Sunday, 17 October 2010

France shows the way

'Hundreds of thousands of people marched in cities across France on Saturday in the latest protests against President Nicolas Sarkozy's flagship pension reform.

Government estimates put the total number of protesters at around 850,000, while unions said between 2.5 million and 3 million had taken to the streets.

The French president is determined to stand firm on his plans to raise the retirement age, but unions have staged weeks of nationwide demonstrations to try to force him to back down. Five-day-old rail and refinery strikes are piling pressure on the government by disrupting travel.

Public and private sector employees and students marched in dozens of cities, with the biggest crowd assembling in Paris. The mood was upbeat, with disco music blaring, horns honking and chants of "All Together."'

The above comes via France24

It's obvious the outcome of the struggles in France hangs in the balance. The current situation is a severe test of leadership for the main trade unions in particular. It will be essential in coming days to sustain the momentum and avoid compromise.

This is a huge issue over which to fight, drawing extraordinary numbers on to the streets, and victory is possible. Such a victory will be decisive for the anti-cuts movement and turn the tide against Sarkozy's government, something recognised by the latter (hence the stubborn determination to press ahead despite mass opposition).

A number of things stand out in the magnificent example the French people are currently providing. One is the unity between workers and students, including high school students as well as those in the universities; another is the combined action of public and private sector workers. It is crucial, too, that the movement combines industrial action with mass protest. One without the other would be insufficient in confronting such a major national political issue.

In this country the action in France, while so geographically close, appears very distant. It does, however, indicate the possibilities for large-scale resistance to austerity measures.

Although it would be facile to simply assert 'Turn Britain into France', without thinking through the precise tactics we need now, it would also be wrong to either assume it can never happen here or think there's nothing we can learn.

A good first step is to bring together at least the beginnings of the mass, broad-based coalition we need to stop our own version of Sarkozy. See HERE for more on this Wednesday's Coalition of Resistance protest at Downing Street.


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