French Strike Update: “Union Leaders Must Call General Strike Now!”
IN THIS DOSSIER:
1) Statement by the National Liaison Committee of “Ne touchez pas à nos retraites” [Hands Off Our Pensions] — January 12, 2020
2) “Don’t Fall into the Macron-Philippe-Berger Trap” — Editorial by Daniel Gluckstein, La Tribune des Travailleurs (Workers Tribune), Issue no. 222 – January 15, 2020
3) Editorial, Special Daily Supplement of La Tribune des Travailleurs (Workers Tribune), Friday, January 10, 2020: “If the strike action were to be transformed into a general strike, the government would have no other choice than to withdraw [the reform]. We stand ready!”
4) “The intervention of the Trotskyists in France in the Latest Political Developments”— reprinted from Issue No. 9 (New Series) — January 17, 2020 — of the OCRFI Newsletter
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Statement by the National Liaison Committee of “Ne touchez pas à nos retraites” [Hands Off Our Pensions]
Once again, on Saturday 11 January, hundreds of thousands of workers held demonstrations throughout France together with their trade union organisations to demand the withdrawal of the Macron-Philippe government’s reform aimed at introducing a single universal points-based pension system.
That same day, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced the government’s proposals. The points-based pension system is maintained in full. What is worse, the trade union organisations are being asked to make their own proposals for finding a solution that achieves the same savings as the “selected age” provision . This aims to transform the trade union organisations into cogs in the machine for destroying all of the existing public pension schemes! This is a real provocation!
Straight away, playing out an orchestrated script, the leaderships of the CFDT trade union confederation and the UNSA  welcomed the government’s “openness”. This position was immediately condemned by the UNSA-affiliated RATP  and railworkers unions.
Every one of the trade union confederations that took a public position in favour of withdrawal of the reform has denounced the government’s manoeuvre. The inter-union statement calls for new days of action on 14, 15 and 16 January.
On the RATP and the SNCF [state-owned railway], the strikers are entering their sixth week of strike action.
The Paris Opera has been on strike for more than a month.
In the oil refineries and in many other sectors, the strikes are continuing.
Everyone remembers the fact that an extended series of single days of action against the El Khomri labour law did not enable that fight to be won.
During the demonstrations on 11 January, more than 2,000 workers, strikers, trade unionists and other demonstrators endorsed our 10 January appeal, in which we relied on several statements of positions by strikers’ mass meetings and delegate meetings to affirm:
“At the grassroots, in the mass meetings and delegate meetings together with the labour organisations, unity has been widely achieved in favour of strike action for the withdrawal of the “points-based pension”. At the grassroots, the workers are ready.
The leaderships of the CGT and Force Ouvriere trade union confederations, together with the FSU and Solidaires, which since 5 December have taken a public position in favour of the withdrawal of the reform, have one responsibility:
Call a general strike now!”
Now is the time!
With a general strike until the reform is withdrawn, the government will certainly have no other choice than to give in.
12 January 2020
All contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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 Translator’s note: The “selected age” provision, sometimes translated literally as the “pivot age”, would mean that although the reform retains the current official retirement age of 62, millions of people would have to work up to the “selected” age of 64 in order to receive a full pension. The reform would also remove the right to retire on a full pension before the age of 62, which for example is currently held by public transport workers who have completed 25 years of service.
 UNSA: National Union of Autonomous Trade Unions.
 RATP: The Paris region transport network.
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La Tribune des Travailleurs (Workers Tribune), Issue no. 222 – 15 January 2020
Don’t Fall into the Macron-Philippe-Berger Trap
By Daniel Gluckstein
Some sections of the press are applauding Edouard Philippe’s “cleverness”. By focusing the pensions debate on the question of funding, the Prime Minister is said to have succeeded in drawing the trade unions onto his own ground.
The reality is that in this sixth week of strike action, the class struggle has not had its last word. But it is true that a trap has been set. Let us remember three facts.
One: There is no deficit whatsoever. Macron himself acknowledged this a short while ago. The “deficit” has been manufactured artificially by not compensating over the last 12 months for the exemptions [from employers’ social insurance contributions] granted by the State, by the wage freeze and by job-cuts in the civil service.
