France: Thursday, 29 January — A Red Letter Day


The mobilization for the day of action on Thursday promises to be impressive, with the unions’ call for refusal to pay for the crisis.  On Thursday, France will confront the crisis, perhaps with anxiety, no doubt with anger, but also with ideas.

Ooh la la!  It’s hard to row against the current.  Budget Minister Éric Woerth, embarking on France Inter’s morning show yesterday, had a taste of how devilishly difficult it is.  How indeed can anyone hope to convince the majority that they are on the wrong track, given their opinion about the day of strikes and demonstrations tomorrow on Thursday in response to the call of the unions that signed a joint appeal, which is a major event?  “In my opinion,” he said, “there are other ways to get heard today than take to the streets in an old-fashioned way, as people have done for thirty or forty years in France, with the same all-purpose banners and slogans.”

Who cares about the opinion of Éric Woerth, which is deceptively naïve and affects the air of common sense?  In fact, the minister tried just about everything without convincing anyone: the storm in the southwest to cynically divert attention from the rising wind; and the call for unity of the French in taking measures against the crisis, with a contemptuous suggestion that “they get a move on already,” which he must have blurted out.  In the end he brought out the expected sledgehammer argument about “the crisis”: the strike is not suitable in the crisis.

Views of the 29 January Movement, Divided by Party PreferenceBut therein lies the problem facing the government.  Yesterday, a new poll by the BVA Institute showed, like the previous CSA and IFOP surveys on Sunday, that more than two thirds of the French supported this day of action.  And among those in favor of it are 54% of the supporters of the Right, according to BVA, which is not trivial all the same.  It’s a completely new element.  The French are not only not ignoring the crisis, but most of them are thinking that they shouldn’t be the ones to bear the brunt of it and pay the price for it.  And undoubtedly many of them, echoing the joint statement of the trade unions, believe that there are other solutions than throwing money into the ever-draining Danaides’ barrels that are the banks, which only helps pay dividends to those who thirst for profit without risk.

What we’ll hear tomorrow in hundreds of cities won’t be old slogans, but the echo of strong, coherent proposals for employment, purchasing power, reduction of inequality, consumption-led economic recovery, public housing, and investment.  Tomorrow, France will confront the crisis, perhaps with anxiety, no doubt with anger, but also with ideas.  Yes, ideas, which become “a material force when they seize the masses.”  And yes, France is getting a move on, but not in the way that the minister wants it to in his “opinion”. . . .

Nicolas Sarkozy, who now has to fear a massive social movement, is surely of the “opinion” that it isn’t very opportune to clash with the movement head-on.   On Tuesday in Châteauroux, during an improvised trip, having judged the situation serious enough to cancel a previously scheduled tour of Africa, he announced sham measures for employment, and he sought to sound firm and calm, describing it as “normal” and “healthy” that people protest and there are debates, while asserting once more that he was elected to find solutions.

Very well.  So where are they — those solutions?  It’s precisely because they don’t see them that the French are in the process of inventing others, together with their unions and the Left, as evidenced by the statement signed by ten organizations, including the French Communist Party (PCF), the Party of the Left, and the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA).  The president has no solutions, because the real solutions go against the interests he protects and serves and the capitalist system he defends tooth and nail, the system for which, as he also reiterated yesterday, he intends to pursue his “reform.”  Meanwhile, the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) is concerned about the “abuse” of the right to strike.  Watch out.

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Bernard Thibault, CGT Secretary General, Responds to CGT Members about the Day of Action on 29 January

CGT Map of Manifs

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The original article “Jeudi 29 janvier, un jour à marquer d’une pierre blanche” was published by L’Humanité on 27 January 2009.  Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi (@yoshiefuruhashi | yoshie.furuhashi [at]