Articles de La Guinguette - 2004 - mai - société

Titre Luttes: visages du mouvement ouvrier
Année 2004
Mois mai
Catégorie société
Traducteur Catherine Mills
Dernière mise à jour26 February 2010

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The Struggles: the face of the labour movement.

We are here today to renegotiate, for a fair negotiation with ASSEDIC. We are here today against the privatisation of social security.

For us the first of May is already profoundly significant and we will put our heart into as long as we can.

We are here today against the privatisation of EDF-GDF.

I come every year. I am 76 years old. I became an activist when I was 24 years old. And as you see, I continue.

And we are here today because the retired must renegotiate.

It is to commemorate the fight in 1886 of the workers in the United States (a bloody fight, but a victory for the 8 hour working day) that the first of May has been established as Labour Day. Today in France, as in many of the countries of the world, this Labour Day has become part of the culture of the country.

This holiday has entered into French tradition.....many strikes. With an average of 87 days a year for 1000 inhabitants, France is at the head of the European league table. Why? There are multiple explanations, the roots are ancient.

In Lyon the conflict is an ancient tradition, very ancient I would say, that it goes back in fact to the ancient regime and the first major, I would say, strike, which was a bit like today's strikes, that's to say which is an important movement, the stopping of machines to make demands for conditions of work, in short, took place in 1744.

Ann-Catherine Marin is the organiser of an exhibition of the labour movement which is taking place at the moment in Lyon. The town was an important for the silk industry and, in the 19th century two big strikes placed it on the map for the beginnings of the workers' movement.

...the one in 1831/1834 which stopped the weavers and which are called in Lyon the "Canuts", and these demonstrations were important, and moreover caused a number of deaths. They were mentioned, more than just mentioned, analysed by Karl Marx in the "Capital" which actually pinpointed that in 1831 there was a revolt by "Canuts" against the tariffs which was in fact against their salaries, as one of the first big revolts in Europe and was written about thus "it is in Lyon that the working class sounded the strike alarm bells."

Raffarin, listen to the anger in the streets of Lyon.

He must listen to it as far as Paris.

And today, it is in the air of the song of the partisans that the demonstrators chant their discontent with the government of the first minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin. Their causes are varied.

At the moment it is the social security in France. Then it is also about peace in the world. Without peace there is no social advance and so it is necessary today to fight for peace in the world.

Right now the group supporting the people without papers 69 is mobilised with the association of parents and pupils from a school in Bourg-en-Bresse to get two children of seven years and four and a half years old released from the detention centre Satolas. These two children and their Senegalese mother have been kept in the detention centre at Satolas for ten days, since 20th April. And we demand with all the school and with all the associations involved that they be freed and that the order to conduct the mother across the border be annulled. Knowing that the woman has been here for 6 years and the children were born in France and the father has been here for 20 years and has regular employment.

Ah well, we are against the Europe of today. We are against the investors of Europe, against the monopolies of Europe, we are for a social Europe. We want to have relationships with the Europeans to envisage with them profound transformations in society. It's not the case today, there is a development of capitalism in the European project, indeed in the world plan. And for us, as usual, it's a disadvantage for the workers and in that regard we want to be in the Union but in the Union for the social programme.

The workers movement developed in France above all in the conflicts which aimed to have the state as the ultimate holder of power.

Moreover there were employers who practised what could be called paternalism, and who had a well developed social policy, which admittedly was made perhaps to lock up the workers in their place of work, to stop them drinking, but even so there were some bosses who had a social policy and besides I would say a very rigorous application of the law, but only to make an evaluation of things in order to have.......so that there wasn't child labour, for the 8 hour day first of all, then that paid leave be accepted, that is, I would say, at the same time a general protest against the working conditions but it is also you understand a political protest. Through some protests there are people who go far beyond the question, I would say, of simple conditions of work, which are important but which are also the evolution of a society.

And the French governments are obliged to negotiate. Today, for example, everyone remembers the government of Juppe of 1995 which tried to confront unions and which endured a humiliating electoral defeat. And the relative social tranquillity that you see in England since Margaret Thatcher doesn't make the ranks of the French militants jealous:

Well, I say to the English they must look at their history and each time they have made social advances as well, they were also through protest marches and that today there are more social retreats in England than advances so they must watch out, our peaceful English friends in complete friendship. And as we say, "Good Luck". For the health of the English "Good Luck". OK. Good Luck.

But at the end of the day capitalism is making its way. Everyone knows that, don't you agree?

