Friday, January 30, 2009

Recent events in France may have been of the utmost importance. As the economic crisis deepens people across Europe are beginning to fight back. Yesterday a massive general strike, supported by all the union organizations of the country, put the French government on notice that the working class of France would only stand for so much, and that the "solution" to the crisis must not be restricted to bailouts for the rich. It seems that Sarkozy's nightmare of social unrest across the European continent, similar to but more profound than the recent revolt in Greece, is coming true. Here are a selection of reports on yesterday's general strike in France. First, a report from the British LibCom site.
General strike hits France
As the recession begins to bite in France, transport, education and other services are brought to a halt by a national strike demanding action on unemployment and the rising cost of living.

Bloomberg business news reported that France’s rail network, airports and public schools were disrupted today as the country’s eight biggest labor unions called for a one-day general strike.

In what is turning into the largest such action since President Nicolas Sarkozy was elected in May 2007, the unions are demanding that the government do more to counter rising unemployment and falling purchasing power as France enters its first recession in 16 years. The eight unions represent the bulk of France’s 1.9 million-strong unionized workforce. Unions only represent a small proportion of the workforce in France, but strikes are always observed by many more workers.

“The government needs to change its methods,” Jean- Claude Mailly, general secretary of the Force Ouvriere union, said today in an interview on Canal Plus television. “There are real worries about purchasing power. All unions are united on the need to take action.” Roads around Paris were packed with cars in the early hours of the morning as commuters sought to get an early start to avoid traffic jams. Fewer train lines were in service and as many as 30 percent of flights in and out of the French capital were cancelled. Unions plan 200 demonstrations and protest marches in cities across the country later today.

Employees of companies including Electricite de France SA and French units of International Business Machines Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. are among those participating in the strike. Public schools are expecting as many as 70 percent of their employees to strike, with unions for teachers, doctors and other civil servants asking for “urgent measures for employment and wages” and a further boost to the economy.

Popular Backing
Unions say measures announced by the government so far are inadequate. Sarkozy unveiled a 26 billion-euro ($34.4 billion) economic-stimulus package in December. About 69 percent of the French people back the strike, according to a poll by CSA-Opinion for newspaper Le Parisien on Jan. 25. Forty-six percent support the strike, while 23 percent “sympathize,” with the union call, Le Parisien said. Of those interviewed, 12 percent were opposed or hostile to the strike. It’s the first time in Sarkozy’s presidency that a “social movement” has had such public approval, Stephane Rozes, head of CSA-Opinion told the daily.

The French economy, the euro area’s second largest, may contract 1.8 percent this year, the worst performance since World War II, the European Union projected on Jan. 19. Companies are cutting jobs as the credit crunch derails purchases of homes, cars and factory machinery. The EU sees France’s unemployment rate at 9.8 percent this year and 10.6 percent next year. The number of jobseekers in France has risen for seven months, recording the biggest jump on record in November.
Train Traffic
Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer Francais, or SNCF, France’s national railway, where workers began the strike last night at 8 p.m., said about 60 percent of the regional TER train services and 40 percent of high-speed TGV lines will be disrupted. Eurostar and Thalys services to London and Brussels are running normally, SNCF said. All overnight domestic and international trains have been canceled except for a Berlin- Paris train arriving in the French capital on Jan. 30. Up to 50 percent of domestic high-speed services from and to Paris and 70 percent of the Corail domestic trains were canceled, the railroad said.

