French comrades discuss in detail with Thozhilalar Koodam, the ongoing Nuit Deboit struggle that has emerged against the anti worker policies of Socialist French Government and the characteristics of the movement.
1. What are the labour reforms proposed by the Hollande Government that have prompted the strikes?
Let us first give you a quick synthesis about the protest movement happening since March and still going on these days. Who would have thought François Hollande’s presidency would look like the second term of his right-wing predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy? The endless betrayals of his so-called socialist cabinet have turned the few hopes of the French left into explosive anger. A few weeks ago, a right-wing British magazine (The Spectator, May 28th) called François Hollande “Captain Calamity”. It may sound bizarre but for once, the French left may agree. And one can only imagine his disgruntled electors nodding in agreement with an article that mocks the President’s delusional attempt to stand for reelection next year. Hollande was elected in 2012 by 51.6% of the votes after 17 years of conservative presidencies. His popularity now stands at 14%, making him the least popular president in the history of the Fifth Republic. “Captain calamity” hasn’t only damaged his own chances of staying in power, he wrecked people’s trust in his party. Back in early 2012, a few months before winning over Nicolas Sarkozy, François Hollande kicked off his presidential campaign with a well-remembered speech. “In the battle about to begin, I will tell you who my real enemy is. It has no name, it has no face and does not belong to a political party. This adversary is the world of finance.” After the most brutal financial crash in generations, Hollande promised to reform the fiscal and banking systems, to straighten up the economy and to rescue the “sacrificed youth.” Even the left-wing Green leader Cécile Duflot celebrated his victory as a “deep change in politics” and a “chance for social justice and democracy.”
The presidency of betrayals : Four years later, Hollande’s renunciations are so numerous it’s hard to count them all. It only took him a few months to forget about his “real enemy” and make new allies : businesses. As the unemployment rate has kept growing (currently at 10%), one of his main solutions has consisted in giving away 40 billion euros in tax credits to companies in exchange for jobs. It has ridiculously failed. His Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, has appointed a younger generation of top ministers to “modernize” the country as his former cabinet members started to abandon ship. Emmanuel Macron, a former banker appointed Minister of the Economy in 2014, introduced a controversial law aimed at “liberalizing” the economy and favouring employers over workers rights. Facing fierce opposition, the government bypassed parliament and forced through the reform without a vote last year. But that was just the beginning. Growing anger reached a peak with the introduction of a labour reform by the newly appointed Minister Myriam El Khomri in February 2016. The aim is to increase the flexibility of the labour market and to reverse a century of social progress. Inspired by the dying ideology of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, Hollande hopes that making it easier for companies to get rid of their workers would reduce unemployment. Who would dare to take him seriously when he repeats that “things are getting better” after his Prime minister bypassed parliament a second time to force through the labour reform, narrowly surviving a no-confidence vote.
The labour law (“loi travail”) is supposed to be the austerity cure for workers in order to be more competitive on the global labour market, namely becoming a cheaper, easily exploitable and interchangeable labor force. All the family benefits, pensions, unemployment benefits and social benefits are reapportioned. This labour law takes us into a pauperization project whose aim is to make us work more while being paid less, to force us to accept any job paid for next to nothing, to throw us into an ever growing precariousness, to more and more extra and supernumerary work.. What is now at stake naturally concerns all European workers. If we manage to make the government give way here, all workers and employers in Europe will get a strong warning signal.
2. Can you describe for us the beginning of the current wave of strikes? How and where did they originate, and what unions/political groups are leading it?
