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Society

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La Mobilisation s’étend et prend un coup de jeune

by Yves Husson

The Mobilization Widens and Puts on a Youthful Face

Translated Friday 22 October 2010, by Henry Crapo and reviewed by Derek Hanson

From school cafeteria workers to railway workers, from truck drivers to high school students, wage-earners and youngsters yesterday reiterated their rejection of the proposed reforms of the retirement system. The government and management harden the tone. Trade unions maintain their many-faceted mobilization.

He seemed to be in fine shape, the prime minister. Once again, as on each of the preceding days of demonstrations, François Fillon declared, at mid-day yesterday, that the movement against reforms to the retirement system "is beginning to get out of breath". At the same moment, not only the unions, but .. the police themselves offered stingingly contradictory elements, announcing record participation in the marches in several big cities, such as Toulouse, Rennes, Tarbes, ... All the while the minister of education counted the largest number ever, since the young people have joined the battle, of "perturbed" high schools (379).

Far from being "out of breath", as those in high places dream, and with variations in the percentage of strikers and the numbers of demonstrators, the sixth day of national action organized by the joint committee of labor organizations gave the impression of being in full effervescence, still well on the road to growth, but also becoming hardened in face of Nicolas Sarkozy’s autism, and still supported by a crushing majority of public opinion (71% according to a poll on Monday). To the chapter on records surpassed, we must add the number of demonstrations: 277 in all of France, for a total of 3.5 million marchers, according to the CGT [1].

As to work stoppages among the railway workers (among whom the percentage of those on strike rose by 14 to 18 points, according to officials of the CGT), among public sector workers, and in many large and small privately-owned companies , several categories of workers marked the mobilization with their own stamp. Truck drivers, for whom physical difficulty on the job is a major question and whose right to retire at age 55 in compensation for certain among them is menaced, have multiplied their "snail’s pace" operations on the highways. In the wake of their colleagues in Marseille, on strike for weeks already, the employees of the school cafeterias in numerous cities have stopped work. Women, stuck with part time work at low wages, are some of the main potential victims of the reform, which pushes up to 67 years the age for retirement at full rate for wage-earners not having a complete working career.

A Plan to Deliver Fuel
The strike in the refineries and the blockage of petroleum depots have had effects that are increasingly being felt. Abandoning the blissful optimism exhibited in recent days by the government, the minister of the environment, Jean-Louis Borloo, admits that some 4000 service stations out of a total of 12,500 are "waiting to be provisioned", and the prime minister announced the setting up of a "plan for delivery of fuels", all the while warning that they will need "four or five days before the situation returns to normal."

A signal event of this 19 October is also the involvement, more and more massive, of high school and university youth in the battle, where they join the working world. Yesterday, youth of 15-20 years of age filled out the marches everywhere. While hundreds of high schools are affected by the movement, the UNEF [2] also counted 20 universities blockaded. Powerless to dam off a popular movement that has taken root, has the government chosen to fall back on a strategy of tension? Multiple incidents attributed to "trouble-makers" were reported on the fringes of the demonstrations. The minister of the interior reported 1158 arrests in one week. And the head of state toughened the tone by promising to "guarantee order". While François Chérèque, the head of the CFDT [3], pleaded for demonstrators "not to yield to provocations, whether originated by groups of provocateurs or by the police", the high school groups often organizing amongst themselves, in demonstrations, to protect against the "trouble-makers".

On the evening of this new demonstration of force, the CGT called on workers to "prolong the mobilization in all its forms, without waiting.", all the while putting the government and management on notice not to fall back into "disdain" and "repression", or to engage in "infringements upon the right to strike".

While the FO [4] put back on the table the idea of a twenty-four hour strike in both public and private sectors, the FSU [5] judged it necessary to fix "a new national rendezvous as rapidly as possible". A sole false note, the CGC [6] called for "a pause" in the actions. The joint committee of labor organizations will discuss on Thursday what future direction to give to the movement.

[1Confédération générale du travail

[2Union Nationale des Étudiants de France

[3Confédération française démocratique du travail

[4Force Ouvrière

[5Fédération syndicale unitaire

[6CFE-CGC, Confédération française de l’encadrement - Confédération générale des cadres. For their political line on the strike, read here.


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