Communique on the November  2007 transportation strike in France

Since a few months, we witness a slow, but real, development of the workers struggles around the world, in all continents. Amongst the most significant :

- in Latin America, miners in Chile and Peru, Oaxaca in Mexico ;

- in Asia and Africa, the massive strike of the textile workers in Egypt, the one in construction in Dubaï ;

- in North America, the General Motors strike ;

- in the car industry in Russia, in the Post service in Great-Britain, in the railway in Germany.

The situation in this last country which is central at the historical level, has lived the development of a struggle which, without being spectacular, is particularly significant of the evolution of the political atmosphere at the international level and of the present dynamic of the classes struggle. The German railway workers fight which at first was limited to a specific sector - the train drivers of the freight - has lasted and, despite the permanent pressure and the threats of the bourgeois State, has spread in such a way that it has thus overcome the initial corporatist limit. It quickly touched the whole German railway network and met an increasing echo towards the rest of the proletariat of that country. It came after, these last years, several important struggles and strikes in Germany (in the car industry in particular) and it marks the growing and central role that the German proletariat begins to play (and will have to play) in the slow, but real, dynamic of revival of the international workers struggles.

France, too, passed through a certain number of struggles these last months despite the all recent election of the French President Sarkozy, presidential election which in general is followed the first months by a period of relative social calm. It matters to recall, for instance, the very militant strike which paralyzed Air France during 5 days at the end of October for pay rises ; this movement - that the unions had some difficulties to control and even to stop (which they finally succeeded to do with the argument that the company management was open to "real" negotiations up to December and that they'll call back on strike if negotiations were to fail) - was held in particular by the air hostesses and stewards who showed their determination through the holding up of massive general assemblies.

The attack against the railway workers and the city transportation's system of pension

It's in this international context and in this dynamic of classes struggle that the proletariat in France had to fight back through two of its main battalions (in the national railway network - at the SNCF - and in the big cities transportation, particularly in the Parisian region - at the RATP) against a particularly strong attack held by the government against their "special pension system" ; this attack is also directed against other State companies and corporations (EDF, the French electricity and gaz company as well as the workers of the Paris Opera...).

In 1993, the French bourgeoisie had succeeded, without any workers reaction, in raising the time of cotisation for the private sector workers' pension system (from 37 years up to 40) in order to get a "full" pension (we don't get into the details of the whole measures which were strongly worsening the first one, one for instance is an important cut on the calculation of the pension which sanctions the missing years to get full pension). In 1995, it wanted to extend the measure to the rest of the French proletariat, State public services and "special systems" ["régimes spéciaux" in French : amongst them, the railway workers and the cities transportation networks as well as the electricity and gaz workers] and all this ended in the 1995 December strikes and the withdrawal of the plan. In 2003, the bourgeoisie succeeded in making pass almost the same measures to the whole public service (education, hospital, functionaries of the Taxes, of the cities, of the State, Post Office workers, etc...) despite a massive struggle with millions of strikers and demonstrators in the streets (see our bulletin 19 up to 23). Let's just recall that May 13th 2003, the country was paralyzed by a massive strike in which already participated the SNCF and RATP workers (as well as the local transportations in the great cities), that the strike was renewed the next day by the assemblies and that the CGT - the main French union - had the biggest difficulties in tumultuous general assemblies to impose to the railway workers and the RATP workers (metro and bus drivers and maintenance workers) the return to work ; the workers of these sectors gave up only because they, under the huge pressure of the unions and the medias, were told they've got the promise that there "special system" wouldn't be affected by the "reform". The return to work May 15th marked the no-realization of the massive unification of the movement despite the lasting of the struggle (strikes and demonstrations) up to mid-June and thus the failure of the struggle.

Today, after an intense media campaign of preparation of the "public opinion" about the need for "equity" between the salaried (!), it is the turn of the transportation workers to be attacked through their pension system. The violence of the attack, its content as well as the provocative and assertive attitude of the government, of the medias, didn't let any other choice for the workers but to unleash the fight back - to which obviously the whole French bourgeoisie was prepared to. Last precision, the government didn't hesitate to affirm that this "reform in the name of equity" was all the more necessary since it will have to quickly, in 2008? re-examine the number of working years - up to 41, 42 years... - to get full pension for the whole proletariat in France.

