Macron Gambles on Undermining French Strikes with Concessions to Moderate Unions

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As the longest transport strike in French history draws to a close, President Emmanuel Macron is attempting to defuse the protest movement with concessions to the more moderate labor unions. However, one large confederation, the socialist CGT, has pledged to stay in the streets, which is where real victories are won, a labor leader told Sputnik.

Steve Hedley, the senior assistant general secretary of the UK’s Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union, told Radio Sputnik’s Loud and Clear on Tuesday that despite Macron’s electoral popularity and strength in the French parliament, militant labor unions and street protests have still been able to force an otherwise-intransigent government to move on issues affecting every French citizens.

According to Le Parisien, the General Confederation of Labor (CGT) union, which is one of the five major French confederations of trade unions, cut power to thousands of people in 11 suburbs south of Paris on Tuesday. In a statement to AP, Franck Juanno, the local leader of the CGT, called the power cut “symbolic.”

“It made a buzz, and that’s what everyone wants,” Juanno added. The CGT has continued its attempt to block Macron’s pension overhaul plan. 

​French citizens have been rising up in protest for nearly two months against Macron’s proposed reforms, which they believe would require them to retire later or result in reduced payouts. The proposal suggests combining 42 public pension schemes into one national system.

The strikes began on December 5 of last year, when 30 French unions united to paralyze the country’s transport and tourism infrastructure. On Monday, the National Union of Autonomous Unions returned to work and 11 out of Paris’ 16 metro lines resumed service. According to a report by the Guardian, around 85% of the state-owned SNCF trains have resumed normal service. 

Protesters have faced widespread violence from police just as previous protests by the Yellow Vests movement saw tear gas, rubber bullets, and police batons flying liberally at crowds of demonstrators.

​Earlier this month, the Macron government agreed to some concessions to unions, such as withdrawing a proposal that would have set incentives to convince employees to retire two years after the legal retirement age. While the moderate French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFTD) trade union has said that unions should attempt to negotiate with the administration on the pension proposals, the CGT continues to take a more aggressive approach.

Julien Denormandie, France’s city and housing minister, called CGT’s actions “scandalous” and “irresponsible,” adding that the unions “must stop these actions that degrade the climate of social dialogue.”

“I think that what the government has done is made some concessions in the hope of buying off some of the more moderate unions,” Hedley said, noting that the most militant French unions are part of the socialist-led CGT, “which has got a great say on the railways and the transport industry in general,” Hedley told Loud & Clear hosts John Kiriakou and Brian Becker on Tuesday. 

The labor leader noted that French labor confederations come in many different stripes, from moderate to radical leftist. “One of them is a kind of Catholic federation, the centrist federation. They are not socialists, and they are the ones that usually don’t go on strike at all,” he noted.

“This what Macron is putting his money on … on these people doing what they’ve always done, which is as soon as they get a concession, they try to pull their workers away from a strike, and Macron’s thinking that’s going to undermine the strike in general and he will be able to get some of his reforms through,” Hedley added. 

“No matter what happens, he hasn’t gotten his reforms or pensions the way he wanted it …. He hasn’t been able to get major planks of this program through, and that’s a lesson to workers everywhere that if they do take to the streets and they do take strike action, they can win concessions from governments that even on the face of it have massive majorities in parliament,” Hedley continued, also noting that despite the fact that many demonstrators have been “badly injured” in the protests, “very rarely do we hear about the police repression” in France.

Macron’s presidency has been marked by protests.

The wave of so-called “Gilets Jaunes,” or Yellow Vests, rallies, which have been marked by violence, clashes with law enforcement agents and public disorder, started in France in mid-November 2018 in response to Macron’s proposal to raise fuel taxes. Although Macron eventually discarded his fuel tax plan, protesters – dissatisfied with the government’s social policies – have continued to rally across France for months, calling for increases to salaries, pensions, social security payments and the minimum wage, with some even demanding Macron’s resignation.

The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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