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French Worker Struggles for Justice

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French Worker Struggles for Justice - by Stephen Lendman

Since early October, France resembles May 1968, at least in part, predatory capitalism again on trial. More on that below. Today it's over austerity moves, not for raising the retirement age to 62 as misreported. It's much more, as Diana Johnstone explained in her article titled, "Collapse of Social Security: French Workers Confront the Neoliberal Policy Agenda," saying:

"For one thing, (public outrage) is an expression of exasperation with the (Sarkozy) government....which blatantly favors the super-rich over the majority of working people in this country." Elected on the slogan, "Work more to earn more," today's reality is "work harder to earn less."

Like in America, public coffers are emptied for the rich. In contrast, "the whole (post-WW II) social security system" is being dismantled in real time "on the pretext that 'we can't afford it.' " Blaming street protests on retirement age changes is a red herring. It's over worker exploitation, favoring the rich, transferring wealth like in America and throughout Europe when ailing economies need massive stimulus, mostly for working people desperate for help.

Instead only capital, investments, and the ability to compete are addressed, neoliberal reforms the prescription when, in fact, they're ruinous for workers. They know it, protest, and continue through strikes and street demonstrations, what's so far absent in America in spite of US workers treated as unfairly.

Also like in America, high finance rules, wage and benefit cuts as well as deindustrialization the price paid. As a result, production moves offshore to cheap labor markets. High-paying jobs vanish, and with them a former way of life. It's a game, "only the financiers can win....And if they lose, well, they just get more chips (handouts) for another game from servile governments" like in France, America, and elsewhere.

"Where will it end," asks Johnstone? A democratic revolution should follow, "a complete overhaul of economic policy," what's very unlikely in France, across Europe or in America, unless conditions get so bad, a combination of hunger, homelessness, and unemployment producing rage enough to demand it. Don't bet, however, on what came close in 1968, a historic moment lost.

Even then, unions backed government power, not their rank and file. Other factors were also in play. In his 1970 book, "Prelude to Revolution: France in May 1968," Daniel Singer asked if a "socialist revolution" was beginning, whether "Marxism (was) returning to its home ground, the advanced countries for which it was designed?"

Indeed so he believed calling the May uprising "a revolutionary situation (that) can occur in (any) advanced capitalist country." It began with student revolts in Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, America, France, and elsewhere with the potential for much more.

It was the biggest working class eruption since the 1930s, especially in France when, at its peak, 10 million strong joined students, went on strike, occupied factories, universities, and offices throughout the country, paralyzed it, and nearly ousted the de Gaulle government, for days unable to counter the most profound challenge to capitalism since the 30s and 1917 Russia.

For weeks, direct worker actions in factories and other takeovers continued. "Dual power" was created - the government v. revolutionary action committees, workers wanting "a new form of democracy, including industrial democracy, that does not just rest on an occasional ballot." Their actions "precipitated the biggest general strike in French history, paralyzing the economy and raising, for a brief spell, the question of power in the country."

It could have gone either way under the slogan, "Be realistic, demand the impossible!" Capitalism was on trial, a transition to socialism then possible. Singer believed workers had a chance to take over "a share of the management and then to full management by collective producers." His model embraced two characteristics:

-- students acting before or independently from workers; then

-- workers joining their ranks in support, united against a common enemy, turning rebellion into "potential revolution."

He understood that "workers (couldn't) conquer economic power under capitalism as the bourgeoisie did under feudalism." Their task is harder, but he saw in France the potential for change, working class people acting "in parallel" to achieve it. Years later, he said a better future depends on "structural reforms" or "revolutionary reformism," the kind more than ever needed now with less zeal so far for it, far more in France and elsewhere in Europe, however, than in America.

Despite today's demands, governments remain hardline, unlike in 1968 when political and social concessions were made to retain power. Years later they were lost under Thatcher in Britain, Kohl in Germany and Reagan in America. They began a three decade assault on working class wages, benefits and values, intensified under Clinton, Bush II, Obama, and their European counterparts.

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I was born in 1934, am a retired, progressive small businessman concerned about all the major national and world issues, committed to speak out and write about them.
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