By Jim Genova
On 19 March 2009 millions of French workers led by the Confederation Generale du Travail (CGT) went on strike to protest President Nicholas Sarkozy's handling of the global financial crisis in France. According to the Agence France Presse (AFP), marches of workers were expected in over 200 cities with the largest slated for the capital, Paris. In fact, the expected number of protesters in Paris has forced the police to open two march routes instead of the customary one. In January more than 2 million French workers poured into the streets to protest Sarkozy's attempt to deal with the economic crisis by bailing out large corporations. Those protests forced the government to introduce an extensive stimulus plan centered on "a package of social benefits worth 2.6 billion euros."
In the current demonstrations the CGT, other labor federations, and the parties of the left are demanding that the government "hike the minimum wage, increase taxes on the rich and scrap plans to cut public sector jobs." According to the AFP a recent poll found 78 percent of the French population in support of the strike action. "This is not just a day of protest," said Francois Chereque of the powerful CFDT union. "We have made hard proposals, and the government has to give us some serious answers. We no longer understand the government's policies or its goals," he told RMC radio, while Bernard Thibault of the biggest union, the CGT, warned "the government is going to have to agree to new talks."
According to French media reports, the victorious six week strike of workers on Guadeloupe has emboldened workers in France. On the Caribbean island, workers fought valiantly for big wage increases, extension of social benefits, job preservation, and advanced the fight for independence. Despite more than 1,000 special police ferried to the island by Paris to suppress the movement, the workers held out. Finally, the government recognized its untenable position (after the police murder of a Guadeloupean worker on the barricades) and agreed to settle with the unions. The emerging solidarity between workers in France and those in its "Overseas Departments" is a potent demonstration of not only the global reach of the economic crisis, but the attendant emerging consciousness of the common interests shared by workers around the world.
Today's demonstrations and strikes across France are the latest in a string of popular actions confronting inept governments around the world that are bent on propping up those capitalists in the financial sector who have created a global Ponzi scheme that has crashed to the ground in the past two years, taking with it the jobs and livelihoods of millions of workers. Demonstrations have paralyzed or led to the fall of governments in Iceland, Latvia, and Estonia. Protests have spread across Europe (France, Italy, Spain), Asia (Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines), Latin America (Argentina and Peru), and in the U.S.
There is mounting pressure on governments around the world to abandon their strategies of pumping trillions of public sector dollars into failed financial institutions so that they can continue paying bonuses and exorbitant salaries to executives. Instead, workers and progressive forces everywhere are united in calling for real economic stimulus (actual money used to employ people in productive work), an end to tax breaks for the rich, recovery of money looted from public treasuries, nationalization of banks and other essential industries, and extension of social benefits to protect workers from the fallout emanating from the greed of those in the financial sector who have plundered the pension plans of millions of workers for their personal profit. As the crisis spreads and deepens, the protest movement it likely to grow and add to the global momentum for meaningful structural change to the world economy.