‘We need a general strike to fight Macron and his administration’

Jan. 2019 Yellow vests (Chris McGrath:Getty)This is a statement issued by Anticapitalism and Revolution, a current within the New Anti-Capitalist Party in France.

The birth of the “Yellow Jackets” movement is, after the 2016 strikes against the Labor Law reform, another symptom of a contained social anger that has finally blown up. The labor movement leadership, alongside those who spent their time arguing that it had no steam and we were overestimating the actual scale of the struggles, etc., were heavily mistaken.

When the State of Emergency was declared, people were almost saying that this was the darkest hour in this century. And the protest of the 2016 Labor Law reform arose, surprising almost everybody. After that defeat, we were promised once more a decline of struggles, and the idea of a “broad vanguard” was again ridiculed. Furthermore, the notion that a period of struggle and politicization had begun, with its highs and lows, was also ridiculed.

Then again, spring 2018 took almost everybody by surprise… and when railroad workers lost on their demands, the prophets of doom were back again, saying that the period was decidedly and unilaterally characterized by fallbacks, not by instability and explosiveness.

The “Yellow Jackets” belie these analyses. They are the expression of a more global situation: the accumulation of dispersed struggles, social anger, the ideological and electoral weight of the far right, the policy of collaboration of the official labor movement leadership under the guise of “social dialogue,” and far left apathy. They are not the beginning of a movement, but one aspect of a situation that has been developing since 2016 and the protests against the Labor Law reform.

A mobilization is not linear: it goes through highs and lows, and different sectors of our class mobilize at different moments and different paces. But the “Yellow Jackets” should above all be an alarm signal for the labor movement. The labor movement’s heavy deficiency has allowed other social forces to take initiatives and occupy the field of confrontation against Macron.

The streets are flooded, Macron, you’re going down! 

The bourgeoisie thought they had found in Macron the ideal candidate to serve their interests and allow for an even bigger growth of the gains made since the 2009 crisis; the number of billionaires is still growing, while large-scale lay-off plans are multiplying. It ended up being a losing bet.

The president of the rich focuses the growing and multiform social anger on his person. His popularity scores crashed at record speed these past few months. He has trouble going out in public now, even ever so briefly, without being heckled, be it on the Champs-Elysées or in a rural area like at le Puy-en-Velay.

Although he was elected only 18 months ago, getting Macron to step down is one of the loudest rallying cries in the demonstrations. Since last summer, as the proverb goes, the fish rots from the head. How long ago seems the time when all the “headliners” scrambled to be in the group photo with the winner of the 2017 presidential election: Hulot (minister of environment), Collomb (minister of the interior), Flessel (minister of sports), etc.

The Benalla case got the ball rolling, and then there were the Kohler and Nyssen cases. A year and a half after his election, Macron was hit by the usual symptoms of the bourgeois political leaders dedicated to the bosses’ interests: he was stained by politico-financial scandals and disavowed by the popular classes. His class contempt did the rest.

But Macron is above all a puppet serving the bosses and bankers. If the thread breaks, the bourgeoisie will find another person or another cabinet combination to make sure its policy is passed, which today means taking back everything workers have conquered in the past decades. The stakes are not so much to get Macron’s head on a spike but to stop the tidal wave crashing down on us.

Many resistances, but no real battle plan to bring them together

Nowhere is it written that this tidal wave cannot be stopped. The constant upheavals of our social camp shows this best. The mobilization of students and railroad workers, not even a year into Macron’s tenure, showed this last spring. The multitude of sectoral strikes, which happened with renewed vigor as soon as the summer was over, shows that far from the defeated stances, a significant number of workers decided not to be kept down.

What had revealed itself in the 2016 mobilization against the Labor Law reform is not extinct. This availability for struggle has been joined by exemplary struggles. They are exemplary because of their duration—that is to say, because of the determination of those who are waging them: the Hauts-de-Seine postal workers, on strike since March 26, the health-care workers of the Pinel hospital in Amiens or of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray’s hospital, who went on hunger strike to try and grab the ministry’s attention. Conflicts happen almost in a continuum in retail or luxury hotels, as in the Hyatt Palace in Paris, where the strikers face brutal repression from the bosses and the police.

In the education sector as well, dozens of schools have gone on strike for at least a day to protest cuts, to demand more funds and staff, or to keep staff who accompany handicapped children in school. The mobilization to register rejected students in Nanterre shows the possibilities of struggle in the universities against the consequences of the new “ParcourSup” selection process.

But the administration was able to maintain its heavy-duty counter-reform plan in spite of its unpopularity because, up until now, no unified bloc existed to face and stop it. Union leaderships made a clear choice: avoid disorder. The more that time passes, the more, to varying degrees, they take significant steps towards crisis co-management and away from the defense of the interests of youth and workers. All of them, with different levels of responsibility, collaborate in the same logic of denial of the level of conflict, either actively by putting forward a strategy of scattering the struggles, or by abstaining in giving any perspective to the existing struggles.

