France: Rally attacked by police as lacklustre unions face criticism

Protests in Paris were attacked by police yesterday, with marchers under the CGT banner being tear-gassed as they rallied against labour laws being introduced by the Macron government stripping away labour rights.

The new laws (Loi Travail) have been hugely controversial across France, sparking protests and anger across the labour movement – though the country’s major unions have also been accused of effective complicity with a lacklustre campaign against them.

Yesterday’s protest pulled in several thousand people but the represents a major decline from the 200,000 who turned out earlier in the year, raising fears that the government has successfully waited out popular protests staged under the banners of the unions.

The new laws will roll back 70 years of improvements to working rights, unions say, making it far easier for firms to implement lay-offs, cutting union influence and enabling casualisation.

Critics note that alongside the labour rule changes, aimed at making French workers “more competitive,” there is also an ongoing process of destruction against long-held social support nets and public sector roles, including:

  • Elimination of 150,000 subsidised contracts without any incumbency or CDIsation (open-ended contracts) being proposed;
  • Cuts to 120,000 civil service posts and dismantling of the public service
  • A decrease of APL (housing benefits) of up to 60 euros per month;
  • A breakdown of social security and various related funds by abolishing the social contribution;
  • The state of emergency being enshrined in common law, seriously endangering our rights and freedoms;

In a statement ahead of the walkout, anarcho-syndicalist union CNT-F backed yesterday’s march but hit out a lack of strategy in the left response, saying:

The CNT deplores the lack of union unity, with strike and rally days being divided between professional sectors, some events mainly composed of trade union activists, leaving most of their colleagues indifferent.

Yet we are all concerned by these regressive measures, whether in the private or the public spheres.

The government tells us exempting the “rich” from wealth taxes will give us work … We have nothing to expect from this capitalist class! Since it is we workers who produce wealth, we refuse to be sacrificed by a minority of privileged parasites for their profit.

If the CNT calls for this day of strike, we recall that it is in the struggle and the unity of a real Social Front that will be built the balance of power to bend the government and its bankers’ clique (as in the strikes of 1995 and 2006). We therefore call for continuing and amplifying the fight against these employers’ laws.

Demands against the Macron government include:

  • The withdrawal of the labor law and other upcoming employer laws / ordinances;
  • Self-management of social security funds by elected employees (social elections);
  • Stopping exemptions from employers’ social security contributions and increasing budgets;
  • The establishment of all precarious public service jobs and a CDi for all in the private sector
  • Strengthening the right to organize (especially in the public service);
  • The criminal and civil amnesty for all convicted trade union activists;
  • A significant increase in wages and a decrease in working time without flexibility

A CNT analysis released earlier this month noted:

With the election of Macron, we knew that the fight would be tough. Insecurity in the labour market, job cuts, insulting workers, competition, ongoing evaluations, the supremacy of leaders over employees, individualism, and frantic consumption … everyone is being forced to defend their own conditions at the same time. In education, hospitals, local governments and other sectors, we have been working hard to keep our missions going but it becomes more difficult. There’s a lack of training, low wages, personal discursions, and retribution against trade unionists, protesters or those who dare to stand in the street, in the ZAD, in the neighbourhoods or at work.

Affirm our solidarity

We must build a general response! Organise ourselves to build solidarity: public, private, retired, young, unemployed and unemployed. For that, let’s talk with all our colleagues, find ourselves in AG, let’s rebuild collective and inter-professional solidarities, take back the power on our tools of work, reinvent our lives and our society. Of course, all this takes time and energy. But is it harder than being isolated in our difficulties or feeling alone against everyone? Let’s take the time to build together the tools and the foundations of a more just society. We will not change anything in a single day, nor by yielding our voice to one or the other bureaucrat, a more or less charismatic leader,

For another future

Cutting up society between unemployed and precarious on one side, employees on the other and, for the latter, a race for profitability, productivity, liquidation of the notion of public service, limitation of social protection, dictatorship of the economy, over-exploitation and industrial and nuclear pollution of the natural environment, our common good to all, cynical trade of arms and militarisation of society, monstrous profits of financiers and misery of those who are denied even the indispensable …

This hideous world that is imposed on us at the same time as we are asked to manufacture it, we, the employees, we can refuse. Because we manufacture all the goods and provide all the services, we must organise production for the good of the whole community and not for the greater profit or for the excessive ambition of the few. This is why trade unionism must become what it should never have ceased to be: revolutionary, that is to say, carrying a project for a more just, more egalitarian, freer society. As a result, the CNT now has a union practice that goes beyond the cautious co-management of society as it is.

This is, of course, to defend the immediate interests of all and all but also to sketch another future, by adopting a union methodology which breaks with the hierarchical patterns that govern our present. The CNT is the militant effort instead of bureaucratisation; it is an inter-professional solidarity instead of corporatism; it is a syndicalism free from any political interference. For the CNT, what is fundamental is that people decide for and by themselves. In the section, in the union, it is the general assembly that decides everything: no parachuted slogans, no “line” to follow, no ulterior motives politicians …

“If you feel that you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito and you will see which of them prevents the other from sleeping!”

A black bloc was also out on the day in Nantes, providing local media with most of their more interesting footage: