While the Irish media focus only Macron bombing Syria and making speeches in praise of the EU French workers and students are in full scale revolt against the French President’s neo-liberal policies.
The past few weeks have seen an explosion of resistance to Macron’s proposed anti-worker Labour Laws, his plans to cut 120,000 jobs in the public sector and introduce individualised “payment by results” for workers, along with his attacks on free higher education. Rail workers led the way but many other sectors have followed suit in mass strikes across the country.
French socialist,Catherine Vigier from Rouen, reports:
“The temperature here has suddenly gone through the roof – things we all thought would go through without a murmur of protest have suddenly taken centre stage and Macron is facing a shipwreck scenario – with rail workers, Air France, hospital workers and University students and lecturers all fighting back.”
And left Presidential candidate, Jean Luc Mélenchon said last week:
“The president of the rich has decided to confront us. We will fight back. We will see who will have the final word. If we have the wisdom to unite across the country … the final word will be ours.”
Inevitably, given it’s the fiftieth anniversary, parallels are being drawn with May 1968 when mass student revolt sparked an indefinite general strike of ten million workers. Says Mélenchon, “To those who suggest with a wry smile that I dream of May ’68, I say, yes it’s a fine dream. I prefer my lovely dream to the nightmares that are in the process of happening.”
But some of the parallels are very real. Vigier notes:
“It’s a wonderful irony that a conference on May 68 at Nanterre had to be cancelled because of the student occupation. Nanterre has been shut down by the authorities after riot police were called in to evacuate the occupation last night.”
Nanterre, on the outskirts of Paris, was the University where the student rebellion of May 68 began. And last week police attacked and evicted occupying students at the Sorbonne
in the Paris Latin Quarter, just as they did 50 years ago.
Eight trade union groups have called a day of public sector strikes and demonstrations on 22 May.
Strikes are planned by rail, air and maritime transport workers, and in every level of education from nurseries to universities.
Postal workers, firefighters, health workers, electricity and gas workers, refuse workers and many more will also strike.
Meanwhile the battle is ¬sharpening among students. Police have cleared out occupying students in Nantes, Bordeaux, Paris, Lille, Caen, Dijon, Grenoble, and Strasbourg. There were dozens of arrests.
Macron had prepared the assaults by saying that protesting students were “professional agitators” and ought to be revising.
At present students who pass their school-leaving exam can enrol in any university course.
Macron wants universities to have access to school records to select those with the best “motivation” – shades of Leo Varadkar wanting to represent ‘people who get up early in the morning’.
And Varadkar should take note. What France shows is that just when everything seems to be going swimmingly, when the spin appears to be working and the outlook from Dublin 4 seems set fair, seething resentment from below can suddenly explode in struggle.