On September 23rd, nearly three million workers demonstrated in 230 cities in France against the pension reform proposed by the Sarkozy administration.
Among other measures, the administration's initiative removes historical gains of French workers and increases the minimum age required for retirement.
The arguments are the same as capitalist governments around the world: the lack of funds to pay pensions.
This argument is unacceptable because these same governments “found” trillions in the public coffers to give to bankers and multinational corporations when the first signs of the international economic crisis emerged.
The threats to these gains leave no doubt about the reactionary character of capitalism and its governments. The illusions “sold” to workers all over the world that one day they might be able to achieve the gains of European workers cannot be sustained any longer.
They want to impose on the European workers the elimination of their rights, layoffs, pay cuts, decreased public services, in order to meet the needs of capitalism to maintain itself & impose the exploitation standards of the so-called "Third World" countries. Even worse, they want to cut the labor rights of all workers, be they from developed countries or not.
No wonder Brazil is also starting to discuss the need for a further pension reform with the same goals as Sarkozy in France: to cut back workers' rights.
But the workers on the streets all across Europe, and now in France, are showing that they have the power to defeat their governments and protect their rights.
We marched along with the 300,000 workers who participated in the demonstration in Paris (data provided by the eight Labor Federations coordination that called the protests).
The unified concentration converged in the Bastille square. From there, two marches divided the city into two.
The majority of Labor Federations and other movements competed for the available space, each one with their own agitation, flyers, sound truck and.... many giant balloons, representing the federations, unions and diverse sectors as well.
We participated in the contingent organized by Solidaires. The march lasted over three hours, heading to Denfert Rochereau square.
The Solidaires contingent was one of the liveliest, with a strong presence of health workers, PTT (postal and telecommunications services), railworkers, public employees and other sectors. There were many enthusiastic young people that energized the crowd inside and outside the march.
While crossing each street and each square the demonstration recalled the history of a working class that, not by chance, have won some of the most advanced social gains in the world. On the way, we passed the Sorbonne, which was the only place "protected" by the military police. On the rest of the route, there wasn't any police presence.
Denfert Rochereau square, where the march ended, was the location where the May 1968 student demonstrations started.
Along the way, we were introduced to several union activists. The level of distrust towards the mainstream union leaders is widespread, especially against the CGT, the main national union center.
The Sarkozy administration is experiencing a major crisis. Corruption scandals, disputes within bourgeois families involving ministers, all this has left the Sarkozy administration with the support of only 35% of the French population. Now, his party is bound to be defeated in the upcoming elections.
The talks with the protesters and the slogans voiced by the different contingents of each organization reflect the debate and the challenges in this process. Teachers, electrical workers, postal workers, rail, air, banking and many other sectors were satisfied by the size of the demonstration, but at the same time, in doubt about how the fight will continue.
While the contingent of Solidaires chanted "Together, together, General Strike", the CGT voiced through the sound trucks "All together, all together, yes, yes.".
This slogan (Together, together ...) was introduced in the labor movement by the 1995 railway strike, which caused a national commotion and pushed for the unity of a broad range of unions and movements in defense of the railway workers.
So far, with the exception of Solidaires, the other Labor Federations refuse to call for a general strike, limiting themselves to call one-day stoppages with protests.
Along with these different perspectives, another one is expressed by the slogans: "Withdrawal of the bill" as chanted by the militant Leftwing sectors, or "No to the bill" as chanted by the other sectors.
The point is, however, is how to push forward the struggle. One perspective is to paralyze France, bringing a major political crisis that may even bring down Sarkozy. The other is to pressure for a reform of the government bill, allowing the reform the bourgeoisie needs to move on and directing the whole process into the electoral route through the upcoming presidential elections, via the PS-PC (Socialist and Communist Parties) alliance.
On September 15th, the House of Representatives passed the Pension Reform Bill. Now, the Senate has scheduled to vote the bill in mid-October.
The sectors that advocate a compromise refused to call for a demonstration on September 15th, pushing it back until the 23rd.
Once again, the central debate is over how to push forward the struggle and the possibility of defeating the attacks from the French administration.
Who should pay for the crisis? Either we say the bankers and corporations should pay or we accept the logic of the bourgeoisie that workers should share the burden and concede on this or that aspect of the project.
Those who think that this debate is just about the French workers are wrong. In Europe, what is being decided is the way out of the economic crisis all over the world. If the capitalist governments of Europe, particularly the French, succede in defeating the most organized sectors of the world working class, the bourgeoisie and imperialism as a whole, will be strengthened to attack workers and people worldwide.
The victory of the working class in Europe, by contrast, would strengthen the struggle and resistance at the international level.
Workers in France are not alone. Demonstrations are occurring in several other countries and, on the 29th, there will be a general strike in Spain.
But there are difficulties for coordinating and unifying these struggles, due to the policies of the main leaders.
The CSP-Conlutas was present in the September 23rd demonstrations in France to build up internacional solidarity, to establish contacts and to strengthen links with militant labor unions.