Could a spectre be haunting Europe once again? As we go to press millions of public sector workers in France — including teachers, civil servants, air traffic controllers, hospital workers and rail workers — are striking and marching together in protest at President Emmanuel Macron’s proposed “reforms” (read: pay freezes, job cuts and wholesale attacks on conditions).
This one-day action is set to be followed by three months of strikes by rail workers, who plan to strike for two days out of every five from 3 April to 28 June.
Worried rail bosses and government ministers are recalling the huge strikes of 1995, which brought France to a standstill and forced the then prime minister Alain Juppé to back down on his plan to “modernise” the public sector.
The other comparison being made is with Thatcher taking on the miners. Let us hope the rail workers win a better outcome.
This comes as university workers in Britain in the UCU union are debating where to take their strike next, following 14 remarkable days of action in February and March.
The interviews with UCU activists in this month’s Socialist Review convey a sense of the transformative experience of sustained action, which led to the crucial moment when rank and file workers forced the UCU leadership to reject a deal reached through negotiations.
One element of the university dispute is the support strikers have received from students, with several universities seeing student occupations in support of strikers’ demands.
This recalls another spectre — that of May 1968. Then students occupied the universities while millions of workers struck throughout France, at a time when anti-war and civil rights movements were erupting across the globe.
Today the ripple of workers’ struggles we are witnessing coincides with political struggles, such as the continuing school student protests in the US, or the tens of thousands taking to the streets of Rio de Janeiro in protest at the killing of socialist activist Marielle Franco.
Could we be heading into May 2018 with echoes of revolt reverberating around the globe?
At the very least might we see the Tories wiped out in London in the local elections, thousands marching with the TUC on 12 May and lecturers back out on strike, this time to a decisive win?