The preparation of the attack

The transportation workers, above all at the SNCF, have a long tradition of struggle - and in particular of confrontation (sometimes open) to the unions - as well as an also long tradition of taking in their own hands their struggles through the holding of responsible general assemblies. Let's just recall the main and last dates : 1986, 1995, 2003. And that's why the bourgeoisie and its unions prepared themselves and worked well against this mobilization in order to ensure its failure. From the very beginning, the bourgeoisie gave to this inevitable conflict that it was looking for, a character of example, of symbol about the end of the "withdrawals" in front of the strikes through and firm, determined, indeed provocative, language of the government.

For their part, the unions called to a Day of action for October 18th for the whole public service on the question of wages and employment and...on the question of pension of course for the railway and cities transportation workers, with the obvious aim of making it a "released and powerless day". This strike has been massive and it has paralyzed, a first time, the country with a huge number of strikers in all the sectors, included in the private sector (for instance the metal workers). The unions slogans and demands were diverse and general : for the defence of the public service and employment, for wages rises and against the "special systems" reform. Yet the transportation workers appeared to be the most militant and determined.

The next day, there have been relatively numerous attempts to carry on the strike, but only in the transport companies. The "radical" union, called SUD and some CGT sections, relying on the decisions adopted in the assemblies, have supported these strikes while the national CGT leadership was calling for their stop with the false argument (the same tactic as 2003) of preparing a "stronger" strike a month later, November 13th. One more time, as in 2003, there have been very animated debates within the assemblies, in particular amongst the railway workers. But the CGT succeeded to make return to work while letting its "rank and file" organisations, its local sections, put forwards or take back radical and "rank and file" demands, and develop an "assembleist" politics ("the assemblies are the ones which do decide"), which supposedly "opposes" them to the CGT leadership.

Before November 13th, the bourgeoisie sets up an isolating plan of the movement

Government and unions (particularly the CGT which has a central role), in permanent contact, hand in hand, directly helped by the medias and the polls, have made all they could in order to weaken at the maximum, not so much the participation to the next strike of the 13th - meanwhile having became renewable given the combativity -, but all possibility of spreading to other sectors of the working class. We don't develop on all the aspects of this ideological and political offensive,relayed by the particularly zealous medias.

For the bourgeoisie, one stake was to isolate the movement in the transports, started the 13th, from the other sectors of the working class, specially the "public service", to derail the attention of its workers by focusing them about another date, November 20th, it means the so-called great Day of action which was "destined" to them. The bourgeoisie had no much difficulties to realize this goal despite the persistent combativity in the transports and despite the general atmosphere of discontent within the whole working class. Since, in not any moment, nor before, nor after the 13th, the transportation workers could break up their isolation and even the day 20th didn't present the least real, concrete, possibility - even though hundreds of thousands workers individually could wish so, could hope so - of unification, nor even of spreading the struggle. On the contrary, for workers who were exhausted, the 20th has been what the unions were aiming at make it : a day of funeral.

A particular expression of this fact, and at the same time an expression of the bourgeoisie's strength and union control in this movement, has been the capacity of the whole State apparatus - specially SUD and the CGT local sections which were the more radical and the more "opposed" to their leadership - to succeed to focalize the "debates" and the attention of the strikers' assemblies (as well as the whole working class of the country) about the railway workers' ability to hold on the strike up to the 20th, up to what the newspapers and the TV have called the "Junction". Taken in this false perspective of union and extension, actually in this false "Junction", the workers on struggle, and even more the other sections which weren't on strike, had have in not any moment the strength, nor even the willingness, to break up this dynamic of corporatist isolagion, to impose a change of ground and orientation, and to break up with the timing of the events and the political framework the bourgeoisie, firstly the unions, had imposed. So, even though the strikes were paralyzing the great cities and above all Paris, this period of time (from November 13th to the 20th) has given to the State apparatus the possibility of definitively erase the last real willingnesses, the last real possibilities, and even the last "hope" of widening the struggle.

