FRANCE: Concerning the RATP Strike

The following is an unofficial translation of an article from French revolutionary newspaper La Cause du Peuple titled “Sur la grève de la RATP.”

Translation by Kate LaBelle

Workers from the Régie autonome des transports Parisiens (RATP), the Parisian transportation network, were among the most combative during the December and January strike against pension reforms. Every day for over a month, thousands of them, even more during the biggest days, went on strike, losing their wages in order to defend our rights.

The movement within the RATP began well before December 5, when Parisian transportation workers began a massive but isolated strike, on September 13, 2019. Workers from the RATP, followed by those from the Confédération générale du travail (CGT), the Force ouvrière (FO), the Fédération syndicale unitaire, and Solidaires, various unions, called for a day of mobilization, and for a renewed general strike on December 5, to give themselves time and to avoid again being the only ones to go on strike.

Over several months, the most mobilized among the workers convinced their colleagues one by one to go on strike, even if most of them, especially among the younger workers, for whom it was the first strike, were very motivated and were only awaiting an attack from the bourgeoisie to respond.

On the day of action, almost all buses and metros went out of service, and the demonstrations united more than one million people. In the weeks that followed, the mobilization continued, and hundreds of people came every day to support the strikers and block the bus depots, something the RATP workers could not do without losing their jobs. The losses that the strike and blockages inflicted upon the bourgeoisie were estimated at 400 million euros for about a month and a half!

Obviously, this is not without sacrifice; dozens of strikers have gone before disciplinary committees, others are in progress, and even if the strike is over, the mobilized RATP workers have been present in large numbers during these assemblies to support their colleagues. But they don’t only risk internal repercussions: in front of the blocked depots, and principally in the suburbs, the police arrived to break up the blockades, often violently, and arrest the strikers and their supporters, of whom some will be tried soon. The police did not hesitate to fulfill their role as the bourgeoisie’s guard dog, by using all their arms on the demonstrators: batons, tear gas, grenades, flashballs…

Unfortunately, despite the heroism of the RATP workers, the strike has ended, due to a certain number of problems and errors in the mobilization. To begin, the proletariat was not united in this mobilization, and it fell into the classic error of division by sector, in which certain groups began to mobilize when others were exhausted: RATP workers, rail workers, sanitation workers… Some even throw in sectors of the Gilets Jaunes in this list. This division comes from the syndicalist tradition in France, which confines struggles to the economic terrain, and therefore separates the proletariat by the sector in which it works.

This suits the unions well, who also participated in the defeat of the movement by calling first for days of action spaced out one from another, which caused the decline of the mobilization in the usual pattern of strikes. Yet, the strikers were ready to engage in blockages and demonstrations, at times without waiting for the authorization from the central command, for example, during the strike of December 28, organized on a Saturday by the Yellow Vests at the base of the movement, who refused to wait more than three weeks between the day of mobilization (December 17) and the next, being January 9.

Later in the movement, while many strikers began to tire, and when the rank and file was preparing for a day of mobilization on January 15, the union directives imposed two others: the 14th and 16th of January, even though it was already too late to notify people of the strike! This demonstrates well the degree of disconnection between the centralized unions and the workers whom they are supposed to represent!

Finally, the strike is not enough: numerous workers, especially in the private sector, could not strike because they risk being fired, or to not be able to find work at the end of their contracts. Moreover, many people do not have any work, and can therefore not stop working. Those who cannot strike can still support the mobilization by participating in actions or by giving donations, but this is not enough! We cannot permit ourselves to stay in a supportive position, we cannot permit ourselves to struggle for the retraction of this or that reform while the masses are still the most oppressed by the bourgeoisie! We must go further, the pension reform is inscribed in a capitalist system that we must slaughter with revolution!