Proletariat is rising, in France, millions of people are protesting in the streets. At least ten official demonstrations with thousands of people took place since March, and there were many other non-officials protests. It was in late February, there were lycées bloqués (high schools blocked) and an extremely spirited and tempestuous un-notified manifestation sauvage (savage demos) ahead of a union march. Indeed, this kind of strike, one that is not formally collectivised, is the character of many ‘strikes’ that have been taken by comrades through March, April, May and now in June. Initially launched on social networks, the protest movement started in March and was greatly amplified by early student protests and blockades. Then it was followed by main trade unions organising strikes across the country, with some of them growing quickly among truck drivers, railway workers and in oil refineries. The movement is now multifaceted and reaches a very diverse minority of people. There is, what we would call, a real renewal in revolt. France may boast its proud heritage of revolutions and social progress, but Hollande is keen on denying democracy. The movement called Nuit Debout (or “Night on our feet”) reclaims it. It started on the 31st of March in Place de la République, Paris, and quickly expanded to other French towns. While social democracy appears future-less and ritualistic demonstrations helpless, Nuit Debout emerged as a horizontal agora inspired by Occupy, the Spanish Indignados and the Greek movement against the debt. Hundreds of people have been gathering in public squares every night to debate whatever is deemed worthy of debating (a new constitution, work, politics etc.). This is in hope of finding a “convergence of struggles”.
3. Tell us a bit more about Nuit Debout“Night on our feet” that has been in the news quite like occupy wall street some years back?
For many of the protesters, the labour reform and security crackdowns (in response to last year’s terrorist attacks) were the final straw. Hundreds of people have been gathering at Nuit Debout each evening ; if Nuit Debout grew from anger, some crucial elements conveyed a sense of hope and a vision for a progressive future. The documentary “Merci Patron !” (Thanks Boss !) was one of them. Produced by Fakir, a left-wing newspaper, the story of a working class couple from the struggling North taking on France’s richest man, Bernard Arnault, was a rallying cry for collective organisation. “People realized ; ‘we can win. We are stronger than we thought, the elites are more fragile than we imagined’”, explained the film’s producer. The intellectual Frédéric Lordon, contributor to the newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique, also had a crucial role as he urged for a renewal in revolt. If Nuit Debout is said to have lost momentum over the past few weeks, failing to attract disenfranchised working classes, it has clearly operated as a platform across struggles and remains unique as a democratic space.
Nuit debout allowed all sorts of deserters to meet, to talk, to form against a public space, but above all to provide continuity to what could only be aggregated by days of occasional strike or simple demonstrations. It also served to point starting all kinds of meritorious actions against logical targets.
Although only 13% of the French agree with the labour reform, Hollande refuses to let it go and hopes he can stop protests by offering small concessions. As the Euro tournament nears, trade unions have organized the picketing of power stations and fuel depots while nationwide demonstrations are planned in June. Workers are also on strike in the main railway company SNCF and at Air France this week. If “Captain Calamity” won’t be missed, he will be remembered as the President who both the opposition and his own voters hated. Everywhere in Europe, people fight austerity and in France people fight it through demonstrations, blockades in the streets and highways, in railways stations and airports, or around football stadiums.
4. What is the dominant political discourse among the Nuit Debout participants ?
Nuit Debout militants are actively trying to adopt more “radical” solutions than the ones suggested by the old political guard. Marxist theory is unanimously rejected in favor of more liberal-leaning approaches to feminism and immigration; talks around the economy are rooted in Keynesian reasoning – which begs us to ask the question: what makes the NuitDebout movement so different than the French political parties its organizers are desperately trying to break free from? Their “multifaceted” approach and refusal to subscribe to an ideological current might seem “fresh” to some participants but it’s ultimately proof that most are ignorant of the power structures that pave way to the many forms of oppression they’re decrying – in both different shades of anger and hierarchical orders of importance.
5. So is it fair to characterise this movement as post-modernist?
Yes it is. For the time being, the only French intellectual who has been warmly greeted by the movement is none other than economist and social philosopher Frederic Lordon, who was quick to notice Nuit Debout’s many flaws. He voiced his critique at Place de la République on April 9, saying: “a movement that sets itself no political objective will rapidly fizzle out. Either because it will exhaust the joy of our being together, or because it will again be buried beneath the electoral game”. During that speech, he also emphasized on the importance of general strikes, a revolutionary act both political parties (as described above) and #NuitDebout militants seem to have invalidated: “recall the immense virtues of the general strike. It means the whole country stopping – as they put it, the country is being shut down. But in truth, the exact opposite is the case: the moment that they say everything has been shut down is the moment when everything opens up: politics – true politics – speech, action, and even the relations among people. And then, the future itself opens up”. Another major issue facing the Nuit Debout movement is its inability to attract disenfranchised youths – non-whites in particular – from the banlieues (suburbs). Some argue that the reason for this rejection is due to the French left’s dismissal of the banlieues uprisings back in 2005, causing banlieues residents to detach themselves from the current uprisings.
