France: a general strike waiting to happen

December 6th marked the beginning of a general strike in france against proposed reforms to the national pension schemes for different categories of workers. The “reforms” are the typical State driven “neoliberal” cuts in the value of the pensions, extension of the working age to 64 from 62, both a consequence of the desire to unify the different pension schemes (structured by collective contracts for different types of work) into a universal or general public pension programme.

Called by the country’s major union centrals, the strike has held, but essentially in the “public sector”: transportation, health, education, etc. Marked by demonstrations and protest marches, the strike, as a general strike, is nevertheless curious for its inability to paralyse the country’s economic activity. If things are slowed, if there are inconveniences of mobility, the overall affair continues to function. With more and more workers not covered by collective labour contracts, with the base of labour unions concentrated in public-state workers and with the inability to extend the strike to all “reproductive” labour – to all of the work which sustains social relations -, the strike risks falling into a merely defensive gesture of too little too late.

December 5 strike protests in france

One is tempted to call for a strike against the strike, that is, a strike against the ways in which strikes are carried through, to radicalise them, to render them rebellious, wild. And yet, with each daily protest, the rebelliousness lurks just beneath the surface.

From the lundi matin collective, reflections on a strike still frightened of itself …

A strange time/weather

A weather report on the current strike

lundi matin #221 (16/12/2019)

The great strike of December, which was announced before it happened … as a historic moment, has begun. It is here, massive, unlimited, followed, even the CFDT joined it recently.

However, not surprisingly, there is no general shutdown of the machine, no spontaneous gathering of Parisians finally freed from work, no barricades at Saint-Michel. There is just a sullen weather and mood, automatic metros, flashing yellow traffic lights everywhere, delivery employees and electric scooters.

There is no stopping of time, no popular uprising, no December 1 or 8, 2018, when the government sought to flee by helicopter. Nor did the strike begin loudly, to fall into silence after a few days; instead, there is a diffuse, strange feeling. As if we couldn’t get into it, as if we no longer believed in Santa Claus.

In this dissolving atmosphere all heroic speech seems to have to end in chatter … .

So, we believe in it or we don’t believe in it, that’s not the question. Because thousands of little machines are at work. If the big speeches in the official General Assembly do not take hold, there is not a cafe or a kebab where there is no talk of the strike and where the tone rises.

In neighborhood Assemblies, in discreet corridors, resistance is organised, links are forged. Speech is not lost in revolutionary lyricism, folklore is unlearned. The balance of power remains, in the morning at blockage and in the evening in the wild. We knock, we run away. The end of the revolt, it is the end of heroes and martyrs.

Hence this diffuse, sullen feeling: neither sad nor happy, sobered up. Joy will come from victories and sadness from defeats.

Furio Jesi distinguishes between revolt and revolution, which cut across two different times. Revolt is not an aborted revolution. Revolt is the time of myth, a time that bursts in, that breaks historical causality. “Any revolt can be described as a suspension of historical time […]. The majority of those who participate in a revolt choose to engage their own individuality in an action of which they can neither know nor foresee the consequences.”

The revolutionary parties or any structured organisation are thus incapable of taking part in the revolt and even less of directing it because their actions are part of the long time, of causal time, where each act is taken in the game of means and ends. Each action has a purpose and a certain effectiveness. Revolt suspends this machine of means and ends, this mechanical calculation of the movements of revolutionaries and the reactions of the adversary. We throw ourselves headlong into the revolt. We go there with method and patience in the revolution.

The revolution “correctly designates a whole complex of actions […] carried out by those who are conscious of wanting to change in historical time a political, social, economic situation and elaborate their tactical and strategic plans by constantly considering in historical time the cause and effect relationships, in the longest possible perspective”.

No mass revolt or French-style Honk-Kong “be water” that would have been transposed by the magic of propaganda. For the moment, it’s raining. Because that’s what water is too: the drops fall from the sky (from work, normal and bourgeois times) and form puddles, swamps, stagnant water holes (unions or parties) or return to the earth (the neighborhood, the roundabout). Then comes the melting of the ice (the strike, a social movement, a revolt), the water flows from the hills into streams (collective departures) joins streams which become rivers (demonstrations) which should throw themselves into the oceans (the revolutions ). Then evaporate to become again drop, flake, hail, to fall on the faces of the cops. For the moment there are rivers, dammed up by General Assemblies, which flow indefinitely, without becoming sea, without evaporating, the drought threatens the water tables and the torrents dry up.