We add, since we know the international bourgeois press has particularly put forwards this aspect, that the strikes and the blockages of the French universities by "radical" students - with their physical fights with right wing students, their confrontations with the police which were largely spread on TV and with diverse "demands", at best confuse and, for the essential, petit-bourgeois regarding their class character, have eased the medias tasks for disorientating even more the rest of the working class. Even more since the latest was already greatly suffering, ideologically and politically, the heavy consequences provoked by the absence of transportations means and by the intense medias campaign about the "taking hostages of the public, specially the poorest" by the railway workers described as "affluent and selfish who defend their privileges".

The bourgeoisie has used this class movement to strengthen its organs of control and sabotage of the struggles

Between October and November and during almost a month, "informal" talks between the unions leaders and the government never stopped while even the "negotiations" were officially presented as impossible because the "intransigence of both sides". The government was saying it didn't want to negotiate about the abolition of the "special pension systems" ; and then from the 13th (and the open and "unlimited" strike in transportation), it carried on refusing while the strike was lasting. The CGT officially refused to negotiate in the framework (the 40 years of cotisation for a full pension) imposed by the government while, "under the table", it approved the measure. From November 13th to 20th, the strike in the transports, knowingly provoked by the ruling class, has been very strong and has partially paralyzed the country, above all the great cities and Paris. But the workers didn't succeed to escape the game of false opposition government-unions, between the determined, cynical and provocative language of the government and the unions' one, "radical and militant" which was even more dangerous since it was held by the rank and file unions in the assemblies. From the 13th to the 20th, the strike progressively weakened in number of participants (even though it carried on paralyzing almost completely the collective transports), while revealing to the eyes of the most part of the workers, every day more the lack of widening perspectives other than "don't give up, hold on and resist"... up to the "Junction" of the 20th.

In this situation, even the sympathy - we don't even speak of the willingness to go on struggle - that the workers population had for the strike in a first moment, strongly declined amongst the large masses even more since the bourgeois medias begun to use the big artillery to oppose the "public" and the strikers. This couldn't but accentuate even more the strikers'isolation.

And this increasing political isolation hasn't been contradicted by the "success" of the November 20th Day of action in the Public service. Despite the fact hundred of thousands of workers mobilized (the rate of participation have been particularly high amongst the colleges and primary schools teachers) and that they demonstrated in the streets their discontent and their anger, despite the fact that were largely shouted "radical" slogans such as "public-private sectors on strike", "it's the rank and file and the assemblies which decide", etc..., this day hasn't been a "Junction" for the working class. But, on the contrary, it has marked the isolation of those who were on strike since more than a week, the lack of perspective for their movement and finally its "burial".

Here it matters to underline the particularly "radical" tone adopted by the CGT in the demonstrations. The geographical unions [called "départementales", it means the unions organisations based on the geographical French administrative division and which aren't the same as the local and general federation based on the entreprises and the corporations], at least the ones of the Parisian suburb - still today ruled by the stalinists who base themselves on a great number of cities employees of the "Red suburb", it means the suburb cities surrounding Paris the CP still rules - suddenly begun to shout very combative slogans such as "public-private sectors, unified strike" while a great number of banderoles claimed to represent the whole workers sticking up "General Assembly of depot of..." with slogans such as "when the rank and file meddles with it..., the reform [of the pensions] passes away". The demonstration of the 20th, from that angle, came to confirm the unions radicalization, in particular the CGT and the rank and file unionists. It has to be clear that the setting up of a "radical" unionism, which develops within the very great unions and particularly the CGT, doesn't mean at all that these ones finally would defend the workers' interests and would put themselves at the service of their struggle. Actually, this phenomenon is a response that the ruling class brings to the rising discontent and anger within the working class and to the struggles that, inescapably, this one unleashes (and that it will certainly develop) in front of the capitalist attacks. In order to control, to derail and to defeat the next workers struggles, the bourgeoisie needs more than ever "believable" unions, unions which supposedly let the decision to the rank and file, to the "base". It makes all it can to avoid that the distrust which exists amongst the workers towards the unions doesn't develop.

