MS Risk Blog

French Pension Reform Strikes: Rise of the Far-Left

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Since 5 December 2019, French workers have been conducting massive strikes by marching on the streets across France in order to protest the pension reforms announced by French President Emmanuel Macron. The series of strikes, which are still going on today, have been acknowledged as being the largest strikes of the decade in France. On the first day of the strikes, 30 worker unions across the country have carried out strikes. French Interior Ministry stated that between 800,000 and 1.5 million people have joined the strikes across France. It has disrupted the whole country by shutting down public transport services and greatly reduced the number of workers at including staffmembers at hospitals, as well as teachers, firefighters, lawyers, and even police officers. The cause behind the strikes, which are the controversial pension reforms, are actually aimed to simplify the old system. The old pension system divided the pension into 42 different schemes, which is considered very complicated. It is also predicted that the country’s pension deficit could reach 17 billion euros in the near future if the system is not changed. Therefore, President Macron wanted to prevent this situation by creating a unified pension system using an earning point scheme. This plan has been rejected by as many as 61% of the French population, and the workers unions have argued that a unified system will cause inequality between pensions and that workers will receive lower pension funds. At first, the strikes began as a mass movement to oppose this single issue. However, since January 2020, they have seen as being more radical and representing broader issues, campaigning anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism, and anti-fascism rhetoric within each strike.

The rise of new participants within the strikes such as firefighters, lawyers, and students has been seen since January 2020. On 25 January, one of the biggest strikes in January occurred. Workers and students from different organizations marched together waving communist “hammer and sickle”, Antifa, anarchist, and Palestinian flags while singing “Internationale”, which is an anthem for the left-wing movement across the world. They also shouted slogans such as “overthrow capitalism” and “revolution now” during the strikes.  On 28 January, violent clashes occurred between protesters and riot police. The protesters involved in the violent clash mostly consisted of firefighters and anarchist groups. Until the end of January, the series of strikes have been known to involve various left-wing movements from workers unions such as CGT and UNSA to the communist and anarchist groups such as Gauche Revolutionaries and Antifa. The strikes which at first began to oppose a single issue have been interpreted as a symbol of left unity among left revolutionaries across the world. However, it is believed that far-left ideas have become fundamental factors that support the on-going strikes.

CGT, a workers union which is considered to be the main power within the strikes, has been acknowledged for their connection with far-left ideas. Throughout history, CGT, which was founded in 1895, has been known to possess a strong link with far-left revolutionaries, such as the Anarcho-Syndicalism before WW1, and later with the French Communist Party from the end of WW2 until the end of the cold war. Even though CGT is currently not under direct communist influence anymore and fights for a more moderate approach for workers, the anti-capitalist idea is still strongly influencing them. Even several federations and regional branches of CGT are still strongly affiliated with WFTU, which is an international trade federation consisting of Marxists. The director of the Institute of Social History and a specialist in communism, Pierre Rigoulot, stated that the modern CGT is still positioning themselves as forces fighting within class antagonism and seeing their end goal as the abolition of capitalism, which basically adheres to Marx’s thoughts. CGT is also known as having a good relationship with Gauche Revolutionaries, a Trotskyist political party which also has greatly involved within the series of strikes. The series of strikes in France for the past 2 months has indeed portrayed the power of left unity among the people. However, it is also important to consider that this is also the rise of the far-left as a strong factor that unites these people.

Massive anti-government civil unrest is currently occurring in many places all over the world, from countries within the Latin America region such as Bolivia and Chile, as well as in Hong Kong which used to be a very peaceful city. Almost all of these protests are more left-leaning within the political spectrum. The strikes within France can be seen as possessing a big potential of becoming the benchmark of anti-government movement across the world, especially if these strikes achieve success in the future. France’s status as a developed country within the perspective of world citizens is likely to become one of the reasons since most of the countries with the massive anti-government movement now are still considered as developing countries. People are demanding changes within the system and what is occurring in France could influence this demand on a worldwide scale. If the far-left could become one of the fundamental elements within French strikes, it could also happen anywhere. As mentioned before, people are demanding changes, but what kind of changes are yet to be seen.