The French government’s use of Article 49.3 of the constitution to force through Macron’s pension reforms without a parliamentary vote on 16 March marked a turning point in the development of the struggle. The bypassing of the National Assembly is rightly seen by large layers of the population as an insult and a provocation too far.
Everyone in France knows that Macron and his government have disdain for the polls, which all indicate that an overwhelming majority of the population (including more than 90 percent of working people!) oppose the pension reform. We also know that the government has disdain for the many mass demonstrations and strikes organised against this reform since 19 January. The use of Article 49.3 underlines the fact that Macron and his clique also despise the so-called ‘representatives of the nation’ elected last June.
To make matters worse, these same ‘representatives of the nation’ were unable to even offer a response to the government’s insults by voting through a motion of no confidence that would have brought it down. All the political institutions are thus discredited in the eyes of the masses.
As a result, the social crisis has become coupled with a deep democratic and political crisis. The masses are increasingly questioning the legitimacy of the regime itself – both individually in their own minds, and practically on the streets. This crisis of the regime is nothing new, but today it is clear for all to see.
Significantly, the use of Article 49.3 and the subsequent failure of the motion of no confidence against Macron have given a clear impulse to the mobilisation of university and school students. Until now, these layers have been relatively passive. Tens of thousands of young people have mobilised every day since 16 March across the major cities of France. And they are not limiting themselves to the demand for the withdrawal of the pension reform. They are demanding respect and a future worth fighting for, which this government (and above all the capitalist system it upholds) cannot provide.
For their part, Macron and his government have been significantly weakened by the developments of the last few days. The popularity of the head of state, which was not very high to begin with, continues to fall. Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne and her fellow ministers are political zombies. The government has no leverage, other than the brutal repression of strikes and demonstrations.
In this context, the responsibility that rests with the organisations of the left and the trade union movement is colossal. Three key points of action are necessary:
Firstly, they must organise and actively lead daily demonstrations in all the cities of the country in order to protect the mobilised youth from the police repression and arrests that have been stepped up since 16 March.
If the spontaneous demonstrations are not to end in countless beatings and arrests, as is now the case every night, the workers’ organisations must organise and protect the demonstrations. At the same time, this would allow these demonstrations to grow massively and would unite workers and youth in action.
Secondly, the left and the workers’ movement must broaden the slogans of the struggle. It is not enough to demand only the withdrawal of the pension reform. To encourage the mobilisation of new layers of workers and youth, we must go on the offensive with our demands. The crowning objective must be the overthrow of the Macron government – which works in the interests of a handful of big capitalists – and its replacement with a government at the service of the workers.
As the comrades of Unité CGT wrote on 19 March:
“We are at a tipping point. By pulling the rope too hard, they [Macron and his government] have broken it. So let’s speak plainly: from now on, the goal is not just to reject the 64 years [retirement age]. The goal is the return of 60 as the retirement age. The goal is a minimum wage of 2,000 euros, the renationalisation / expropriation of the motorways, of the industries, of the plundered goods of the people. The goal is the repeal of the unemployment reforms, the end of aid to companies. The goal is the answer to all our social needs, a change of regime. This social order has lasted too long.”
These words are absolutely correct!
Thirdly, on this basis the left and the trade union movement must throw all their forces into the organisation of General Assemblies (GAs) in the workplaces, which must be as large as possible, in order to push towards indefinite strike action. GAs uniting workers of different professions must be held as soon as possible, in order (for instance) to organise demonstrations against the attacks of the police on the picket lines. In the universities, the students’ GAs must offer their support to the workers’ movement, and must contribute to the defence of the picket lines and the extension of indefinite strikes.
The sectors that are currently leading the ongoing strike movement – notably, the oil workers – will not be able to hold out indefinitely without a rapid extension of industrial action to other key sectors of the economy. If this extension takes place, the country will enter a new phase of the struggle that will put on the agenda not only the withdrawal of the pension reform, but the overthrow of the government of the rich, the repeal of all the counter-reforms of the last twenty years, and the establishment of a government in the service of the workers and of all the oppressed layers of the population.