Two: Invited to meet Macron just after his election, the CEO of [US fund manager] BlackRock laid the groundwork for the pensions counter-reform (financial daily newspaper Les Echos informed us on 14 January that BlackRock dominates the European market in exchange-traded funds (ETFs), speculative funds for which it amassed some US$500 billion in 2019).
Three: The draft law is based entirely on the question of funding. It places the future pensions system in a closed financial envelope, with a ban on increasing contributions or reducing pensions. In order to maintain financial equilibrium, the government will therefore push the retirement age further and further back.
For months, the trade union organisations that are calling strike action for the reform’s withdrawal have quite rightly disputed the reality of this supposed deficit. So today, how could they legitimise its existence by participating in the funding conference?
Moreover, the government is insisting that the trade unions define the conditions for financial equilibrium. Whether or not their proposals are accepted (if not, the government will impose its views), the trade union organisations are being ordered to participate in the management of the future pensions system, the funding of which would come under the State budget in practice.
We are dealing with the establishment of a corporatist regime. The fact that the CFDT trade union confederation is in favour of this is normal; it has been so since it was founded [in 1964]. But since 1958, the successive attempts by the Fifth Republic to co-opt the trade union organisations have always been met with rejection by the CGT and CGT-Force Ouvriere. The trap that is being set today by Macron-Philippe-Berger is a threat to democracy. Because there is no democracy when the working-class organisations are integrated into the State by means of the drafting of laws and the management of the State budget.
Submission to corporatism or rejection of corporatism: there is no middle ground. Rejecting corporatism presupposes following through to the end with the current fight. Right now, there are increasing calls being made on the union confederation leaderships to organise a general strike for the reform’s withdrawal. The stakes are high: it is about winning on the pensions issue, preserving the working class’s gains, and protecting the independence of the labour movement. In fact, it is about winning back democracy and protecting human civilisation. There is not a minute to lose.
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La Tribune des Travailleurs (Workers Tribune), Issue no. 221
Special Daily Supplement — 2.00 p.m., Friday, 10 January 2020
“If the strike action were to be transformed into a general strike, the government would have no other choice than to withdraw [the reform]. We stand ready!”
We expect the same determination to be shown by the leaderships of the trade union organisations that have affirmed their resolution regarding the withdrawal of the draft law.”
(Appeal by a meeting of the Dijon Inter-Struggle movement, together with the education unions of the CGT, Force Ouvrieres and Solidaires – 9 January)
Rarely has such a gulf separated “the country at the bottom” from “the country at the top” and set them against each other.
“At the bottom”, on 9 January hundreds of thousands of striking and protesting workers reaffirmed, to quote the slogan of the RATP (1) Line 9 staff: “We will carry on until the withdrawal [of the reform].”
“At the top”, on 9 January the government has kept the whole of its draft law intact, with one addition: obliging the trade union organisations themselves to establish the financial strangling of the future pensions system!
As for the rest, everything is still in place. Beginning with the main element: the introduction of a [single universal] points-based system and the elimination of all the existing pension schemes, beginning with the general system.
Up to now, our pension schemes guaranteed our benefits, in other words pensions established on the basis of calculations and rules that were known in advance.
In the future, a points-based system would only “guarantee” us one thing: we would buy points of which the purchase value and the value at retirement would, in the final analysis, be set by the budgetary constraints of the government and the European Union.
Workers, let’s not be fooled by the current PR campaign about the government’s so-called “concessions”. More than ever, the objective of this fight is the withdrawal of the counter-reform, and nothing else.
How do we achieve this? After five weeks of strike action, the government is banking on exhaustion, disintegration and repression. As for the workers, in every instance they are displaying a determination that is unprecedented over several decades.
More and more, in the mass meetings and delegate meetings, in the strike committees and on the protest marches, one demand comes up again and again: we need to all come out together in a general strike in order to force Macron to give in. Yes, let him withdraw his reform…and withdraw himself too!
A general strike presupposes that unity is achieved at every level in order to impose it. At the bottom, this is very much a done deal. But at the top of the organisations, is the call for three new days of action on 11, 14 and 16 January a response that meets the challenge? No, and everybody knows it.