The amount of people at the Oct. 9 demonstrations showed that in spite of all of this “organized disorganization,” there is a willingness to struggle among workers, students, and retired workers. Inadequately prepared, without any—even far off-perspectives, and with union calls to action so void of content or, conversely, filled with too much content, that they encourage people to skip that day of demonstration to wait for “more serious” things, like the looming battle on pensions reform. However, this day was far from a failure! No credit for the success can be given to its organizers. To many workers and activists, that day actually appeared as the only opportunity, for many months and maybe until 2019, all together, nationwide, to take to the streets.

A possibility exists once again to bring the struggles together

In the end, the eruption of the “Yellow Jackets” movement decided otherwise: The possibility of a general strike is, at the beginning of December, a topic back on the table. The reversals of the situation are nothing to be surprised by if we think that we have indeed been for some years in a durable cycle of mobilization of our class, with its highs and lows, but with an important constant: the actuality of the strategical hypothesis of a general strike and of confrontation with the bourgeois state.

But at every step, we are confronted with quite variable parameters. The “cortège de tête,” a combative heterogenous bloc taking the head of the demonstrations against the Labor Law reform, the “Nuit Debout” movement of square occupations and assemblies, were in their own time “new elements” in the situation. The “Yellow Jackets” movement compels us to debate our intervention in light of this “new element.”

As a consequence, nuances, or even significant disagreements, arise in our organization and in the far left in general.

We cannot think of the “Yellow Jackets” movement as if it were a union—a movement with a bad leadership but one that we could bring back to the light by participating in it. It is not a coincidence that those who insisted that there was “no steam” were among the quickest to run after the “Yellow Jackets.”

Instead of wondering whether or not we should go to the “Yellow Jacket” demonstrations, we should ask ourselves: how can the mobilization of our social class, in particular taking the organized and combative sectors as a basis, impact the sectors that are attracted by the “Yellow Jackets?” By gathering forces and raising the issue of blocking the economy by using strike action, the workers’ movement can demonstrate its superiority as a social force compared to the “Yellow Jackets” mobilization.

To us, striking is not only a blockade of the economy, but also the possibility for workers to take control of their mobilization. That independent working-class mobilization is indeed what would enable a clarification of the demands, and chase away the reactionary elements that are trying to hijack the social anger. Without the independent mobilization of our class, we will not be able to form a social force significant enough to attract to us all the oppressed, stifled, broken-down elements of this society.

We oppose the idea that we could change that state of affairs from within the “Yellow Jackets,” working within it side by side with some of our enemies and a social class that is not our own. Such a policy is based on the will to gain leadership of the “Yellow Jackets”; we believe this is mistaken.

We need to have an impact on the “Yellow Jackets,” but not as individuals or a group of individuals, even with the world’s best leaflet. It needs to be done as a social force, standing up for the necessity to organize to defend our interests as youth and workers, and refusing to hide our class colors. That is why we insist that there will be no shortcuts, that we need to intervene in our places of work and study, in our neighborhoods, and try to drive those circles to strike, highlighting demands that, without contradicting the “Yellow Jackets’” demands, can be our class’s expression of that anger—raise wages and pensions, ban casual contracts, raise taxes on Total (the oil company), not the workers.

Attempts to block key sectors of the economy will also be needed. We will not gain back credibility in the eyes of those déclassé workers by throwing on yellow jackets but by demonstrating our ability to fight the state and the administration, with the tools of our class. Lastly, we have to keep on regrouping, regrouping, and regrouping again combative sectors and activists.

How will we be able to influence the “Yellow Jackets,” who are further away from us, if we are not able to mobilize ourselves and our closest environment, and broadly address all of our class?

As we write these lines …

Politicians on all sides are scrambling. Mélenchon is calling the opposition to unite around a vote of no confidence. Marine Le Pen, on her side, is calling for the dissolution of the National Assembly. As if, for all those years, we had not learned that nothing is ever to be expected from the bourgeois state’s institutions!

By contrast, the youth get it. Since Friday, Nov. 30, high school blockades have been happening all around the country against ParcourSup, against the new high school reform, against the shitty present and future that has been imposed on them. And they are met with unbelievable repression. A nationwide strike at all levels of education is urgently needed. Leaving high school students alone to fights for the demands of a whole sector, and alone to take the hit of state brutality, is unthinkable.

Indeed, if on the basis of the rebellious climate that has been expressed for the last three weeks by the “Yellow Jackets,” sectors of youth and the working class start to mobilize, our role is to encourage them again and again, but also to suggest and provide organs for regroupment and action that, far from being limited to roundabouts or the Champs-Elysées, paralyze the power of big and small capitalists and bosses.

We have a huge responsibility. On Tuesday, Dec. 4, 350 people gathered in Paris’ Bourse du Travail around this idea—putting a general strike on the agenda and discussing actions to block the economy. This is what we need to generalize!