SNCF from a completely publicly owned and funded system to “government owned shares,” which undoubtedly in a few years will be auctioned off to the highest bidder.
In addition to privatization, the railway workers’ pensions and working conditions are under attack from Macron’s “reforms.” The railway workers are one of the strongest and most militant parts of the French working class. They are staging rolling strikes, currently two days out of every five. Macron is testing them to see the extent to which he can slash social safety nets for the whole French working class.
In Paris, train lines can not legally be completely shut down, but simply are running less frequently during strikes. Travel around France is hit hardest, with regional trains being completely canceled on strike days. In addition some management officials are being offered hefty bonuses to act as scabs. Despite all this, these strikes are still incredibly effective and have been inspiring students across France to continue fighting Macron’s education “reforms.”
The solidarity between the railway workers, other workers facing attacks by Macron’s neoliberalism, and students is impressive. On March 22, the first day of the rail strike, about 55,000 people marched together in Paris against Macron’s vicious attacks. Macron’s Sélection law would drastically reduce access to free, quality education to working-class students while cutting professor positions at universities across France. The student movement, though still relatively small, has occupied 25 universities across France.
In May 1968, students and workers occupied universities in a truly revolutionary moment. The month-long general strike of May ‘68 posed a decisive challenge to capitalism which, while unsuccessful, won huge concessions for students and workers from a terrified ruling class. Closely mirroring May ‘68 (see pp. 6&7), the current student movements have been met with police violence. In the student districts of Paris you can see “1968/2018,” “Solidarity with the Conductors,” and “I support the Conductors!” spray-painted on advertisements and walls.
It’s not just students who support the striking rail workers. In fact, Macron’s approval ratings have plummeted, with 52% of the country disapproving of him. In only one month, the railway workers solidarity fund has raised €700,000 ($860,000). Though the corporate media has been pushing a false headline that a majority of French people disapprove of the strikes, there is a huge sense of solidarity.
As May 2018 approaches, there is growing anger among the students and workers in France. Janitors, hospital workers, postal workers, teachers, and lawyers have all been participating in strikes against these reforms. At the same time, workers and students are getting organized by continuing their strikes and occupations, coming together in larger protests, and refusing to back down. However, it will take more than this to defeat the rising tide of neoliberalism. Now, the question is whether the movement will be strong enough to drive out Macron for good. The potential is there, but students, unions members, and ordinary workers must come together to escalate the struggle bringing in wider layers of the working class.
Leftist leaders Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Olivier Besancenot have correctly called on trade unions and political organizations to act together to stop Macron. In workplaces, schools and universities, in the streets, in the unions, and in the movement of France Insoumise, Gauche Revolutionnaire (CWI in France) is advocating mass struggle to stop Macron, fighting for a socialist program to put an end to his destructive capitalist policies. J