To avoid contributing to the dislocation of the strike movement, it is the duty of the leaders of the trade union organisations, who since the start of the strike have called for withdrawal of the reform, to call clearly and publicly for a general strike for the withdrawal of the reform, a general strike until the reform is withdrawn.
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(1) RATP: The Paris region transport network.
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The intervention of the Trotskyists in France in the Latest Political Developments
(reprinted from Issue No. 9 — January 17, 2020 — of the OCRFI Newsletter)
As this issue of the OCRFI Newsletter is being written (early afternoon of 16 January), after more than 40 days of a strike movement that began on 5 December for the withdrawal of the Macron government’s pension “reform” plan, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have once again marched throughout France. This is an indication of the determination of the workers — despite the policy of the apparatuses, which are pushing to exhaust and dislocate the mass movement, and despite the incessant attempts to stop the strike.
How have the militants of the French section of the Fourth International (TCI) who are building the Independent Democratic Workers Party (POID) and who publish and distribute the weekly newspaper La Tribune des Travailleurs (Workers Tribune) intervened in this situation, and with what political orientation?
As we indicated in the Address of the 54th Congress of the French Section of the IVth International (14 and 15 December 2019, which you received in the OCRFI Newsletter No. 7), since 5 December and long before, we have refused to start from the objective situation, which includes as much the spontaneity of the masses as their illusions and also the treacherous policy of the apparatuses. Our starting point was our independent political orientation, our task of building the revolutionary party, starting with the main task: the collective elaboration, circulation and discussion of the newspaper, our “central factor of organization”. We started from this independent political orientation by inserting it in the processes of the class struggle. On this subject, let us note that last week’s issue of La Tribune des Travailleurs, issue no. 221 (which ran the headline: “Out with Both of Them: Macron and His Reform!”), in its editorial posed our position on the major question of power (“Who governs? And who should govern?”), and published six pages of correspondence often sent by strikers who acted as correspondents for the newspaper without necessarily being members of the party. This issue no. 221 sold more than 2,500 copies (to which must be added the 5,285 subscribers).
The same issue of La Tribune des Travailleurs asks a question that cannot be circumvented: “After a month of strike, what other means to victory is there than the general strike?” It is a question that is asked by many workers, young people and activists. All the more so since, in the communiqués of the trade union organizations, which nevertheless still take a stand in favor of the “withdrawal” of the pension counter-reform, workers and young people see the reappearance of the strategy of “days of action” (isolated strikes of 24 hours once a week, which, in 2016, led to the exhaustion and dislocation of the movement of millions against the El Khomri law, which finally passed).
Many workers are worried: While millions are mobilizing through strikes, with the trade union organizations, gaining the support of the entire population … are we again going to see our forces dislocated by the union leaders, when it is within our reach to inflict a defeat on the Macron government? To reinforce this aspiration, the “National Liaison Committee”, which for the past year and a half has been campaigning for unity , issued an appeal that concluded as follows:
“Down below, in the grassroots, in the general assemblies with the organizations, unity has been largely achieved in the strike for the withdrawal of the points pension plan. Down below, the workers are ready. So, the leaderships of the trade union confederations, CGT, Force Ouvrière, with the FSU and Solidaires, all of which since 5 December have taken a stand for the withdrawal of the reform, have a responsibility: call, now, for a general strike! That is the way to provide the workers with the point of support they are waiting for. Then, it is certain, that the government will have no choice but to give in.”
This call was widely signed (more than 2,000 signers) in the January 11th demonstrations and in the workplaces.
In general meetings with trade unions, activists who distribute La Tribune des Travailleurs have helped, where they are, to formulate this question. In order to give expression to this rising demand for a general strike, issue no. 222 of La Tribune des Travailleurs, which went to press on the eve of the important demonstrations of 16 January, published a number of statements calling upon the leaders of the trade union organizations to issue the call for a general strike, following the example of a statement published by our newspaper, which reads, in part:
“On the 40th day of the strike, the workers, the lawyers and all those who are renewing the strike actions are united on the demand for withdrawal, and they want everything to be done to impose it on the government. There is not a minute to lose. All forces must be thrown into the battle to win. On the 40th day of the strike, there is urgency: leaders of our organizations, call for a general strike now!”
