The working class must strike back. Not only is it possible, it’s necessary

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
March 26, 2018

The March 22 street demonstrations were big. There were nearly 50,000 protesters in Paris and 500,000 in the streets throughout France. In fact, there were many more nurses, teachers, workers from tax offices… than on October 10.

For railroad workers who are getting ready for prolonged strike action starting April 3, the day had to be a success. And it was. A large number of them was on strike and came to Paris from all over the country to make a show of strength.

Not only was the number of demonstrators high, but the day also showed the demonstrators’ will to fight together. Railroad workers with special permanent status demonstrated with those hired without the special status. Permanent and temporary public-sector workers also demonstrated side by side, as did newly-hired young workers and retirees. Every protester was conscious of sharing common objectives and that is a good sign for the future because, in order to win, the working class must act collectively.

The state is closing down structures, reducing budgets and eliminating services in all sectors–health, education, justice… There’s some reaction here and there and that’s good. But how much weight do these local protests have when up against the power of the state apparatus?

And it’s the same story up against the bosses in private companies. Workers cannot protect themselves against attacks individually, department by department, profession by profession or company by company.

How many company closures have shown that highly-qualified engineers and, even more so, small-time bosses are just as easily dismissed as unqualified workers,

The bosses and the state that serves them have always had a “divide and rule” policy. If we set workers against one another–public against private, full-term against short-term or French against immigrants–we’re playing into their hands.

Today, there is no room for selfishness and corporatism.

Competition has been intensified by the crisis and the bosses are waging a permanent war on workers so as to maintain their profits. They are attacking all workers and want to take back what they previously accorded to certain categories. This was less true before the crisis and sometimes company owners bought social peace by allowing this or that advantage to some. But that worked because the working class as a whole was feared and the bosses were worried that a small spark might set off a big fire. The victories that the workers gained sector by sector were above all the fruit of a global balance of power that was favorable to the working class.

If we are to resist the backward step that Macron and the capitalist class want to impose on us, the strength to change the balance of power must come from the whole working class.

Looking back over the past, the only times when the bourgeoisie has made concessions are when the workers have risen up en masse, when they have gone on strike, demonstrated and occupied plants, as they did in 1936 and 1968.

In 1968, workers joined the strike even before they had drawn up their demands company by company and sometimes even before the unions called them to do so. Exasperation with De Gaulle’s stifling regime, the harshness of daily exploitation and the example of the student revolt gave them plenty of reasons.

It was the general strike that made the difference in the balance of power and the political situation. The bosses had to make concessions and this meant, depending on each company, shorter working hours, wage increases and new union rights.

Macron and his supporters are hostile and alien to the working class. For them, the workers’ movement and strikes belong to times gone by.

But what were the workers criticizing in 1968? Unbearably long working hours that reduced life to nothing but a mind-numbing daily grind, pitiful wages, dangerous working conditions; arrogance and contempt from managers and the hierarchy.

All of those demands are still valid today! The list is in fact longer: guarantee a job for everyone, maintain public services and make retirement worthy of modern times. So we agree, repeating May-June 1968 in 2018 is a necessity.

Who’ll get the ball rolling? The railroad workers who have their backs to the wall thanks to Macron and who are preparing to strike from April 3 on? We certainly hope so and must make it our fight. Victory for the railroad workers would be a slap in the face for the government and the bosses and it would open up a lot of perspectives for the working class.