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Socialist Democracy May 2006


Socialist Democracy

May 2006


By Robert Bechert, CWI, writing from France

Just over a week after signing the CPE into law, the conservative French President, Chirac was forced to abandon the CPE on April 10 by the mass opposition of workers and young people. Faced with the prospect of a major political crisis and the possibility of a general strike Chirac backed down.

Over two months of mass protests and strikes have undermined both Chirac and his government. On two successive Tuesdays, around three million youth and workers from both the public and private sectors demonstrated against the law and the government. The government's initial refusal to back down provoked a wide discussion about the necessity of a general strike.

Both in France and internationally, this retreat is rightly seen as a major setback for the bosses' continuing neo-liberal offensive to cut working peoples' living standards. However Chirac has only partially retreated. The CPE meant that all workers under the age of 26 could be sacked, without warning or reason, at any time during their first 24 months. The CNE, a law passed last year, lays down exactly the same conditions for all workers in workplaces with less than 20 employees and this is still in force.

The trade union leaders have declared that Chirac's retreat is a big victory, but they are not utilizing this opportunity to generally push forward with other demands. The French government is in disarray and deeply split, now is the time to go onto the offensive both against the CNE and other neo-liberal measures and to demand proper, well paid jobs for young people and the unemployed. However, the union leaders want to demobilize the movement and ultimately redirect it towards supporting the opposition in next year's elections. A chance to create a wider movement against both Chirac and capitalism in general is being thrown away.

But whether the trade union leaders can prevent further struggles erupting in the next 12 months is a different question. The huge majority support for the anti-CPE protests illustrated the profound anger in France and the opposition to the attacks of the ruling class. The combination of this victory over the CPE and many workers' bitter experience of the pro-capitalist policies of the so-called "Socialist"/"Communist: government that was defeated in 2002 could mean that new battles could break out in the coming months as sections of the working class and youth decide not to wait until 2007.

Since the end of January, a new young generation in France has participated in struggle for the first time and now has won a first victory. While there is a growing likelihood that a "Socialist" president will be elected next year, it will be more on the basis of voting for the "lesser evil" than any real expectation of fundamental change. Against this background, many have already begun to question the entire system and as they start to draw socialist conclusions, can help in creating a movement that can end capitalism once and for all.



Socialist Democracy May 2006