11) HISTORIC LABOUR
PV Vancouver Bureau, with files from the Morning Star and other sources
One of the biggest labour struggles carried out in decades by French workers continued through June, as the country hosted the Euro 2016 soccer tournament. Mass strikes and protests erupted in May against the “El Khomri law,” shutting down key sections of the economy. Named for the Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri, the law allows management to slash overtime pay, extend working hours, and fire employees with less restrictions. The Socialist party government argues that the attacks on labour rights and conditions are required by the European Union, highlighting a key reason for working class opposition to the EU in many countries.
The movement began several months ago, with mass occupations of the Place de la
As the month of June began, CGT union federation CGT leader Philippe Martinez warned the government to withdraw its notorious legislation, and striking workers crippled the French railway network. Over half the country’s regional train services were cancelled as well as 40 per cent of journeys on the high-speed TGV network.
Three of the four unions representing staff working for the SNCF national rail authority called open-ended walkouts. The rail strikes were accompanied by walkouts in other sectors including oil refineries, leaving an estimated 20 per cent of French service stations dry. Aviation workers announced plans to walk out, putting more pressure on the government.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls and the labour minister called on the CGT to propose a solution. But
“There are articles which pose problems and that’s why we must remove the law
Considered to be “the philosophy of the Act” and therefore indispensable, Article 2 establishes the primacy of company-level bargaining as opposed to sectoral and nationally negotiated agreements.
On June 2, some 120,000 homes in western
But workers in
Meanwhile, striking rail workers blocked tracks at the Gare
de Lyon station in eastern
The struggle continued over the following days, against the backdrop of final
preparations for the Euro 2016 tournament. Transport Minister Alain Vidalies vowed to use scab labour
after rail workers threatened to walk out on the line serving the Stade de France in St Denis outside
On the same day, Air
Sports Minister Thierry Braillard complained that
disrupting the tournament was “just not normal.” But train driver Berenger Cernon, secretary of the
CGT union federation’s branch at the Gare de Lyon in
President Francois Hollande said he would take “all
necessary measures” to make sure the tournament goes smoothly. “Public services
will be provided,” he vowed. “The whole of
“Let us be clear, the government has no intention of withdrawing this law, or of unravelling it,” added El Khomri.
While the tournament went ahead, thousands of demonstrators rallied in the
But by that date, the Socialist Party government had bypassed parliament to pass the law by decree, sending it for debate in the senate.
On June 17, CGT general secretary
He added that two demonstrations set for June 23 and 28 — when senators will vote on the legislation — would not be cancelled unless six crucial pieces of the bill were rewritten or removed before sending it back to parliament.
A few days later, the government had to back down on plans to ban the June 23 march. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said he had personally ordered the ban, but then decided to allow the protest after an emergency meeting with unions where a compromise was reached on where the rally could be held.
Hours earlier, Paris’s police chief had said he had “no choice but to ban the demonstration” for supposed safety reasons after the unions refused to stage the protest in the Place de la Bastille, wanting instead to march through the streets. Under the deal the march instead followed a one-mile loop around the foot of the square.
This would have been the first ban on a union demonstration in
Fellow Socialist backbencher Christian Paul had earlier said Prime Minister Valls was making “a historical mistake” with the ban, highlighting rifts within the ruling party a year ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections.
(The above article is from the July 1-31, 2016, issue