Thursday, 14 January 2010

France: snapshots of resistance

I recently wrote - admittedly without really doing the subject due justice - about how Lenin linked the economic and the political. There's a fascinating short piece (just over 2 pages in the print edition) by Denis Godard in the new issue of International Socialism, called 'France: from economic to political struggles'. Godard comments on the political nature, in France today, of a great deal of the resistance to the effects of the system's crisis. He also notes the ways this can feed economic resistance through strikes and occupations.

Godard suggests there has in recent months been little generalised class struggle in response to the crisis, but more hopefully there has still been localised resistance on a significant scale. He concludes, therefore, that any talk of a 'downturn' in struggle would be entirely misplaced. But the most hopeful aspect of the situation is the political campaigns, for example opposing post office privatisation and in defence of immigrants' rights, and how these pose a challenge to capitalism's offensive agianst workers at a time of crisis. He, finally, locates the whole question of electoral co-operation on the left firmly in this context: united political mobilisations around the impact of the crisis.

Godard identifies four particular mobilising issues: 'precarious' employment, climate change, post privatisation and immigrant workers. Are these also relevant in the UK? While the exact issues vary a little, it seems self-evident that yes they are. There may still be weaknesses in industrial struggle - due to the impact of neoliberalism, past defeats for organised workers, and the problems associated with the union bureaucracy (and its continuing allegiance to Labourism) - but the crisis is political as well as economic, and the same goes for resistance to the crisis.

Here is an excerpt from the article, lengthy but in my view worth re-posting:

'But what characterises the present phase of class struggle is the increasing prominence of conflicts of a political nature: marches against “precarious” employment and mobilisations around the Copenhagen summit on climate change and, most significantly, campaigns against the privatisation of the postal service and for the regularisation of sans-papiers (immigrants denied residence rights).

For the second time since 2008 the CGT has launched a wave of strikes and workplace occupations in the Paris area in support of the regularisation of workers without residence papers. But this wave is much bigger than the last, and more united, involving more than 40 companies.

The campaign against the privatisation of the Post Office reveals even greater possibilities. A nationwide “citizens’ referendum” was arranged for Saturday 3 October by a broad range of organisations including parties of the left (including the PS), associations and trade unions, giving rise to a multitude of local unitary networks. The results went beyond even the most optimistic predictions with 2.3 million signatures collected, for the most part in a single day, outside post offices and certain left wing town halls.

In the days that followed Olivier Besancenot, a leading spokespeson for the New Anti-Capitalist Party (Nouveau Parti Anti-Capitaliste, NPA) responded to the government’s refusal to give way by calling for a demonstration to impose a referendum. In spite of the anxiety of the PS and trade union leadership in the face of rank and file mobilisation, the idea began to take hold. Not only were demonstrations held but the popular support expressed in the citizens’ referendum gave postal workers the confidence to take national strike action (alongside teachers’ unions) on 24 November.

What links these two struggles is the potential they reveal for a qualitative step forward in the class struggle in France, the possibility of establishing a practical link between social and political struggles. In both cases it is political themes which are mobilising workers as workers, in the workplace, both against their bosses and the state. Conversely, the weapon of strike action is being applied in local mobilsations, giving political struggles a class character.'

The picture is of someone in Toulouse casting their vote, in the unofficial ballot on post privatisation, last October.

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