Economy International Labor

The Protest Movement Against the Planned Reform on Retirement in France

By the Secrétariat international de la coordination des groupes anarchistes

The movement in full swing

Although the protest movement began to find wide support from 7 September 2010, it originally came into being in March 2010, in order to stop the government’s plans to raise the retirement age (an idea first conceived by the right in 1993). The movement has kept on gathering momentum, thereby plunging the country in a storm of demonstrations of ever-increasing size.

Seventy percent of the French were favourable to the protest movement and to the forms it had taken, including when it turned highly radical (attempts to slow down and impede the economy, which led France to the brink of oil shortage).

The protest movement that came together has thus carried on gaining in strength since 7 September, and unwonted forms of political struggle, which seemed to have been forgotten, came to be seen once again: self-ruling general assemblies were created, various attempts to slow down the country’s economy made, the political representation of strikers went beyond the usual trade-union officials, there were once again strikes whose duration could be extended, picketing lines, etc.

Many black and red and plain black flags could be seen floating in the streets during protest marches. Libertarian tracts and flyers have enjoyed wide popularity.

The opposition movement went much beyond denouncing the government’s plan to raise the retirement age, and other motives for discontent came to the fore : The development of a society inspired by and subservient to liberal ideology was rejected en masse, along with its implications: a widening gap between rich and poor, with the latter group increasing in size and being denied even more rights.

The generalisation of precarious conditions concerning work and welfare, which affects all layers of society: the young, the elderly, the jobless, etc.

Inhumane policy-making, which was denounced as being unfair to the poor rather than trying to tackle the problem of poverty.

Here were so many motives for struggle that have “enriched” the protest movement, initially prompted by the global rejection of the plans to raise the retirement age. Lycéens and then students joined the bulk of demonstrators, thus asserting the political legitimacy of the street as opposed to that of Republican law or representative bourgeois democracy.

The usual checks and brakes

It has to be emphasized, however, that the “leaders” of the protest movement have tacitly endorsed, ever since its beginning, a number of limitations that they regard as compelling if not absolute.

Such limitations came to light as a result of the “self-proclaimed” representative legitimacy ascribed to the movement (although trade union top brass and political party representatives took an active part): practical, tactical, strategic limitations that were to do with keeping up a given stance, but also “ideological” limitations that came from basic, tacit convictions about the inherent nature of power and politics.

Ever since the birth of the movement, the strong suspicion that the white paper on the retirement age would eventually be voted as a compelling law, has caused warning signals to be sent to the main protest movement protagonists, highlighting the dangers posed by various “radical” types of protest, which were even branded “anti-democratic”.

The respect of the bourgeois legal framework has not only provided the basis for most commentaries in defence of the “future law”, but has also met with significant success even within trade union circles – especially the “C.F.D.T., the U.N.S.A., the C.F.E.-C.G.C., the C.F.T.C.”1, but also the “F.S.U., the F.O. or the C.G.T.”2 to a lesser degree. “Solidaires and the CNT”3 were the only unions not to accept unreservedly the societal model underpinned by the traditional values of bourgeois democracy.

The government’s plans becoming law

The White paper was voted on in the Senate [the French upper house] on 26 October, and then passed in the National Assembly [the lower house] on 27 October, thereby becoming a full-fledge law in the eyes of “democrats”.

Once again, the protest movement lost the day; once again, a political sanction for the next election — i.e. in 2012, to elect France’s president – will be offered as a solution to the dissatisfied and disillusioned people, subverting once again/ once again putting paid to the immense hope for deep and real change.

The tactical rapprochement between political forces that are “theoretically incompatible” has once again put an end to a protest movement that had taken on an increasingly radical turn. Even though the 28 October and 6 November demonstrations still brought together a great many strikers and protesters, they now look like brave, last-ditch attempts in an uphill battle. Their (lack of) result fails to provide any prospect for social improvement, let alone revolutionary prospects.

Perpignan, 13 november  2010

International relations

Coordination of the Anarchistic Groups

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66002 Perpignan cedex – FRANCE

  1. Confédération Française et Démocratique du Travail (created in 1964 after a secession with the CFTC) / Union Nationale des Syndicats Autonomes (created after the disappearance of the Fédération de l’Education Nationale, with the addition of other autonomous unions, it was very influential in the civil service) / Confédération Française de l’Encadrement – Confédération Générale des Cadres /Confédération Française des Travailleurs Chrétiens []
  2. Fédération Syndicale Unitaire (Created by communist trade-unionists in the teaching profession, it succeeds to the Fédération de l’Education Nationale-) / Force Ouvrière (created in 1947 after a secession with the CGT) / Confédération Générale du Travail (originally created in 1895 by anarchist and revolutionary trade-unionists) []
  3. Solidaires (Trade union group created by unions that had left the CFDT : Banks ; the Exchequer ; mail and telcom ; rail service…) / Confédération Nationale du Travail (created in 1946 during the Lyon conference, it succeeded the CGT-Syndicaliste Révolutionnaire founded in 1926) []

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