RATP, the Paris transport authority, said the city’s subway service was normal on about half its 14 lines. On the remaining lines, service ranged from 50 percent to 75 percent. One out of five RER A regional trains was running, with no service on RER B. Three out four buses were running.
Calls for Concessions
DGAC, the French aviation authority, recommended that airlines flying into and out of the Paris-Orly airport pare flights by 30 percent, while those going through Paris-Charles de Gaulle by 10 percent. Air France-KLM Group said last night that it plans to maintain all long-haul flights, while canceling 30 percent and 10 percent, respectively, of its short- and medium-haul flights from Orly and Charles de Gaulle. Power and gas supplies may be hit after EDF and GDF Suez SA employees said they are participating in the work stoppage. Previous strikes have led to lower electricity output at power producer EDF. French Prime Minister Francois Fillon earlier this week dismissed calls for concessions to appease the strikers. “It’s not the government’s role to make gestures,” Fillon said on France 2 television. “It’s the government’s role to keep reforms on track.”
Here's another report from the British press, this time the Press & Journal, about the extent of the strike.
France hit by general strike as unions act on economy
Demand for more government action – Sarkozy responds with meetings pledge
Published: 30/01/2009

France’s largest general strike in three years hit transportation, school, hospital and post services yesterday as unions demanded more government action to fight the economic crisis.

Over 1 million protesters took part, with tens of thousands of youths, pensioners and unemployed people marching across towns and cities.

The powerful CGT, one of eight unions that called the one-day “black Thursday” strike, claimed 2.5million people took part.

Both estimates would make it the largest collective protest in France since 2006 when students, angered by a jobs reform plan, weakened a previous government.

President Nicolas Sarkozy responded by announcing plans to meet union bosses in February.
Economic growth in 2009 is expected to be close to zero in France, with unemployment, now at 7.7%, below the double-digit figures of 10 years ago but rising at the fastest rate in 15 years.

Consumer spending has plunged. Mr Sarkozy has announced a £25 billion stimulus plan but the unions believe it is not enough.

The strikers were demanding better job security, higher salaries and purchasing power, and more say about Mr Sarkozy’s economic reforms.

Outside Paris, protests drew 34,000 in Bordeaux in the west, 24,000 in Marseilles in the south, 26,000 in the northern city of Lille, and 20,000 in eastern Nancy.

The demonstrations hit public services but failed to close them down, in part because of a 2007 law ensuring minimum service during strikes. Just over 10% of flights at Charles de Gaulle airport were cancelled, and a third at the smaller Orly airport. Many flights took off late.

The train authority said nearly 37% of workers joined the strike.

About 75% of buses and trains were running in Paris, but suburban trains linking the French capital were hit hard, with some lines running at a trickle.

Half of all primary school teachers stayed off the job, the education ministry said, and overall about 37% of teachers skipped class.

About 21% of public hospital workers went on strike, authorities said, and one-quarter of all postal workers stayed off the job.

Despite the economic crisis and the general strike, Sarkozy – who was elected in May 2007 – appears to remain committed to reforms.(Love that word "reform"-Molly)

Marie-Georges Buffet, head of the Communist Party, said she hoped yesterday’s protest would lead to others in the future. “Today is the first large day of unified mobilisation,” she said. “I hope tomorrow that there will be others.”
De plus voici le reportage de le syndicat anarchosyndicalist français la CNT-F sur les événtments.
Manifestations du jeudi 29 janvier : deux millions cinq cent mille grévistes dans les rues !:

Pas besoin de jouer sur les chiffres, la mobilisation interprofessionnelle de ce
jeudi 29 janvier a atteint une ampleur remarquable, par la grève, et dans la
rue. Lille : « Quand le cortège arrive place de la République, plus de deux
heures après son départ, la queue du peloton démarre à peine... » Mêmes
scénarios dans de nombreuses villes, seuls les noms des places changent ! Au
Havre, 25 000 manifestants, Montpellier (35 000), Lyon (50 000), Toulouse (90
000), Paris (300 000)... Dans l’éducation, près de 70% des enseignants du
primaire étaient en grève, 50% dans le secondaire... En Seine St Denis, les taux
de grévistes dans le primaire ont atteint des records : 80% à Montreuil, plus de
90% aux Lilas, à Bagnolet, à La Courneuve... Les cortèges CNT étaient au
rendez-vous. Lyon a donné le ton : « Nous ne paierons pas leur crise, grève
générale ». A Paris, le cortège CNT s’est glissé dans celui de la CGT, au beau
milieu des parents d’élèves de la FCPE, des travailleurs sociaux et des instits
Des Assemblées générales se sont réunies avant et après les manifestations. La CNT-FTE se félicite de ces dynamiques, à la base, et appelle à soutenir les initiatives de reconduction de la grève pour la généraliser. Elle relaiera et soutiendra les initiatives d’AG qui iront dans ce sens. Dans les Universités, les enseignants-chercheurs seront en grève dès lundi 2 février. A Paris, à l’occasion de la réunion d’un Comité technique paritaire, mardi 3 février, des enseignants seront aussi en grève. Un rassemblement est fixé l’après-midi devant le rectorat... La suite est à construire. L’ « assemblée générale nationale des collectifs de parents et enseignants en lutte », qui s’est réunie le 24 Janvier, à Villeurbanne (69), s’est fixée un nouveau rendez-vous, le 7 février, à Paris.