This explanation is not entirely wrong perhaps, but it is superficial at best. Nuit Debout militants have yet to give the racialisation of the French proletariat the political weight it deserves, choosing instead to relegate structural oppression facing French nationals of immigrant descent and undocumented migrants to a second-tier “issue”. The process of racialisation in France is deeply rooted in the country’s education system in urban areas, which are generally inhabited by non-whites as a result of years of ghettoizing practices by the French government: public schools are purposely weakened – through drastic budget cuts – as to automatically push non-white students to “specialize” in fields related to manual work. Later on, most non-white workers fail to get unionized as a consequence of trade unions’ stubborn refusal to fight against racism and Islamophobia in the workplace. The movement’s understanding of the question of race – and how it is inherently intertwined with that of class – remains expectedly problematic. This is part of the reason why France’s only decolonial party, The Republic’s Natives (PIR), and anti-racist collectives such as the Anti-Negrophobia Brigade (BAN), have refused to join the movement. #NuitDebout, and the French left in general, need to adopt a historically and sociologically conscious discourse in regards to France’s post-colonial entities all the while addressing workers’ support for the neo-fascist National Front party – they accounted for 57% of the votes in the last elections – if they truly aim to seize power in the near future.
6. Can you elaborate slightly more on the trade unions in France? What is the percentage of working class with CGT? What is the role other unions and radical left parties like French Communist parties are playing in this movement?
France has an atypical situation: It is one of the weakest countries in unionization rates (8% in 2010) coupled with conventional coverage rate among the highest (93% in 2008 / workers insurances for pensions and unemployement benefits – as an example if you work two plain years you can get two years of full unemployment benefits, or if you contribute for 25 years you get 4/5 of your last salary until death..). This apparent paradox refers to the uniqueness of the French model of relations professional, where unions and employers negotiate for all employees of the branch and not only for their members through the procedure for extending collective agreements.
CGT get 34% of these 8% of union members. On all occasions, left-leaning trade unions (and political parties called for their constituents and supporters to take to the streets against the ruling PS. Mobilized trade unions included Solidaires (SUD, closely allied with the New Anticapitalist Party), the National Confederation of Labour (CNT-F, considered an “anarcho-syndicalist” group), Workers’ Force (FO) and the General Confederation of Labour (CGT, once allied with the French Communist Party), whereas mobilized political parties included the French Communist Party (PCF), the Left Party (PG, Melenchon’s ecosocialist party), the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA, formerly known as the Communist Revolutionary League), Workers’ Struggle (LO, a Trotskyist party) and Libertarian Alternative (AL, an anarcho-communist micro-party). It is important to mention, before we focus on these political parties’ conflicting demands, that efforts – for lack of a better word – made on the left to construct a considerable counter-hegemonic movement failed miserably in the past couple of years. In the past, coalitions were made on – for instance, the post-Stalinist French Communist Party and Melenchon’s Left Party merged into a single body under the Left Front (FdG), in 2008 – but the French left has proven inefficient in opposing the PS government’s consistently rightist positions on security, economic austerity, workers’ rights and immigration through unified protests. The fact that they have brought together their supporters – even if unintentionally – to contest the labour law reform is being hailed as a relative success, and rightfully so. But it remains that these parties still need to address their ideological fragmentation and the potential it has of pulverizing their fragile unified front. Both the dusty French Communist Party’s and the Left Party’s increasingly nationalist discourse, coupled with Melenchon’s constant need to create a cult of personality around himself, are threatening to re-stalinize the same French far-left that has fought long and hard to rid itself of its Stalinist demons. Parties such as Workers’ Struggle – whose spokeswoman Nathalie Arthaud has yet to expose its supporters’ to the party’s clear strategy – and Libertarian Alternative – who have been fighting for workers’ self-management since their inception – are too numerically insignificant to take part in the French left’s debate on how to define and where to navigate the current uprisings.