Let the demonstrations evaporate and dissolve the new old left, let us find again the water cycle. Please comrades, no more grandiloquence where everyone wants to the reds in yellow vests or make the yellow vests blush red. Once and for all: these are the acts that form ideas, there will be no cordial understanding and contractual arrangement. Let’s knock down the constituent assemblies and their convergence of flutes, too bad for the superb indisputable and scientific schema of P “C” F.

Upon reflection, perhaps it is not so bad this greyness in our heads, this “creeping” strike, like the long Italian May of 68. Entering a historical time is less a celebration, but it gets rid of the mythical and the sacrifice.

The yellow vests were this burst of revolt. Labour unions and organisations lagged behind, helpless and stupid. The yellow vests managed to suspend time, but unlike other revolts, the revolt of the yellow vests is a spectral and discontinuous revolt. The yellow vests hovered over France for a year, and continue to accompany us, sometimes arising unexpectedly as in March, or slowly channeled by State power, like the demonstrations of this summer. The yellow vests were the opening “by crowbar” of revolutionary possibilities.

For the movement, beginning from the strike of December 5, it is a question of starting from this revolt, from this opening of possibilities. Be careful, comrades, let’s not be mistaken, we are not in a revolt. It is clear that the political moment present with the organisations in the maneuver (CFDT, CGT, SUD …) is rewritten in historical time. But it is equally certain that the revolt of the yellow vests had effects of dissolution on these same organisations and their temporality. It is a strange moment when the unions are at the back of protest demonstrations and yet those who impose their agenda. To start from the revolt, while knowing that we are no longer there, here is the path before us.

We found strength in neighborhood assemblies; let us find places to keep us warm and guard our strength, we have to survive Christmas. That is to say, let us not to give gifts. We have understood with more than a year of the yellow vests (necessary and magnificent) the pleasure of offering your strength, it’s the joy of being beaten.

Long live the assemblies of revolutionary actions

Me, I like the strike very much

A poem

lundi matin #221 (16/12/2019)

me I like the strike very much
because instead of hurrying – I have to take my time.

me I’m an artist with RSA – this is my early retirement
so the strike, me, I know what it is.

me I like the strike very much
because instead of regularly scheduled shows, there’s music
just music.

me the strike I will live it our well
because after all she is like me.

me I like the strike very much
because it is an excuse to hang around
it is the general resignation
and in the city she points a finger
our bodies that are too tired
to not stay together
and depend on carriers

me I like the strike because everyone sleeps
I like the strike because it handicaps the city

I like the strike because I stay 4 hours in the bus
to feel all the smells
and I have time to look at the city
like an old movie that goes by

me I like the strike very much because it forces me to take the time the time to look at the moon
in the pink winter evening sky
I like the strike very much
it allows me to be the author of my slowness
it allows me to not take my phone
it allows me to disappear

the transport strike in Paris, is snow on the French Riviera
the general defeat

and defeat, me I am the festival

… in the original french

moi la grève je l’aime bien
parce qu’au lieu de me dépêcher — je suis obligée
d’prendre mon temps.

moi j’suis artiste au RSA — c’est ma retraite anticipée
alors la grève moi je connais.

moi la grève je l’aime bien
parce qu’à la place des émissions, y’a la musique
tout simplement de la musique.

moi la grève je la crèverai bien
parce qu’après tout elle me ressemble.

moi la grève je l’aime bien
parce qu’elle est prétexte à traîner
c’est la démission générale
et dans la ville elle pointe du doigt
nos corps qui sont trop fatigués
pour pas restés agglutinés
et dépendants des transporteurs

moi j’aime la grève car tout l’monde zone
j’aime bien la grève parce que ça handicape la ville

j’aime bien la grève parce que je reste 4 heures dans l’bus
à sentir toutes les odeurs
et j’ai le temps de regarder la ville
comme un vieux film qui défile

moi la grève je l’aime bien parce qu’elle m’oblige à prendre le temps
le temps de regarder la lune
dans le ciel rose du soir d’hiver
j’aime bien la grève
elle m’autorise à être auteure de ma lenteur
elle m’autorise à ne pas prendre mon téléphone
elle me permet de disparaître

la grève des transports à Paris, c’est la neige sur la côte d’Azur
la défaite généralisée

et la défaite, moi c’est la fête

Leïla Chaix

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