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FRANCE
1.2 million strike against privatization

October 14, 2005 | Page 4

TONYA DOURAGHY reports from Paris on the French strikes against the government's privatization plans.

Striking public- and private-sector workers took to the streets of Paris and other cities during a one-day strike to protest the neoliberal policies of France's conservative government and the increasing threat of privatization.

The national one-day strike was largely organized by the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT), France's largest union. An estimated 1.2 million workers honored the strike in 150 cities across the country.

In Paris, striking workers marched to chants of "Everything must change!" Around the country, workers called for the protection of public services, wage increases and an end to layoffs.

Many saw the strike as a continuation of the class anger that led to the resounding rejection of the pro-business European Union (EU) constitution by French voters on May 29. The French "non"--achieved in spite of an all-out campaign by the country's business and political establishment--was an expression of working-class outrage at employers' attempts to further shred France's social welfare system, along the lines of what is called the "American model." That's why three-quarters of blue-collar and two-thirds of white-collar workers, as well as a majority of small farmers and rural workers, voted "no."

Taking place just after conservative Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin's first 100 days in office, the strike was an opportunity for many unions and left political parties to voice their opposition to what they call the "illegitimacy" of his administration.

The mobilization was further aided by recent events surrounding the attempted privatization of the national ferry service (SNCM), which operates out of Marseilles. After occupying their boat for 24 hours in a symbolic stand against privatization, four workers were arrested--after the government sent in the military--and are facing charges of hijacking. If convicted, they face up to 20 years in prison.

Many unions marching on October 4 expressed solidarity with the imprisoned workers, calling for their immediate release.

"The government is forcing more privatization and is trying to diminish the influence of the unions by dividing us into smaller groups," one striker explained to Socialist Worker. "They want to subcontract and privatize. Now we have less and less employees and more privatized workers. That's why we're ready to protest."

One significant development that set this strike apart from past one-day stoppages was the increased participation of workers from the private sector. Employees from British Airways, Renault and Air France all took part. In Paris, Hewlett-Packard employees walked out in anger over the firing of 1,240 workers--despite an increase in profits over the previous year.

According to one opinion poll, 74 percent of the French population was sympathetic to the strike. Another survey showed that 72 percent agreed the strike was "justified."

With everyone asking what the next step will be, many unions have already announced their support for another round of strikes and protests. Truck drivers in Toulouse continued their strike actions after October 4, as did rail workers for the SNCF network in the Midi-Pyrenees region.

The national strike demonstrates the ability of French workers to put pressure on the state to defend their interests--and to take the offensive in the struggle to regain their rights.

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