Indeed, despite police repression at a level never reached under the Fifth Republic since the colonial war against the Algerian people, despite all the maneuvers of the government and of the “scab” unions — that is, the CFDT and UNSA — both of which are claiming that “concessions” have been obtained from the government, the powerful class movement for the withdrawal of the pension reform poses the responsibility for revolutionaries to formulate a united front policy. The united front presupposes the implementation of the unity of the workers and their organizations “from the bottom up and from the top down.”
“Below”, the workers are united, with their organizations, in the strike for the withdrawal of the pension reform. But “at the top”, the leaders (who until now have been forced to demand the plan’s withdrawal) do not call for a general strike, which today would be a point of support seized by all categories of workers to form a bloc, “class against class”, imposing a defeat on the government. A defeat that would pose other problems, starting with the need to oust Macron and his government from office — a government that has been isolated and weakened. This is a line that the apparatuses do not want to cross.
All the more so given that the government, which is holding firm to the entirety of its counter-reform of the pension plan (as demonstrated by the analysis of the plan published in issue no. 222 of La Tribune des Travailleurs), is seeking to reinforce the corporatist character (integration of the unions) of its project. In particular, it is seeking to invite the trade unions to become “managers” of the new pension system that it hopes to impose. This is a problem of great importance around which La Tribune des Travailleurs has issued an alarm, especially to the trade union activists.
It should also be noted that while many workers, activists and young people formulate the need for a general strike, and in many cases have the general assemblies adopt positions toward this end, and many pose the need for the leaders to “assume their responsibilities” — on the other hand, there is a consensus of all political currents other than ours (the Communist Party, the Pabloists, Lutte Ouvrière, the revisionist CCI) who are deploying incredible energy and imagination to oppose the campaign for the leaders to call a general strike. Their effort takes on all the possible forms: Some affirm that “we must not address the leaders because they are not on strike”. Others affirm that “we must generalize the strike from below” (as if this does not come up against, precisely, the will not to generalize it “from above” ), to the affirmation that the “days of action” (dislocated strikes) of the apparatuses in 2019-2020 (called “highlights”) have nothing in common with the 14 “days of action” in 2016 that allowed the government at that time to pass its legislation against the Labour Code. In short: theirs is a consensus that no one must challenge the policies of the leaders of the apparatuses, whether they be union leaderships or “left-wing” parties. These leaderships, by their stubborn refusal to call a general strike, are offering Macron the only chance he has to get his counter-reform passed.
As for the TCI militants, who have been engaged in the building of the POID, this situation is extremely favorable not only to strengthen the political ties around the newspaper, but also to affirm a political outcome to the situation (ousting Macron, his government and the institutions of the Fifth Republic, a sovereign Constituent Assembly, a workers’ government) and thus to the construction of a workers’ party, seizing every opportunity to build itself, including the constitution of lists of workers’ unity in the municipal elections of March 2020. This will be an important discussion of the National Federal Council of the POID, which meets on 18 and 19 January.
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 75,000 signatures on “Hands Off Our Pensions,” 4 national conferences of delegates, hundreds of “committees for unity” set up in the factories and workplaces, bringing together political and trade union activists with POID members…
 A reference to a century-old debate on the united front, which implies acting for the unity of the working class forces from “top to bottom’ and “from bottom to top.”
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To the European Organizations and Groups of the OCRFI
In May 2019 an internationalist meeting was held in Strasbourg, preceded by a meeting during which it was decided to meet again in May 2020.
In the meantime, the class struggle in our different countries has seen important developments, with, in particular, the strike movement of historic proportions currently underway in France for the withdrawal of the pension counter-reform, which Macron and his government at the service of capital want to impose on the working class, which rejects it.
The French activists of the OCRFI are, along with others, at the heart of the battle for the general strike, a struggle that clashes with the policy of the top levels of the apparatuses, thus forcefully posing the question of the political organization of the working class.
In the course of this struggle, French OCRFI activists have forged links with new layers of workers. We therefore thought that it would be possible for French activists engaged in this struggle to initiate an invitation to a European meeting in May in Paris of worker activists from European countries, fighting similar struggles in our different countries, whether on the issue of pensions or on other battles against the misdeeds of capital.
We submit this proposal to you and ask you to tell us quickly what you think about it, along your initial assessments of what would then be possible in your country (and possibly neighboring countries) in terms of participants.