FRANCE UPDATE: Suspension or Surrender? … As Police Repression Steps Up


Special Report, March 31, 2023

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• Suspension or Surrender? – Editorial, Tribune des Travailleurs (March 29, 2023)

• “France’s Fifth Republic, the closest thing to an elected dictatorship” (Financial Times, March 25, 2023)

• March 23 Strike and Demonstrations: 3.5 Million Demonstrators!

• “Repression Clearly Aims to Prevent Demonstrations”: Interview with Claire Dujardin, president of the French Lawyers Union (SAF)

• “Workers Are Determined”: Interview with Alexis Antonioli, General Secretary of the CGT Total Normandy (March 24)

• Aubervilliers, Seine-Saint-Denis: Several Injured During the Dislodging of Strikers at the City of Paris Dump-Truck Depot on March 27

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“He (Macron) is the one fomenting chaos”

Suspension or Surrender?

(editorial of Tribune des Travailleurs, Workers Tribune, Issue No. 383, March 29, 2023)

In the early hours of March 28, as workers and union activists were preparing to demonstrate for the tenth time against the pension reform, while others were already on blockades and picket lines … Laurent Berger, secretary general of the CFDT[1], was interviewed on France Inter. Berger announced that the Inter-Union Coordinating Committee ­ the “Intersyndicale,” ­ had agreed to propose to the government that it suspend its reform for a few months, the time to set up a “mediation” to find a solution to the crisis.

But what will happen if the mediation does not lead to an agreement? Berger’s answer:

We took part in the consultations, and we were not able to discuss the postponement of the legal age to 64. Now we are offering an opening. We’re saying, ‘put the reform on hold. … If we don’t agree within six months on the question of labor and on the question of the solvency of the pensions, go back to 64 years, but make room for social compromise’.”

In the hours that followed, the president of the CFTC [2] confirmed that the entire Intersyndicale is committed to this way of approaching the government. In turn, Philippe Martinez, general secretary of the CGT [General Workers Confederation], reported that the Intersyndicale was going to “write to the President of the Republic to validate this proposal in writing.”

The editorialist of BFMTV, a leading voice promoting capitalist interests, was enthused: “It’s very clever of Laurent Berger.”

Berger’s point is unequivocal: At the end of the day, mediation – if it takes place –will end up ensuring the acceptance of the move to raise the retirement age to 64 years. The BFMTV report also noted that Berger had gone out of his way to avoid using the word “withdraw.”

Everything is now falling into place. On behalf of Macron, Olivier Véran, the French government spokesperson, rejected the proposal: “We don’t necessarily need mediation to talk to each other, we can talk directly.” Talk to each other… about what? About suspending the “reform”? Not at all! The government is only ready to discuss with the unions… the “operational implementation of the [pension reform] law.”

This is a provocation pure and simple!

Suspension? It sometimes happens in wars that a cease-fire can help to regain strength before returning to battle. But that’s not what’s involved here. This is a proposed mediation where, if there is no agreement, the 64 years retirement age will still prevail. That is no longer a mediation: It is the chronicle of an announced capitulation, it is a promise to surrender!

Such a stance on the part of Berger is to be expected. But does this commitment apply to all the trade unions? At the congress of the CGT, which is taking place at this moment in Clermont-Ferrand, a delegate questioned the general secretary:  “Comrade Martinez, who gave you the mandate to speak about mediation when the workers are in the streets?”

This is, indeed, the question that needs to be asked. The mandate is the one that has been given by the millions of workers and young people on strike and in demonstrations. For more than two months, they have not ceased to reaffirm a mandate directed at the leaders of the working-class organizations, a mandate shouted again at the top of their lungs in all the cities of France this March 28: Withdrawal and Nothing Else!


[1] The CFDT is one of the five large trade union confederations in France. It broke away from the CFTC in the early 20th century. Traditionally, it has aligned itself with the successive governments, whatever their political stripe. For example, when millions were in the streets in 1995 to demand that the Juppé welfare plan be withdrawn, the CFDT supported the government. Their motto: Workers and bosses have common interests; their interests are not irreconcilable. The CFTC, see below [2], has its origins in the Christian workers’ movement and is generally considered a government union.

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Left; “Macron, it is time to flee to Varennes!,” a reference to the attempted escape to Varennes in 1791 by King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette; Right: “You 49.3-ed us, we will 1789 you!” – a reference to the beginning of the victorious French Revolution

“France’s Fifth Republic, the closest thing to an elected dictatorship” (Financial Times, March 25, 2023)

These are the facts: Dozens of people injured, a SUD-Rail [railroad unionist] blinded in one eye, an AESH unionist in Rouen with a torn thumb – and hundreds of young and not so young clubbed, gassed, arrested and placed in police custody in an arbitrary way, sometimes brutalized and insulted, humiliated by sexist and racist remarks.