We see ourselves there, that's not an idle promise, but do you know that there are 10 millions poor people in France. 10 million poor people. 10 million people who live below the poverty line. That's really something. And that increases every day. I mean that we talk of, of...of the fact that there will be more social class, but the social classes still exist, the exploitation of capitalism is changing, not on the same basis, but in the same way it's always more money for the rich and less money for the poor people.

In the popular view of capitalism, the citizens are all shareholders and consumers as well as workers...

They are prisoners of that. The pension fund anyway is an initiative of employers. And the pensions funds, in any case when there is a society which collapses, we have seen it many times in the United States, well it is all their invested capital towards their retirement which goes. When all is said and done, in the final analysis, they have nothing. The have paid their subscriptions all their lives for nothing. Even if we defend the social security, (and the social security), it is the retired, it is health, it is all that we can have at the social level. And that we will defend to the end.

Raffarin, if you know how to, you reform, you reform,

Raffarin, if you know how to, you reform or we stand here...
No, no, no hesitation,
We have to demonstrate, we have to form unions - CGT.

Do we have to form unions? The irony is that in spite of her tradition for conflict, France has far fewer unions that the other countries of Europe. But if the organisation doesn't go through a necessary building of cohesion, Madame Marin explains to us that during the first strikes of Canuts, it went very differently in reality:

So, really we think that there were some movements which were not organised, but in fact these movements, really had, I think, a kind of powerlessness which was sparked off, in fact, the continuation of the movements and so they had to be organised. In fact they were organised but not by the unions because at the beginning of the 19th century trade unionism didn't exist because the workers were forbidden to join, but in fact there were societies which were mutual support societies which at this time were formed from the beginning of the 19th century, they were the only, I would say, associations which were authorised, which really opened (the way) for everything we have known since, that's to say, health insurance, we could say, if you want to use contemporary language, we would say, health insurance, the problems of retirement, all the social security, but which also took on the defence of workers including violent confrontations. So, in fact, the strikes were not just spontaneous and sporadic they were also organised.

The fact that the Canut rebellion had strongly influenced the people's minds resulted, without doubt, that in Lyon they had massive participation in the big fight to win changes to social laws, for example, and I think also there were but it is difficult to show, there were also in inverted commas, a particular training that's to say, I am going to say, the older protesters trained the younger, so that at the time of the big social conflicts, in particular for the May Days which were the actions for very important demands or for the strikes of 36, or for after, for the big strikes at the beginning of the glorious thirties there were large numbers of people in the streets.

Even if the tradition of conflict endures more in France than in other countries, in spite of everything it isn't the mass movement of previous times. For the former protesters the principle factor of the decline is obvious:

More than anything it is the problem of employment. I think that has a big influence on the population.

There is also the decline in industries which needed a large collective work force, like the coal mines, of which the last has just closed in Alsace. But is there also something changing in the mind of our society?

It's true that at this very moment in France there is a crisis, I think, of militancy and more widely this is a crisis, I would say, of the defence of the team. It is true that individualism is something very strong, but which exists also in other countries. We are just now in a... in a habit, if you like, of teams which has strictly nothing indeed (to do) with that which existed before the second world war and even during the glorious thirties.

You mustn't miss the exhibition "Luttes" if you come to Lyon this spring. A lovely collection of posters and documents which allow us to reflect upon the nature of our society today and on its relationship to previous generations.

At the moment when there are a number of important social laws being challenged, which are discussed, it is interesting to show through some of the documents which can sometimes be a little bit trivial has been the conflict of men and women which has made the Lyon region what it is today. We have, among the public who come to visit, some militants, that's to say really true militants, I think, there is a public we usually have, which we always have, students, teachers, many and various amateurs, people who are interested in the subject and it's true that there is an aspect, they tell me, there is a very moving aspect to see the little documents, when I say trivial, but for example the posters that the "Canuts" recopied because they didn't print their posters, they didn't have the means, they recopied with spelling mistakes and which were put on the walls of the houses of the Red Cross.

Is the idea of social conflict itself also destined for the archives eventually. Some think it, but nothing is less certain...

Stop breaking the solidarity in the country. The wealth of the country is us. Nothing is theirs, everything is ours...

They want to make believe that the hooligans are the representatives of the salaried employees, but we are the only businesses where it is the employees who manage. We are the only businesses where the salaried employees can really go away on holiday, them and their children. What do they promise us for a country?

Conflicts: faces of the workers movement from the municipal archives of Lyon until 5th June.

$Id: 2004_05_soc.htm 4 2010-02-03 20:03:32Z alistair $


With questions or for more information, please contact Alistair Mills (alistair.mills@btinternet.com)
Updated 26 February 2010

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