Jef Costello examines the reasons behind the recent wave of strikes and university occupations in France.
The keyword in current French politics is reform. Both presidential candidates claimed that France needs to modernise to be able to complete on a global level. Surveys showed that most voters identified both Royal and Sarkozy as 'candidats de la rupture' meaning that they represented a break, a break from the traditions of working class militancy and France's revolutionary and socialist past. However most voters did not feel that this rupture was what the country needed. Sarkozy and his government have decided to roll back every victory won by the working class since the second world war. The new Sarkozy government is launching attacks on virtually every front hitting workers, claimants and students across the board.
The EDF, GDF and Rail-workers are at the forefront of the so-called 'special regimes' for pensions. Workers in certain industries retire on full pension earlier than others. Government propaganda presents this as pampered public sector workers being allowed to retire ten years earlier than those in the public sector. However most of this difference is explained by contrasting extreme examples of workers who have no gone into further education with those who have, as private sector workers only need four more years of contributions to qualify for a pension. To add insult to injury the rail-workers already pay higher social security contributions, so they have actually paid for their pensions.
In the university sector the Pécresse law is a direct attack on teachers and students. Supposedly aimed at giving universities 'autonomy' the aim is in fact to cut financial links and privatise the universities. The introduction of competition between universities will lead to the creation of a two-tier university system. The introduction of tuition fees and the cancelling of less 'marketable' courses. On teacher said "this is not just a struggle for wages or conditions, we are fighting to defend our discipline itself".
For all public sector workers Sarkozy will permit at most for half of retiring staff to be replaced (in some services this is one in three or less) In addition pay and conditions are also under further attack. Medical interns have already begun striking over measures to force them to work in certain parts of the country.
On top of this Sarkozy is also trying to put an end to the 35-hour week. The country is polarised, with many low-earners thinking reforms will help them or simply jealous of others' better conditions. Sarkozy has deliberately provoked a massive conflict with virtually every opponent possible. Attacking workers as greedy whilst awarding himself a 140% pay rise.
The election of Sarkozy has made the private sector feel more comfortable in pressuring workers, there have been strikes in several sectors over the last few months. Transport, gas and electricity workers have already begun strikes, students have begun to strike and blockade universities and a massive public sector strike is due to begin. Many striking workers and students recognise the need to unite their struggles, calling for a general strike and trying to bridge the division between private and public sector workers.