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French Lessons for U.S. Workers

By       Message shamus cooke     Permalink
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The world watches as France once again erupts in protests,
demonstrations, and strikes. So much is at stake. If France's
corporate-dominated government is able to increase the retirement age,
other governments will be empowered to follow through with their plans
to do the same.

If labor, student, and community groups succeed in stopping the pension
reform -- or toppling the government -- workers in other countries will
likewise be inspired to fight back and organize in the French fashion.

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The worldwide recession has encouraged business-focused governments to
pursue the kind of anti-worker policies they've been discussing for
years. There is common agreement among these governments on a global
scale as to the necessity for these polices. Working people disagree.

There have already been massive demonstrations or general strikes in
Greece, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal and elsewhere. In England,
massive cuts to the public sector -- 500,000 job cuts -- have been
announced that could cause a similar backlash.

In the United States, President Obama has formed his Deficit Reduction
Commission, which has in its sights Social Security and Medicare. The
Los Angles Times reports:

"Social Security is one of several areas being eyed by the panel
[deficit reduction commission] for changes...other commission targets
include Medicare, defense spending and a range of tax policies..."
(September 29, 2010).

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Obama's commission will report its "findings" sometime after the
November elections, possibly as early as December 1st. In this way, the
public will have no immediate recourse to punish the House and Senate
members involved in these closed-door sessions, which will open the door
to massive spending cuts in social programs.

This backroom, undemocratic scheming is happening all over Europe, with
incredible implications: enormous changes are happening to nations with
zero input from the population; no voting is taking place over these
policies, they are simply being pushed through.

But France is changing everything. French workers stopped a conservative
government in 1995 from implementing a similar reform -- they are
confident that they can stop this one too.

The French working class is busting a myth broadcasted from governments
everywhere, that massive spending cuts are "necessary" and worse,
"inevitable," no matter how unpopular (undemocratic). In France, 71
percent of the population supports the unions' opposition to raising the
retirement age. And given that the inequalities in wealth have been
growing for the past several decades throughout Europe and the U.S., an
obvious alternative to lowering the budget deficit would be to tax the

If the French workers can force "their" President and "their" Congress
to back down, resign, or change nationalities, working people all over
the world will be inspired to do likewise, even in the United States.

The French government has not yet backed down as workers have shut down
oil refineries, railways, and government services on a broad scale. High
school and university students are shutting down their schools; massive
demonstrations have been held as public support for the strikes remains
high, as does hate for the government.

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Instead of defusing the movement, the French government's obstinacy has
only radicalized it. Workers across France are calling for an indefinite
general strike -- paralyzing the country -- until the government backs
down, or crumbles.

If this happens, the powerlessness that workers feel in the United
States and England will melt away: seeing their potential power realized
in another country inevitably inspires confidence. This is one reason
why the U.S. mainstream media wants the French government to push
through the unpopular measures.

Labor unions in the United States need to educate their members and the
community at large about the intentions of Obama's Deficit Reduction
Commission as well as the Democrats in general. The same unions that are
the backbone of the French movement are also very powerful in the
United States: public sector workers, teachers, bus and truck drivers,
dockworkers, railway workers, etc.

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Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (

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