This leaves us with the once promising New Anticapitalist Party (NPA), a political party founded in 2009 that brought members of the Trotskyist Revolutionary Communist League together with anti-globalization and identity-based militants. In a 2015 publication entitled Revolutionary Affinities: Our Red and Black Stars, Olivier Besancenot, the “unofficial” spokesperson for the NPA, embarked on a tricky mission to reconcile anarchist and Marxist militants in order to tend to the French radical left’s fragmentation. His strategy consisted in revisiting the many alliances that were made between European anarchists and Marxists throughout the (late) 19th and 20th century by recounting instances of solidarity that shaped historical events such as the 1871 Paris Commune and the 1936 Spanish revolution. Besancenot also chose to stress on Walter Benjamin’s 1921 essay “Critique of Violence”, in which the esteemed German philosopher asserts that a “proletarian general strike is precisely what suspends the violence of the political state through the anarchist-revolutionary withdrawal of labour”. If we are to believe that Revolutionary Affinities’ raison d’être is to serve as the NPA’s “manifesto” (instead of being a mere critique of Stalin’s Anarchism or Socialism?), what has the party been waiting for to act on its promise to promote mass strikes as a process of revolutionary action? It would be dishonest to describe the recent strikes ordered by trade unions including the CGT and Solidaires as anything but unavailing. Rosa Luxembourg wrote that “it is absurd to think of the mass strike as one act, one isolated action. The mass strike is rather the indication, the rallying idea, of a whole period of the class struggle lasting for years, perhaps for decades”. Both the NPA and the trade unions failed to grasp the revolutionary character of mass strikes. They opted instead for what Luxembourg called exclusively “political” mass strikes, a “single grand rising of the industrial proletariat springing from some political motive of the highest importance, and undertaken on the basis of an opportune and mutual understanding on the part of the controlling authorities of the party and of the trade unions, and carried through in the spirit of party discipline and in perfect order”. Instead of pressuring Solidaires – the trade union they’re closely allied with – to “upgrade” the general strikes they’ve called upon their constituents from their purely demonstrative aspect to one that could truly perturb (therefore halt) the production process, the NPA chose to prioritize the street protests that were being carried out by their working class supporters on an almost weekly basis.
The economism imbibed in French working class politics has become undeniable, as exemplified by the course of action being currently taken by leftist political parties through trade union movement. The many political methods of struggle necessary to carry on the workers’ fight against the state and for the eventual overthrow of capitalism are being falsely utilized – in their domesticized forms – to push for economic reforms addressing immediate interests.
Another aspect of the uprisings that needs to be tackled is the balance of power that is taking place on the ground during organized protests. Some trade unions such as the CGT – who have grown increasingly anti-communist as a result of many of their members quitting over successive negotiation failures – have been caught making deals with the French riot police during recent protests to prevent their protesters from getting hurt. This comes at the expense of youths that the CGT and other trade unions/political parties (such as Melenchon’s Left Party) are helping to demonize so that said youths can serve as scapegoats. The French riot police has been savagely assaulting student protesters since the beginning of the uprising. Unlike unionized working class folk, student protesters are offered zero legal protection from institutional bodies that shelter them from police brutality and arbitrary arrests. The ruling PS, through its repressive security apparatus, has made active efforts to separate the youths from the workers – a textbook “divide-and-conquer” strategy that has proven quite effective. As a result of it, the uprisings were disjointed into two very distinct currents: one identified by the bureaucratic, reformist character of the trade unions and political parties that lead it, and the other solely composed of depoliticized youths – in the context of a representative democracy – who rely on a spontaneous approach in regards to political mobilization but face a dangerously militarized police force. This way, trade unions aid police themselves, which reflects the primacy of their material interests that lie in the protection of huge subsidies they receive from the French state. Workers are then made to believe that they are given an autonomous platform to voice their opposition without state repression, while the French police are granted carte blanche to lash it out on the defenseless youths.
