This article is based on material by a French comrade, Michael Lenoir
Workers and popular discontent in the country precede movement in the reﬁneries, with protests against price increases, for better wages and pensions.
By Martin Ralph – Britain
In the midst of the energy and inﬂationary crisis that is haunting Europe. Social anger is rising and the cost of living including fuel, food, energy and other necessities plays a central role. If inﬂation is lower in France than in other European countries (United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Netherlands…) it is not under control. The actions of the government in recent months proved it; in accordance with the law, the minimum wage has been subject to four revaluations since the beginning of 2022. As for pensions, as they have not been indexed to prices, they were increased by 4% this summer. Forecasts of increases in consumer prices for 2022 are between 5.2% to 10%. These issues are well-known by British and other European workers.
In energy and other companies CEO’s remuneration and payment to shareholders increases while workers are offered below inﬂation wage deals; pensions and beneﬁts are falling in real terms or even cut. The Macron government criminalises and persecutes those who struggle.
Strikes and hundreds of demonstrations took place across France in September, in a movement that rescued the mood of struggle against the 2019 pensions reform, which led the country to one of the longest strikes in history.
Oil workers have been carrying out a powerful strike for weeks before the 18 October general strike. Their national strike began at ExxonMobil on 21 September, which closed petrol stations and created long queues where petrol was available. The movement had stopped 60% of reﬁning capacity.
The government pretended that the strike was not effective and then suddenly switched to being in “solidarity” with motorists while the capitalist media tried to undermine the striking unions. They attacked the CGT, saying the strikers are privileged and are taking the rest of the population hostage, but without too much success. There is a lot of support for strikers, even among motorists in difﬁculty. Most of the population understands that wages are eaten up by inﬂation and that real wage increases are needed. All this is something British workers are very familiar with.
Total’s situation is well known and inspires little pity from the public it is a company which for a long time stubbornly refused to negotiate with the strikers, but made 16 billion euros in net proﬁts last year. The managing director, Patrick Pouyanné, increased his salary by 52% this year and recently decided to pay 2.6 billion in interim dividends to his shareholders.
General strike on 18 October
On 18 October reﬁnery workers together with the oil tanker drivers, and other sectors, such as the rail, nuclear power plant, education (all education unions called for the strike) and health workers, have shown the collective fury of workers. The CGT, FO, Solidaires and FSU union Centrals organised the strikes and protests.
Employer and government authoritarianism and the attacks on the right to strike materialised when French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne announced on 11 October, that staff will be ordered (requisitioned) to go back to work to reopen Esso-ExxonMobil petrol depots that are ‘essential to the operation of fuel depots. Those who refuse to comply with the order could face up to six months in prison and a ﬁne of 10,000 euros. This draconian action increased employees’ will to ﬁght in many other sectors.
For example, dockers’ unions had already declared their support for the reﬁnery workers and their willingness to strike if these ‘requisitions’ took place. The rail workers also want wage increases, and the mobilisation of the regional French rail took place by CGT and Sud Rail.
The day of struggle shows the reasons for the French discontent. In addition to the high cost of living, the actions were for better wages and pensions, and against attacks on unemployment beneﬁts.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic suspended the debates on the planned pension reform in the Assembly, Macron has threatened to continue with it in his new mandate and this also caused popular protests to return.
Down with exploitation!
While the oil companies made record proﬁts, their managements have responded harshly and Macron obviously did not demand the multinationals increase workers’ wages indexed to inﬂation.
On the contrary, his government has repressed those who wake up at 4 am, who use their bodies and their health to produce, who get sick, and who normally only have a few years of retirement because their bodies are exhausted. Using a law from the second world war, Macron has started to demand a minimum operating framework in private companies under penalty of imprisonment for strikers who reject, hurting the constitutional right of workers to strike. Another attack just as the Tory government is proposing.
And as a symbol of imperialist hypocrisy, the government again imported Russian oil, which was under international sanction, to break the strike.
It is necessary for British workers to express support for the militant, hard-working entities and the workers that are carrying out the general strike in France, especially the oil, rail and dock workers and teachers who are ﬁghting for rights in a European country that is going through continuous energy and inﬂationary crisis.
We say if the French workers can organise a general strike so can we. Let’s build our class movement against Marcon, the Tories and the immensely greedy employers.
All support to the General Strike in France!