2016 07 – News From France


The struggle in France

This is the fourth month Froggy has reported on the movement against the liberal reform of the Labour Code, the El Khomri Labour Law. Over four months seven national unions have organised strikes and demonstrations in defence of labour rights, including one small one outside Myriam El Khomri’s house.  They have the support of the public.  This can be seen in relation to football. One union disrupted the ceremony of the arrival of the Euro trophy at the Gare du Nord with smoke bombs.

A survey about the effect of labour actions on the Euro football tournament had remarkable results.

The popular newspaper Le Parisien asked its readers: “If strikes and other actions disturbed the organisation of the Euro football tournament, who according to you would be mainly responsible?”

61% said ‘the incoherence of the government, who took an enormous risk when they tried to impose the new labour law by decree.’

37% said ‘irresponsible trade unions, ready to organise strikes in the middle of the competition’.

The French understand what is at stake, and that it is way more important than football.

More unions joined the movement after it had started, for example the ‘Cadres Union’ CFE-CGC. Its membership contains more readers of le Figaro than of l’Humanité.

Its new president said on 1st June: ‘M. Valls says that strikes are ‘not modern’, and anyway the work of an ultra-left minority.

But governments have failed to protect the middle classes from the economic crisis; on the contrary their solution is to worsen everybody’s conditions of work. The El Khomri law is social dumping.’

Amazon on strike!

There were strikes on the Railways, Paris transport, Oil refineries, waste disposal and sewers workers in Paris and suburbs, the Municipal police, Air France. Amazon employees went on general strike from 25 May; this affected deliveries in 3 sites out of 4.

There was a general national strike 14 June.

May and June saw weekly demonstrations organised in the main cities.

On the 21st June demonstration, the League of the Rights of Man joined the head of the march for the first time.

This was in response to government tactics to discredit the movement by orchestrating violence during demonstrations.

Organised violence

The CGT police union itself complained about the orders they were given. There were visible trouble makers present in the demonstrations. They stood out by their appearance: dressed in black, hooded and masked, not looking at all like ordinary demonstrators. They were allowed to stand actually in front of the march on 14th June, and trashed bus shelters and shop windows without being stopped.  The CGT police spokesman said that the police got no orders to do anything until after three quarters of an hour of mayhem had happened.

Ordinary demonstrators were subjected to tear gas and truncheon and grenade attacks.

Journalists were targeted: on 26 May a photographer was in a coma in Paris, hit by a sting grenade. This type of grenade is meant to be used when the police is surrounded. As they explode with a deafening noise they spray a shrapnel of hard rubber marbles; they must be aimed no higher than foot level, but are often aimed higher.

On 2 June in Rennes several journalists, from mainstream TV stations France 3 and M6, were hit with batons, kicked and had their cameras damaged.

Journalists unions are raising the alarm. They want to know what orders the police are acting on and what will happen to the numerous complaints against the police.

The government is exploiting this violence for its purposes. The Prime Minister Valls appeared on television saying the CGT was responsible for the breaking of windows at the Necker Children’s Hospital, at a time when the little son of the police couple murdered in a terrorist attack, was being treated there.

After this the government said it would ban demonstrations in Paris. It duly banned the march of the following week. There was such an uproar it had to receive the leader of CGT, Martinez, to discuss the situation. The outcome was a compromise, the march was permitted but limited to a very short circular route. The entry to the area was controlled by police who imposed body searches on every participant. This sort of humiliation will not have a more dissuading effect than the violence.


Where to now?

The law was passed by the Senate on Tuesday 28th June and returns to the Chamber of Deputies, where it will pass again by decree, i.e. without a vote (under the 49.3 paragraph of the Constitution which allows the government to push through legislation which would not garner a majority). A poll for Le Parisien and France Info on 28 June, that is, after four months of strikes and demonstrations, found 73% of the population opposed to the use of decree to impose the new law.

The 7 unions have called for demonstrations on 5th July, the day debates start in the Chamber of Deputies.

The movement has added another way of making its voice heard: the ‘votations’; these are votes collected at places of work. Places of work regularly hold elections for staff and union representatives. This time the vote is for or against the Labour Law. In three weeks, 15796 ‘polling stations’ have sent over 700, 000 votes to the President of the Republic. The polling will continue until 7th July. There may or may not be a lull during the holiday period. The union movement has pledged to continue the struggle in September.  There is already a mass demonstration planned for 2nd November in support of the Goodyear employees arrested during the struggle to keep the firm open.


The UK leaving the EU?

Comments from left wingers in France seem to show that the French are unaware of the low level of organization of the working class in England; the French assume that the vote being a vote of revolt by the working class, it is therefore a vote against economic liberalism. They do not realize that it was not a vote for more power to the trade unions and for better rights for workers. They remember their own vote against the referendum on the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe in May 2005, where they voted no. The question asked for a yes or no answer, but in reality there were two questions:

  1. Do you want the new constitution, applicable to each state, in particular the preamble: ‘any restraint on business is illegal’.
  2. Do you want a transfer of part of sovereignty to the European level.

The Communist Party at the time published a booklet explaining the content of the European Constitution, and its liberal anti-regulation agenda. The vote against the constitution was in part a vote against the liberal anti-regulation agenda, and probably a large part of the vote, considering the size of the present fight against liberalization of the labour law,

It cannot be said that the Leave vote was a vote against European deregulation and liberalism. There certainly was no leader of opinion saying that, except the Transport union the RMT.

In a message to the membership, RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said:

“Millions of trade unionists and working people will be voting leave because they want the hope of a better future at work and at home.

“Hope that we can be free to develop our industries and public services free, from EU driven privatisation and deregulation.

“Hope that we can be free to pursue policies that promote jobs and prosperity, free from EU driven austerity.

“Hope for fair employment where all workers get the proper rate for the job, free from undercutting and a EU race to the bottom.

“Hope that we can take back democracy so we can make laws that benefit our communities not corporations – and be free from laws and corporate carve ups that we have never voted for such as TTIP.

“Hope for a better world and true international solidarity beyond fortress Europe.”

But who heard that message apart from the members? You do not even find it if you look up the union’s website, unless you search for it specifically.

The turmoil ahead in England will be an opportunity to campaign on these issues, which will become more and more pressing.