7. What in your opinion is CGT’s modus operandi in these strikes? On one hand it appears as if they had made the calls to strike to oppose the labour law reforms. However on the other hand in many places they were also seen collaborating with the police when police was attacking protesting students. There have also been some reports in the media that CGT is involved in some back channel talks with PS (socialist party) regarding the reforms. What is your opinion on all this?
For example the oil strikes and blockades, which are now being reported more in the international press, have been ongoing since Thursday 19th,May and with increasing strength. We then heard it was not possible to get cash or oil in Rennes and many cities, since the ATMs were smashed during the manifestation, and the refineries were on strike. This is an explicit case in which the actions of casseurs support the actions of a strike. Every day there has been news of another refinery blocked, a new one evicted. They are often reoccupied. Road blockades are too many to count. The headlines suggest that the union, the CGT, has the power to block the country, and Manuel Valls has reproached them for the same crime. On Tuesday Minister Bruno Le Roux (the leader of the Socialist party inside parliament) seemed to move on the law, saying it could be modified, but head of the union, worker’s force (FO) Jean Claude Mailly, wrote back with the minimal demand of retraction. On thursday morning, a senior CGT member reported having received personal and intimidating text messages from a government minister.
At this point, we have to explain that it is not certain that there is still something like “CGT”, which has always been a federation. There’s CGT who nag demonstrators in Marseille and there is the CGT, whose members are vandalizing Socialist Partie office building in the Havre. There’s CGT sabotaging telephone lines in Haute-Loire, and one who is reducing bills of hundreds of thousands of users of EDF (national electricity provider) and one that would for some peanuts negotiate with the government. There’s CGT which aims to be before the CFDT ( the main conservative trade union) and one that aims to blocking the Euro. There are even SO [order services] that are fighting each other in full demos to determine the instructions. The goons of the services d’ordre (SO), the stewards of the CGT (Confederation General de Travail) and FO (Force Ouvrière) side with the police to the disgust of many, including members of the CGT and FO. They are taunted with “SO, Collabos” (‘service d’ordre, collaborators’). Armed with telescopic batons, pick-axe handles, baseball bats and helmets, these goons act to police the anti-labour law demonstrations. Back in May 1968 the CGT’s SO performed the same function, attacking demonstrators and sabotaging the uprising. Few people understand anything, and certainly not the government.
That said, we must never forget that, since March 9, the power plants closures are only following the movement. The initial call to protest emanated from youtubeurs and a petitioner. The CGT joined it because they had no choice. As they say in Nantes, “it is not the event that overflows, but the overflow who manifests. ” However, to see in so many cities the number of which CGTistes join the independent head of the procession and parade, flags flying, with young masked, when they do not organize squarely with them, one can not underestimate the distance is made in many places between CGT management and its base.
8. In light of what you said above, regarding the role of CGT, can you elaborate a bit more on the organisational perspective involved in this struggle?
There is the fracture, definitely between CGT leadership and the protesting base. Yet there are no “thugs”. Media, politicians and sociologists should dwell less on trying to identify the contours of violence and wonder just why now, many breaking acts are they welcomed, in the head of processions, with applause? On the other hand there are many people who are organizing to take the initiative in the street, or at least not to succumb to police herd management.
