by Marie Dupont
In France in September there were two days of strikes, each with around three million people, demonstrating against the French government’s new pension Bill. Fifteen days later, on 2nd October, another demonstration took place with new social layers joining in. As the demonstrations were on a Saturday this allowed people who can’t go on strike to express their rejection of the pension scheme. Again, there were about three million demonstrators all over France. The strength of the protest has therefore remained intact, and a new phase has opened up with the proposal of unlimited strikes for the next national day of action which is to take place on Tuesday 12th October.
Last week saw the build-up to this new test of forces. One after the other, important sectors of workers decided to go on unlimited strike from 12th October: workers on the bus and metro, those in the chemical industry, oil refineries. The harbour of Fos sur Mer in Marseille has already been on strike for 13 days over its own demands but it is now joining, along with other harbours, in the pension struggle with the threat of a total blockade on oil next week. Education workers and civil servants are also participating. Each day a new sector has been voting and declaring it will go on strike, creating a powerful dynamic. The railway workers, who play a leading role in France, decided to join in on Wednesday.
A new layer that has joined in is young people. High school students went spontaneously on strike starting last Thursday in numerous middle-sized towns. The involvement of young people as a whole will be decisive on Tuesday to generalise the social movement.
Meanwhile the pension Bill is being discussed in the Senate. Sarkozy made a small move to try to defuse the movement on Thursday by allowing women who had three children, and those with a handicapped child, to be able to draw their full pension at age 65 and not 67. But he stated it was the last concession he would agree to as the pension law was a good law for the French. After that, the senate rushed through the discussion so that the articles increasing the pension age from 60 to 62 were voted on Friday – before the October 12 strike.
One bus and metro union, l’UNSA (for the drivers) has withdrawn its call for a strike for the 12th. On the other hand, the idea for a general strike is being more and more discussed. All the eyes are now turned on the 12th to see the depth of the social crisis.