Ce n’est pas à Matignon ou à l’Elysée quil faut aller négocier début février, nous gagnerons en construisant un véritable rapport de force qui impose les revendications des travailleurs-ses et en élargissant les luttes à tous les secteurs, pour refuser les attaques gouvernementales et réactionnaires, pour défendre les acquis historiques des travailleurs et pour en conquérir de nouveaux fondés sur l’égalité, la socialisation, l’autogestion par la base, le partage (des richesses et du temps de travail), les services publics...
Dans l’éducation, nous sommes en grève pour :
***le retrait des réformes Darcos (suppressions de postes, suppression des
RASED, mise en place des EPEP, suppression du BEP, fichages, contre-réforme du
Lycée, LRU, masterisation des concours...)
*** la fin des licenciements et du recours à l’emploi précaire, par la
titularisation sans condition de concours ni de nationalité, des contractuels,
vacataires, AED, AP, CAE, CAV, EVS, AVS...
***un véritable service public d’éducation, sans un centime pour le privé
***l’augmentation du budget de l’école publique, des salaires et
l’amélioration des conditions de travail
***la liberté syndicale et le maintien des droits syndicaux des
travailleurs-ses, à la base.

Contre la loi du profit et des patrons, le temps approche d’une révolution sociale, éducative et pédagogique. Grève générale interprofessionnelle.
Here is the English translation of the above.
Demonstrations on Thursday 29 January, two million five hundred thousand strikers in the streets!:
There is no need to play with the figures, the general mobilization this Thursday January 29 has reached a remarkable extent, by the strike, and on the streets.
"When the procession reaches the square of the Republic, more than two hours after his departure, the tail of the bunch just starting to leave."
Same scenario in many cities, only the names of places change!
In Le Havre, 25 000 protesters, Montpellier (35 000), Lyon (50 000), Toulouse (90 000), Paris (300 000)
... In education, almost 70% of primary school teachers were on strike, 50% in the secondary schools
... En Seine St Denis, the strike rate in primary education has reached a record 80%.
...In Montreuil, over 90%.
...In the Lilas, in Bagnolet, La Courneuve ... CNT demonstrations were held there.
...Lyons set the tone:
"We will not pay for their crisis, general strike
... In Paris, the CNT contingent slipped into that of the CGT, in the middle of the parents of the students of the CIPF, social workers and Instits Paris ...

General Assemblies met before and after the demonstrations. The CNT-FTE welcomes these dynamics of the base, and calls for support for initiatives for renewal of the strike and its generalization. It will relay and support initiatives of the AG along these lines. In universities, academics will be on strike from Monday 2 February. In Paris, on the occasion of a meeting of the Joint Technical Committee, Tuesday 3 February, teachers will also be on strike. A rally is set for the afternoon in the rectory ... The result is to be built. The "General National Collective of parents and teachers in struggle", which will meet on 24 January, in Villeurbanne (69), has set a new meeting on 7 February in Paris.