We must also note that in a lot of demos, the non-union affiliated block which has been renamed the tête de cortège is large, full of everyone – black bloc and students. Usually the CGT already started walking, presumably to stop the non-affiliated sections of the march from taking the head. Sections of this tête break off, break stuff, including the glass of bus shelters, the glass of moving billboards, the glass of shop fronts, as breakings are accompanied by anticapitalist chants. The rest of the crowd call to each other to wait, applaud when things are broken, and protect each other. They have a quiet solidarity with those more active, masked sections of the march, contradicting what is said against thugs in the press. At one point the march tails to the right, presumably for an action, but after letting thousands through the police try to form a kettle. Everyone boos and everyone is defiant this time, they walk forward, their arms raised, saying free our comrades in the imperative tense. The police push them back, gas them, but the whole of the march is there. As people are gassed, others take over, hands up. Everyone hates the police, or PS = Putrid Shitheads the crowd chants, moving forward again. The police push back, beat people, use pepper spray. People reel, recover. Ahead you can’t see anything through the smoke. Later there were thousands crushed in to this space and the tear gas and disengagement grenades caused several protesters to go on fire, since the missiles landed on pieces of clothing. The crowd advances saying cassez-vous, (fuck off). Eventually the cops are defeated, give up, let everyone go. Everyone comes back in a rush, crying, injured, and the march continues. The rest seems to be without police. More is smashed, including a skoda shopfront, which people get inside. This is all done under the watchful gaze of a high definition camera operated by an RG (French intelligence service) pretending to be a journalist, on a balcony, and as a few members of the CGT pass, saying casseurs, collabos (breakers, rioters, you collaborate with the state). The graffiti along the walls says things like 1789: les casseurs prennent la Bastille! (1789 the rioters/breakers take Bastille) and vivre, sans temps (to live without time) and enfin une manif qui se passe bien (in the end, the march went well).
We understand without pain it makes hysterical power: wherever people organize directly, they are rendered superfluous, made unemployed and destitute. It is this process of organising that must be spread everywhere, in all areas of life, at every level of existence. A hospital handled by nurses and nursing assistants will always be more breathable that in the hands of managers, as is the case now. That power tremble to see spread autonomous organizational processes at the base,and notably in the demonstrations, councils and blockades.
9. Can you tell us a bit about the organic composition of working class that is involved in these strikes apart from the organised working class? We have heard about this concept of “extra” and what does this signify? In this, which section of working class actively engaged in strikes?
The huge union mobilisation addresses the famous French social security and stable post war work schemes which the Loi du Travail(new labour law) will attack, for many people of our age, or indeed for strangers who do not yet have access to benefits or social security, the consequences of the Loi du Travail are already mostly in place. There are numerous kinds of contracts which lie outside of stability and permanency. Indeed, it seems that the issue of who takes charge of the procession, is at once a question of the support or condemnation of private property damage, as well as one of who is allowed to represent the movement. The taking over of the movement also appears as a demand for recognition of non unionised kinds of work.
This is a huge mobilization of students, high school students and workers, but also of autonomous groups, youths of the suburbs and also some migrants (even though for them fighting at the current time is more difficult due to anti-terrorism laws in place) against the government’s plans to reform the labor law ; a large protest action with much higher number of participants. The reason for the demonstrations was a labor market reform that will make it easier for companies operating in France for laying off workers. It’s not just the demonstrating but also the strikes indicating that workers, the unemployed, students and high-school students are all opposed to anything that will change the kind of working conditions and the kind of labour laws that France has known for decades. The proletariat: working class in France is trying to stand up, in a place that become the epicenter of Islamist warfare, mass terror and-murder in Paris (November 13, 2015 ), combined with increased militarization and strategic control and surveillance of the population and communities for past year. And the state / system continues implementing its pre elaborated plans against workers’ living and- working conditions / standards: Attacks against labor law (so-called labor market reform).
10. Do you think this wave of strikes is related to the crisis of capitalism?
Yes certainly. In the context of a generalized Middle East war and refugee-immigration crisis, the capitalist systems try to survive their socio-economic failure on worldwide scale; already stagnant economic development in the form of declining or negligible global GDP measurements, high and permanent unemployment rate, particularly among young people, combined with the immigrant labor (mass refugee / immigration) issues. To increase productivity and profitability, the capitalist system organizes, as a whole, all its political-ideological forces in or around the state-capital structural composition to create conditions for introducing labor reform programs, for more streamlined and cheapened labor power cost: intervening in the process of labor power algorithms for increasing productivity and competitiveness. However, the ruling elites, encourage this generic approach all over the world, and states machineries ( including governments) are obliged to implement these harsh tasks to societies and introduce them by force if necessary. The dominating objective perspectives in the minds of the political elites and the ruling classes take the form in globalization program, on how and why, i.e., the minimum wage law, labour rights …, needs to be part of social contract for dealing with the current socio-economic crisis.
