Mass protests of workers have been going on in France since January this year. More than a million workers participated in a one-day strike across France, on January 19, 2023. Since then, hundreds of demonstrations have taken place. The number of workers coming out in these protests is reported to be higher than ever seen in the past 40-50 years.
The workers are protesting against the French government’s new bill to carry out pension reforms. The age of retirement is being raised from 62 to 64. This will be achieved by 2030, by increasing it by 3 months every year. Workers would have to work for 43 years instead of 42 years as it is now, in order to draw full pension.
Energy sector workers at three of the country’s four liquefied natural gas terminals have been on week-long strikes in March. Refinery workers have been on strike for higher wages. Workers’ strikes across nuclear, hydroelectric and thermal power plants caused electricity production to fall by 5,000 megawatts, the equivalent of five nuclear reactors. The striking workers cut off electricity supply to the residence of the French Labour Minister to protest against his support for the bill.
Air traffic controllers have been on strike several times, causing cancellation of 20-30 % of flights in all the major airports of the country — Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris Orly, Beauvais, Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon, Nantes, Marseille, Montpellier, Nice and Toulouse airports.
Mass transit workers and railway workers, lorry drivers and other transport workers have been repeatedly going on strike. The strikes have forced cancellation of several high-speed train services, not only within France but also from France to Germany and Spain. Metro train services and tram lines have also been shut down by the striking workers.
Workers in the manufacturing sector have been on strike, including workers at auto manufacturers Stellantis and Renault and auto parts supplier Valeo, aerospace firm Airbus, engine maker Safran and workers of naval dockyards at Saint-Nazaire. Other workers who have also been on strike demanding wage raise and job security, include meatpackers, garbage collectors, sewer workers and other civic workers.
Many of the protest actions have been attacked by the police, who have used tear gas to disrupt the protestors.
Faced with this mass opposition of workers, the Macron government used special powers to force through its pension reforms. On March 16, it used a special provision in the French Constitution that allows governments to bypass the legislature, to force the bill through parliament without a vote.
This has greatly discredited the government. It has also opened the eyes of the striking workers to the harsh reality that it is not the people who set the agenda and decide on the matters of concern to them, but the capitalist ruling class that wields the decision-making power.
Many other big protest actions have been announced in the coming weeks, as the workers reaffirm their resolve to continue the fight for their rights.