It is not necessary to negotiate with Matignon or the Elysée in early February, We will win by building a genuine alternative power requires that will impose workers' demands and expand its struggles in all sectors, to deny the attacks of the reactionary government and to defend the historic achievements of workers and to win new ones based on equality, socialization, self-management, sharing (of wealth and of working time), and public servives ...
In education, we are on strike for:
***the withdrawal of the Darcos reforms (abolition of, suppression of RASED, setting up EPEP, deletion of BEP, registration, against the school reform, LRU, comprehensive exams ...)
***the end of the dismissals and the use of precarious employment: the establishment without qualifying competition or nationality, contractors, temporary contractors such as AED, AP, CAE, CAV, EVS, AVS ...
***a true public service education, without a cent for the private sector
***A budget increase for public school, increased wages and improved working conditions ***freedom of association and the maintenance of trade union rights of ordinary workers . Against the law of profit and bosses. The times approach a social revolution in education and teaching. General Strike.
Finally, from the pages of The Independent, a British newspaper, how this all ties together in an Europe wide perspective.
The Big Question: How serious is the political unrest on the Continent, and can it be calmed?:
By Peter PophamFriday, 30 January 2009

Why are we asking this now?
As the economic consequences of the credit crunch rumble across Europe, producing soaring unemployment rates and falling wages, protesters are taking to the streets in more and more countries to voice their anger.
Like where?
Yesterday saw the first mass demonstrations against the government response – or lack of it – to the economic crisis in France, where, in the biggest protests for many years, more than a million demonstrators turned out across the country, demanding that President Sarkozy do more to stanch the economic bloodletting. Public transport was drastically reduced, and one third of teachers stayed away from their schools. Factory, postal, hospital and many other workers struck. Even some staff at the Paris stock exchange joined the protests.
Why did the strike call produce such a response?
Unemployment in France is soaring at the fastest rate for 15 years, consumer spending has plummeted, and the eight unions which combined forces to stage the protest say the €26bn stimulus package that President Sarkozy announced recently is a woefully inadequate response to the crisis. Nearly 70 per cent of the French population was said be in favour of the protests.
Where did all this start?
The shooting dead of a teenager by a policeman in Athens in December unleashed weeks of violently destructive demonstrations, not only in the Greek capital but across the country. Although sparked by the killing, it became clear that what underlay the protests and made them so large and widespread was the country's galloping economic malaise.
Why was Greece affected first?
As the weakest member of the Eurozone economically, Greece is suffering disproportionately from the credit cruch and has none of the cushions of its wealthier fellow-members in northern Europe. Lacking competitive industry and agriculture, it has been heavily dependent on services, shipping and tourism – all of which have been sliding as consumers worldwide cut back on their spending. Last week Standard & Poor delivered another blow when it downgraded Greece's credit rating, arguing that the crisis had aggravated the Greek economy's "underlying loss of competitiveness."
How do these factors translate into problems for ordinary Greeks?
The protests were overwhelmingly by the young, and it is the young who have been most drastically affected, with youth unemployment rates of up to 30 per cent and many graduates forced to take menial jobs. But this week another disgruntled sector hoved into view as Greece's farmers blockaded the capital with more than 9,000 tractors to demand that the government hike its emergency support package to them of €500m.
Where else have protests broken out?
France aside, the countries affected have been small, historically weak ones which grew rapidly richer during the recent boom but are now being hit from every direction at once, with rising unemployment and wage and budget cuts, combined in the case of Latvia with tax increases mandated by the IMF. It's countries like Latvia and Lithuania that are the walking wounded of the credit crunch. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the IMF, recently singled out Latvia, Hungary, Belarus and Ukraine as among the most vulnerable to turmoil.
What's the Latvian story?
During the boom its growth rates were in double figures, putting it among the champions of the EU, but last year the economy shrunk by 2 per cent and is forecast to sink by another 5 per cent in 2009, while unemployment has doubled in the past six months to 8 per cent, with three times that rate for young people.
So Latvians are angry?
