Macron may believe his dominance of parliament means he does not need to compromise over his pension reforms. But on the streets of Paris on Friday 24 January, workers had other ideas. Photos, video and text by Kleanthis Antoniou.
It’s a cold morning in Paris. You can tell it’s strike day because of the number of people going around by foot or by bike (or by ‘scooter’).
But that’s nothing new for Parisians. Until last week, the strike on the metro had been going on for 45 continuous days, breaking the record set in May ‘68.
Last week, the metro strike was paused so the workers could ‘catch their breath and charge their batteries’, but they were out again on Friday 24 January, the day of the general strike.
It’s early in the morning and the Place de la République is starting to fill with people. You can see the accumulated experience of the people preparing for the strike: everything seems extremely well organised and timed to work as smoothly as possible. The unions have prepared the vehicles that will carry the placards and speakers. There are several stalls with young agitators, eager to discuss any questions I have on the problems of the international communist movement. Most importantly, people are just happy. You can see the smiles and the impatience to take part in another demo.
Unions representing transport workers within Paris (RATP) and France’s national rail (SNCF) seem to have the most say in this struggle, and you can clearly see their logo around. The strike has also spread among teachers: the pension reform concerns them directly. However, it is the workers in the transport unions that have been striking most consistently.
The march took around three hours covering a distance of three miles. The pace was slow because of the massive crowd: around 400,000 took part, with the last leaving the start point at 3 pm, while the first had left at noon. The size of the crowd was exhilarating and the mood was lively, with lots of great slogans and good humour. Many of those participating did not fall into the category of the usual suspects, and all around the expressions of discontent took on unusual forms.
Of all the previous moments of struggle in France that I have witnessed (2005, 2010, 2016, 2018), this has been the most political. It’s not just the desire of the unions to block a plan of reform. It’s the mass resistance to a neoliberal golden boy who wants to make his agenda the new kind of politics. I have never seen this level of polarization. It’s been the media vs. the unions. Macron believes he can be ruthless against everybody, since he has no parliamentary political opponent capable to challenge his politics. But maybe his most competent opponents are not interested in the parliamentary route at all.
A model motion of solidarity with the strikers for trade union branches can be found here.