The mainstream press has reported these facts, and the images are circulating on social networks, provoking a legitimate indignation in the population. Even the European Council noted the “excessive use of force.” Police and judicial repression were unleashed on a large scale just after the recourse by Macron to Article 49-3 of the Fifth Republic’s Constitution, which allows the president to issue decrees without a vote of approval by the Senate or the National Assembly.

All this has taken place under the direct orders of prefects from all over France, especially Paris. The latter were convened on March 17 by the Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, who gave the order to “put an end to the chaos.” There can be no doubt: The orders to crack down on the demonstrators came from higher up in the Fifth Republic, a regime that the Financial Times says is “the closest thing to an elected dictatorship in the entire developed world.”

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“We will mobilize until the pension ‘reform’ law is defeated”

March 23 Strike and Demonstrations: 3.5 Million Demonstrators!

It was the ninth day of mobilization by the Intersyndicale, the inter-union coordinating body, against the Macron government’s drive to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. Once again, it was by the hundreds of thousands that, in many cities across France, the workers took to the streets. The Ministry of the Interior counted 1.08 million demonstrators. The CGT announced, for its part, that an estimated 3.5 million people mobilized, including 800,000 in Paris.

Our correspondents are unanimous: The demonstrations were gigantic. The marchers and rallies showed the people’s determination. The youth, in particular, were out in full force with slogans expressing a maturity and a growing awareness that the pension reform and all its proponents must be swept away.

These slogans join those chanted by their parents and teachers who have been on strike and have demonstrated 10 en masse times since January.

The youth’s many slogans have become more politicized and sharper. They are now raising the question of the undemocratic nature of the institutions of the Fifth Republic.

This, in turn, raises the question of what needs to be done to put an end to the pension counter-reform imposed by the Macron-Borne government. While the strike has been renewed in several sectors, while in other sectors workers are blocking the entrances to the factories and workplaces to prevent production, and while still others are being dislodged brutally from the picket lines by police forces, more and more workers and young people are drawing the following conclusion: The situation is urgent; the leaders of the trade union confederations need to issue the call for a general strike! This is the only way to force the government to withdraw its counter-reform.

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“Repression Clearly Aims to Prevent Demonstrations”: Interview with Claire Dujardin, president of the French Lawyers Union (SAF)

Question: What is the extent of the repression?

Dujardin. What we have seen is an increase in repression since the announcement on March 16 of the use of the 49-3 provision in the Constitution. This is both astonishing and not surprising.

We had already seen it during the movements against the labor law “reform”and the yellow vests. From the moment the mobilization is important in numbers and popularity, the power uses repression to put an end to it.

The arrests were massive: 292 in Paris at Place de la Concorde on the evening of March 16, after the 49-3; then 457 arrests on March 23. These are unfounded arrests to intimidate, to put an end to the demonstrations. We have seen police violence, disproportionate use of force, the use of bullets and tear-gas grenades.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said that demonstrating without authorization is a crime. He stated this to justify the use of force.

But that is not what the law says. People are not forbidden from participating in an undeclared demonstration; it is not a crime. There can be no use of force.

Even before the March 23 protests, Darmanin said, “What is going to happen is going to be very violent.” It’s clear: The repression is clearly aimed at preventing the demonstrations.

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Striking workers at fuel depot in Normandy face off with riot police

“Workers Are Determined”: Interview with Alexis Antonioli, General Secretary of the CGT Total Normandy (March 24)

Question: What happened this morning at the Total Energies [airplane fuel] depot in Gonfre-Ville-d’Orcher?

Answer: The police arrived in large numbers to arrest and detain the strikers. At 5:15 a.m., they went to round up the strikers from their homes. The top managers, who are not used to opening the valves, acted in defiance of all safety rules: They opened the taps to supply the Paris airports with 28,000 cubic meters of fuel, the equivalent of two days’ fuel for the airplanes.

Question: What did you decide at the General Assembly of the Strike Committee?

Answer: We decided to renew the strike. The workers are determined to continue the strike. They say, “We will stay on strike for a month if we have to.”

It’s important to be supported like we were supported today. [Note: 600 unionists and townspeople came to join the picketline – Tr. note.] This has boosted the morale of the workers, especially when you see the youth present in the rally, as occurred today.

Question: Don’t you think that a clear call for a general strike would help the workers?

Answer: Sincerely, with Berger [leader of the conservative CFDT trade union federation – tr. note] in the Intersyndicale, it is a road to defeat. We must not waste time begging him. The government understands only one thing, and that is the economic impact of the strike.

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Sanitation workers in Paris hold firm against police attempt to unblock the gates and break the strike

Aubervilliers, Seine-Saint-Denis: Several Injured During the Dislodging of Strikers at the City of Paris Dump-Truck Depot on March 27

The police forces used truncheons to dislodge strikers and demonstrators who were blocking the exit of vehicles. At least five people were injured, including one who suffered a broken arm, said a delegate from the Solidaires union, who said that he himself had been hit in the shin with a baton.

He added that the fire department vehicle was not allowed to come to where they were. “I had to take the five injured workers to the truck parked a hundred meters behind the police cordon.”

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