France: taking the fight over pensions into the streets

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19 November 2007

Since 13 November, the entire French transport network has seized up. After many warnings to the present right-wing government, workers in most of the French railways, urban underground systems and buses have gone on strike against an attempt to increase their retirement age (currently between 50 and 60 depending on the nature if their jobs) and reduce pension provisions.

Over the past week, the strikers have been voting for the continuation of the strike every day, during their morning mass meetings. These meetings also provide them with an opportunity to discuss the issues at stake and to organise activities during the day - like protests, visits to other strikers, information to the public, etc.. They demand that the highest retirement age be brought back down to 60 years for all (and less for those on hard jobs), both in the public and private sectors and that the number of years' contribution required for a full pension be brought back down to 37½ years.

This Tuesday, the public transport strikers will be joined by the rest of the public sector, in support of higher wages and the reversal of the government's job-cutting policy.

Here, in Britain, we are all too familiar with the predicament faced by French workers. Labour may be in the driving seat, instead of the right-wing like in France, but it has exactly the same agenda - particularly when it comes to cutting the pension provisions and living standards of the working class.

So, for instance, postal workers are facing Royal Mail's attacks on pensions and working conditions. These attacks already led to a wave of official and unofficial strikes earlier this Autumn. And we can only hope that the postal workers will resume this fight back - sooner rather than later. And that, this time, like their French brothers and sisters, instead of waiting for reluctant union leaders to take the initiative, they will organise themselves to try to get as many other sections of workers to join them in their fight.