Despite the common negativity built in the union’s role for the perspective in class struggles of the workers, such tools are initially used by workers to prove their dormant will for struggle and their dissatisfaction with existing work-capital relationships; the eternal antagonism that exists in the system of capital-work-based social hierarchy. Rationally, the proletarian struggles/wars are inevitable.
11. How would you characterise this movement? Considering various sections of society are involved in it, do you think a genuine integrated struggle centered around the working class is beginning to take shape in France?
In our opinion right now, we must discard the idea that we currently have a ‘social movement’ comprising of strong inter-class alliances. What is happening in the country for past three months does not look to us , robust in (political) appearance, but rather we feel it is undecided in it’s reality. The refusal and the protests which are ongoing right now are wider than the mere rejection of a law; it is the rejection of any a way of being governed, and perhaps for some, outright refusal to be still ruled. This is the politics of right and left, which has the appearance a show oscillating between pathetic and obscene. The general desire of the radical left is that this mauvaisepièce ends, and finally try to enter the issues of crucial and terrible time to time. We are in a ship heading straight toward an iceberg and where no one wants to talk
about the dress of a particular countess in beautiful prom night. In all things, government have demonstrated their impotence. It only remains that insurrection, that is to say, to learn to do without them. That is to say that which takes the outward form of a “social movement” about a particular law is rather entering a plateau political phase of high intensity, which has no reason to stop until the presidential election, which even rather all reasons to continue to transform, move, invest constantly new fronts. We can not imagine, for example, that the Socialist Party can calmly hold his next summer school in late August in Nantes.
What really happened in recent months, are countless beginnings, as much based on chance as on decisive meetings between unionists and sincere, amateur students .Students with no illusions about the future which they are promised, employees tired of the life they endure, etc. Across the country, the autonomous forces are aggregated and continue to aggregate.
In reality, it’s not only in the corporate strikes or the demos but in the blockades of theaters, schools, hospitals, high schools, roads, fuel and energy depots, bus and railways stations, even in front of nuclear centrals that there’s a real inter-class alliance, between permanent and contract workers, students and autonomous bloc, and with the lot of people unemployed who constitute alternately the reserve army for the extra work, needed by the capital and that all of us live rotationally in fact, to get some months of unemployement benefits after a temporary work. No more people under 40 now get permanent work, even in the public services where the longest contracts are maximum of three years and possibly renewed. These blockades are really the more efficient collective actions even they are the nightmare of the state and of the police and are heavily repressed too.
There is an anger and a determination not proper to “left. ”
In France, ”Being leftist” has always had something vague, cowardly, undecided, well-intentioned, but not enough to act accordingly. What is happening now for more than three months now has precisely to do with the inability to be still left under a Socialist power. It’s an escape from all the frames of the left, even their implosion; and it’s a very good thing. The moral dam separating the Platonic rejection of difference and the direct assault that we refuse, the moral embankment that was left and its characteristic cowardice, gave up.
Presenting the desertion of the parliamentary left as the constitution of a new “radical left”is the kind of timely escapade, type of magic tricks politician so shamelessly play, should be left to future presidential candidates and all those who speculate on what others live. That will not work, because we all saw what happened last year in Greece and Spain recently.
12. What about the arrested protesters? It is claimed that they were simply picked up because they are part of some radical anti-facist groups and government is intentionally targetting these groups under pretext of arresting striking workers? Is it true?