Very. This is a country with little history of violent protest, but earlier this month a peaceful demonstration in the capital, Riga, by more than 10,000 people degenerated into a drunken riot in which 25 people were injured and 106 arrested. Public anger about the economy had been exacerbated in December when a leading member of the government, quizzed about the reasons for the economic crisis, told the TV interviewer, "Nothing special." The phrase infuriated many Latvians, and became an ironic slogan of the demonstrators.
What action were the protestors demanding?
Go home, and let other people take over. Government spokesmen argued in vain that the problem had its roots in reckless economic decisions made by the previous administration.
So the protests were pretty incoherent?
That's a feature of all the protests so far, and it reflects the confusion of governments at which the demonstrators are protesting. The authorities are flinging everything they can think of at the crisis, reversing years of economic wisdom and pulling every lever in sight in the hope that something might work. So far nothing has , despite the vaporisation of tens of billions of euros in the process. As panic grips Cabinet rooms across the Continent, the public is driven to fury.
But no government has fallen?
Wrong: Iceland's coalition government succumbed last week, after protests by 8,000 people were quelled by tear gas. A caretaker government is filling the breach, and elections will be held in a couple of months.
Where is all this going?
Nowhere good, is the broad consensus. Those who have long been sceptical about the validity of European Monetary Union are chortling with schadenfreude as the Eurozone's weaker members, sometimes offensively known as the Pigs – Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain – struggle to make ends meet inside the (relatively) strengthening currency, with weakening competitiveness and ballooning deficits exposing what the sceptics see as the innate contradictions of yoking economies as different as Germany's and Greece's in a single currency.
What are they saying could happen?
Some predict that one or more of the "Pigs" could eventually be booted out of the Eurozone altogether. Even those who scorn such a scenario – pointing out that in the midst of its worst ever economic and political turmoil Iceland is actually applying to join the Euro – fear stronger economies could exact a fearsome price for continuing to entertain the weaker ones.
What sort of price?
Basically, imposing the obligation to cut their swollen deficits. For instance Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of Luxembourg, has proposed that the Eurozone as a whole might take on the debts of the weaker members. In return the governments of those countries would have to submit to having their budgets drawn up in Brussels. Deep budget cuts in the depth of a severe recession in countries such as Italy, with a long history of violent street protest, could only be a recipe for further political unrest.
Will the disaffection and protest spread to more European countries?
* Despite throwing huge sums around, no government has a clue how to stop the
* Online technology enables political indignation to spread across the
continent like wildfire
* No longer able to devalue their way out of
trouble, the weaker Eurozone economies are sitting ducks
* The Eurozone will rise to the challenge and its weaker members will take their medicine calmly
* Despite spiralling problems, Germany and the UK have yet to see any serious mass protests
* The auguries of doom are inescapable, but this panic may pass sooner than we expect
Well, going from the last article it is very heartening to hear that, from a ruling class perspective, the whole social system may be rescued by an early return to normal economic conditions. Maybe yes and maybe no. Nobody can predict the duration of the present recession/depression. On our sister site Molly's Polls Molly has voted for a duration of three years. I have no special expertise in economics, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that professional economists also lack this talent.

What I can say is the following. People can wait with "hope" that the present economic crisis will pass in a timely fashion. OR they can move in the here and now to reduce the impact of the crisis on them and their communities. They can either or either not call their governmenst to account. Actually calling them to account will force the politicians to do something they don't want to do ie provide an economic cushion for ordinary people rather than their corporate friends.

Much more importantly, however, is the promulgation of the idea that there is more to this crisis than the idea of inceasing social suppiorts. There are libertarian alternatives that are "crisis proof" because they don't depend upon a bureaucratic financial system to sustain them. Molly has mentioned them before on this blog. The "cooperativation" of certain enterprise is an obvious response. The promotion of properly regulated credit unions is another. It is fine and good to try and resist the initiatives of government to pass the cost of the present crisis on to ordinary people. What Molly says, however, is that there is a different, more ambitious and, in the end, more realistic replace our present economic system by a cooperative one.

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