And now ?

Today, the medias keep silent about the negotiations whose dead-line would be around December 20th. Some unions (SUD) "stick their chest out" ["show their muscles"] and have already brought in new strike notices for this period. As well, service public unions have mentioned, after November 20th, the possibility of another Day of action for this period if the government doesn't present wage rises. All this shows that the failure of the transportation strike doesn't represent a true defeat of the working class, defeat which would have provoked a stop (indeed a retreat) of the increase of its combativity. All the contrary. We can trust the unions to analyze rightly the reality of workers combativity and to prepare to face it even though we can suppose the railway workers, in particular, might be a little weakened for the next months.

At the same time, this very day, the break out of violent riots in the great cities suburbs after the death of two teenagers which has been provoked by a police car, comes to add a supplementary element of social tension. There is no doubt this riots have the same character as the 2005 ones (see our bulletin 33) and that they don't represent any perspective in themselves. But in the present circumstances, they are for the whole working class a supplementary element of reflection and consciousness about the reality of capitalist society.

Finally, if the transportation sector workers can have some kind of feeling of defeat, it's not, far from it, the sign of an heavy defeat which could handicap the future mobilizations. Firstly because it is not the whole working class which had to withdraw during that first battle. Second, since this first engagement has been and carries on being a source of reflection and reinforcement for it (about capitalism's reality, about the nature of the attacks against its present and future living conditions, about the means for developing its struggles of resistance, etc.). And because it knows that the terms are all close : the French bourgeoisie, as the whole bourgeoisies, can't postponed later on the next attacks against the working class because the deepness of capital economical crisis and the economical and imperialist rivalries the crisis induces. The government has already announced new and violent attacks (on the pensions again as soon as the beginnings of 2008) against the whole working class.

Our intervention

For our part, since November 13th in Paris and, in the following days, in Mexico, we have begun to distribute an international leaflet (see in this bulletin 42) that the comrades Communist Internationalists of Montreal have co-sign with us and that they also distribute in Canada. We also encourage our contacts around the world to distribute it around them.

Because the dynamic - slow but deep and real - of workers struggles which develops these last months around the world, we have made the choice of an international leaflet which underlines the present reality of the capitalist system (misery and growing barbarism) and which put the proletariat in front of its historical responsibilities of unique revolutionary class, of the only class which is able to end up with this infernal system. In the situation of the present "international workers struggles revival", this intervention through a "general" leaflet seems to us the more appropriate for favoring as much as posible the reflection and the consciousness of our class and for encouraging it to develop its fight.

The launching, in France, of the strike in the SNCF and the RATP networks could have required, from our part, an other type of intervention, a more immediate one. Nevertheless, and on the basis of the analysis we were making of the situation and of the "limited" potentialities of spreading and unification of this movement, we have thought that the distribution of our international leaflet, even in France, was remaining the most appropriate. Of course, any break in the isolation dynamic of the struggle movement set up by the bourgeoisie, would have with no doubt led us intervene by leaflet in a more immediate manner and more agitating. Unfortunately, this has not been necessary.

Today, we carry on distributing our leaflet which remains fully topical at the international level as at the French level. Actually, the setback of the transportation strike, the persistent discontent and the growing combativity, the perspective of strikes and union Day of action, the strikes in the private sector, the negotiations in the transports all along December, the blockage of the wages and the increasing inflation as well as the new "reform" of the pensions, all these elements are favouring in the working class a climate of reflection and of consciousness about capitalism's reality.

Without playing the role of prophet, we think that the conditions are present for a period of open struggles in France which will fit in the tendency to international development of resistance fights by the international proletariat.

November 27th, 2007

Internal Fraction of ICC - Communist Bulletin (Nš 42)