Yes this is true. There has never been so many people injured in a social movement in France for decades. Hundreds were just injured in the national demo in Paris on the 14th of June. Trade unions have organized dozens of strikes and protests over the past few months. Massive crowds have been welcomed by tear gas, truncheons and extreme police brutality across the country. In April, a student lost one eye after being shot in the face by a flash ball. In May, a young passerby was severely injured (he spent 11 days in a coma) by a police grenade in Paris. In early June, a group of journalists were attacked for no legitimate reason by riot police in Rennes (North West). The same day, 11 children were injured due to an unnecessarily brutal attempt by the police to break up a picket in front of their school. The list could go on and on. While the mainstream press endlessly moans about a minority of violent rioters, the French NGO ACAT (in defence of human rights) recently condemned “police forces enjoying relative impunity while committing violent interventions”. While dozens of demonstrators have been jailed since March, hundreds of them have been injured. The police watchdog has launched inquiries regarding more than 100 major cases of police violence.
The state of emergency ordered since the terrorist attacks of November 2015 in Paris promoted this tear gas Republic. It is no more a judicial function but administrative decisions by prefectures (state commissioner) that prevent in advance some people to demonstrate, and the mixture between the alleged state repression against terrorists and the police repression against the social movement has never been greater. People from autonomous, independent or radical anti-facist groups, striking workers, youth of the suburbs are all intentionally targeted and arrested by police, and a lot are jailed.
But once again, let’s remind the every day racist repression and punishment of the migrants and in the french suburbs and the heavy repression of protesters in the Global South.
13. Have the protests been able to mobilize international solidarity?
At the moment, some supports and comrades came only from Italy, England, Greece and Germany. But to conclude maybe unduly in a more pessimistic way, from afar (and even within France amongst the young – those who’ve never before directly experienced a nationwide movement) what’s going on seems like the prelude to a social revolution. This tends to make those yearning for a revolution to exaggerate to such an extent what’s going on that some even believe that now is the time to talk of the form and content of workers’ councils. Without wanting to in any way minimise (or worse, cynically dismiss) what’s going on, it should be clearly stated that France often experiences intense social contestation, or at least gives the appearance of it (in 2010, 2006, 2005, 1995, 1986, etc…), without it leading to the social explosion that wishful thinking makes people want to see as imminent. And if you were to look at the explosions happening almost every day in South Africa, India or China, over the last few years, you’d have far greater reason to think every week that revolution was just round the corner. Moreover, the Italy of the Years of Lead or the UK had massive forms of social contestation in the 1970s and 80s, and with a far greater base in working class communities of struggle and solidarity than exist at present, divided as people are nowadays from themselves and each other by years and years of the relentless onslaught of conditioning by the society of the spectacle, invading parts of our lives other class societies never reached….And we know the mass depression-inducing consequence of the failure of those movements, movements that seriously threatened the neoliberal project, which at that time was very much in its infancy.
Let’s be clear: these strikes, demos, riots, etc. do not cause much of a breakdown of normal daily life outside of the very temporary moments of these actions, and then largely only for those directly involved – even the most rebellious students mostly keep studying for their exams between demos etc., even the most revolutionary precarious workers keep working in the black economy or in the domestic labour – and have to. And the numbers directly involved in these forms of opposition are relatively low. Moreover, there seems to be an incredible repression of class consciousness/explicit theory compared with previous revolts (for example, no explicit critique of the form and content of school and miseducation). All this is, of course, so far – and obviously the situation could change. This has been a very very slow burning fuse, persistent but weak; whether it leads to a significant explosion or just fizzles out, is hard to say. Clearly the French (and world) bourgeoisie will do everything to extinguish it. And we have to seriously consider the possibility of Daesh/ISIS doing something horrendous (and/or being allowed to by the state) which would certainly immediately create a pro-state mentality in the country, even if this mentality would possibly be somewhat reluctant.
There are so many anarchists/autonomists etc…who, despite themselves, contribute to the general movementist tendency to ignore or at best minimise problems and contradictions ( just in order to give the appearance of a clear unequivocally radical social movement ) when it’s so very vital to make these contradictions explicit as part of confronting them – for example avoiding or minimising a critique of unions. This is a situation which is fraught with dangers both exciting and frightening: a French version, but in very very changed conditions, of Thatcher’s assaults on the working class in the UK in the 1980s. And the failure to go into unknown territory – making new mistakes and new successes – could be devastating for both French proletarians and proletarians globally.