France: Support for the Protest Movement Is Still Gathering Momentum

Far from being on the ebb, social anger against the French government’s pensions reform grows stronger every day. The IFOP poll we publish today shows that 57% of French people want discussions to start fresh over “another pensions reform project”. Only 16% simply want the bill to be withdrawn, proof that little by little the idea that another reform is possible and alternative proposals must be discussed is gaining strength.

Young people between 18 and 24 (to the tune of 64%) and blue-collar workers (59%) are the categories that are the most favourable to this position. Our poll is only one in a series of many, notably the BVA poll (before last Tuesday’s general strike), in which 54% of French people say they support the idea of “a general strike as in 1995”.

Our poll also confirms what is taking place at the grassroots level. For the last few days, the social conflict has been expressing itself in a multitude of initiatives that prove it’s a round-the-clock protest. “A lot of the information available concerns” oil refineries or transport, “but that’s only the surface of things”, Bernard Thibault, general secretary of the Labour General Confederation (CGT) keeps saying, as opposed to statements that the movement is “running out of steam”. General assemblies are taking place in hundreds of plants or services; a lot of them don’t vote for a daily renewable strike, or “not yet”. But most discuss the possible forms of the movement, of its extension, and prepare multi-branch actions, like last Saturday’s demonstrations. At least 230 demonstrations have been called across the country.

In many towns demonstrations take place on a daily basis, whether among secondary school pupils or multi-branch workers. That was true last Friday of Marseille, Rouen, Montpellier, Nantes, Tours, Saint-Nazaire and elsewhere. Other actions develop that block access to and operations in strategic sites like oil depots; but also roads, round-abouts, and tunnels are being blocked.

For the last few days, local public services have been seething. The CGT numbered some 120 local government services in at least 50 départements (against 43 last Thursday) that were disrupted. Garbage collectors are on strike in Marseille and Paris. In Bordeaux, 46 school canteens are closed, while in Nantes the central kitchen does not supply any meals to the town’s schools. The contempt the government has shown towards young people who supposedly “have no reason to demonstrate” and “are only skipping classes”, has given a kick-start to the movement. The schools union (UNL) said 400 schools were mobilized last Tuesday at midday, and 1100 two days later. Now on the ropes, the government is trying the tactic of repression in order to divide protesters, notably against young marchers. In doing so, it is raking the embers of accumulated rancour and some of the rallies have gotten out of control.

Yesterday police forced demonstrators out of the oil depots they were occupying.
In choosing the strategy of fear-mongering, the government is taking the risk of further widening the clash. “This reform symbolizes all the injustices in this country,” François Chérèque, the general secretary of the CFDT (a more moderate labour confederation) concedes. Interviewed by AFP, Guy Groux, a specialist on social movements, wonders “whether we are not witnessing a more global rejection that extends even beyond the pensions reform to a rejection of the government.”

Indeed the nature of the movement may be changing. But it is certainly not on the ebb. As (…) Saturday’s demonstration may [1] once more show.

[1] This article was pubished in the October 16 issue

Original French Article:
Paule Masson | Le soutien au mouvement prend encore de l’ampleur

Translated By: Isabelle Metral
Reviewed By: Bill Scoble