French government threatens to crush strikes as Euro 2016 football cup starts

By Alex Lantier
11 June 2016

President François Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls made unprecedented threats to crush ongoing strikes against the Socialist Party’s (PS) unpopular and regressive labor law in the run-up to yesterday’s opening of the Euro 2016 football cup, amid a massive security operation.

Some drivers of the B and D express regional network (RER) lines, which offer service to the Stade de France, were on strike yesterday. Only half of trains on these lines were circulating earlier in the day, leading to delays for fans headed to the stadium, as well as for local commuters. Initial press reports indicated, however, that train service was back closer to normal in time to transport fans to the opening France-Romania game.

Both Hollande and Valls alluded to the possibility of requisitioning striking train drivers—that is, forcibly compelling them to work through a state order under threat of heavy legal penalties—to ensure that train lines taking fans to the Stade de France continued to operate.

“As a matter of principle, I exclude no hypothesis,” said Valls. “What I want is that actions be taken so that the 80,000 spectators can go to the stadium under the best conditions of comfort and safety.”

While Hollande declared that “for the moment,” he did not plan on requisitioning strikers, he made clear that the PS government was prepared to do so. He said, “If the state is called upon to do its duty, it will take all necessary measures to greet and transport people, so that the games can take place with the best possible security.”

Despite Hollande’s attempts to present the threat of state intervention to forcibly crush strikes as a hypothetical future, the PS is in fact already mobilizing the security forces to attack strikers yet again, after its earlier attack on pickets blockading oil facilities at Fos, near Marseille.

Yesterday, after police intervened to crush pickets blockading two garbage truck garages in the Paris suburb of Ivry-sur-Seine, PS mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo boasted that garbage was again being picked up in the city. “Already [Thursday] evening, we were able to get about fifty more trucks to go out and do normal garbage pick-up and start gathering the backlog,” she said. “On [Friday] morning, we have thirty more trucks in Paris.”

In the face of escalating repression and threats from the PS government, strikers also face being isolated and publicly criticized by the union bureaucracies. Under conditions where a minority of rail workers, variously estimated at 10 to 30 percent, are still on strike, the unions are trying to wind down the strike, prevent an entry into struggle of broader layers of workers hostile to the PS, and block a political struggle of the working class to bring down the PS government.

With varying degrees of explicitness, they are promoting the perspective of obtaining minor modifications to the law, negotiated with the PS, to justify ending the strike.

Striking train drivers were the target of an explicit attack from Philippe Martinez, the general secretary of the Stalinist General Confederation of Labor (CGT), the largest union in the rail sector. “I am not sure that blocking fans from going to the games is the best image one could give of the CGT,” Martinez declared, adding that the CGT “wants the Euro cup to take place as a real popular festival in the stadiums and fan zones.”

Yesterday, Labor Minister Myriam El Khomri, who presented the law to the legislature and has given her name to the law, announced that she would invite Martinez for talks, in an attempt to stop blockades by strike pickets across the country. This came after Martinez confirmed on public television that he was in “secret” back-channel talks with Valls, and refused to state what was being discussed.

For its part, the Solidarity Unity Democracy (SUD) union, close to the petty-bourgeois New Anti-capitalist Party, issued a warning to the PS that it should not launch a crackdown on strikers, for fear of an uncontrolled reaction from broader layers of workers, as after the crackdown at Fos.

“In any case,” it wrote, “if the government out of desperation decided to go down this road, it would have to take responsibility for the consequences of strongly pressuring the agents who carry out security duties. Such violence would not fail to produce a reaction of the rail workers.”

Martinez’s comments point to the dead end of an attempt to struggle against the labor law and the PS government, which has behind it the support of the entire European Union, through the union bureaucracies and allied pseudo-left parties. These organizations, which called for the election of Hollande in 2012 and support the PS government, are not only incapable of but frankly hostile to mobilizing the overwhelming opposition that exists to the law in the working class.

The Euro cup should not serve as a pretext for winding down strike action against a PS attempt to turn workers’ living standards and working conditions back decades. It has to be taken as an imperative warning that the struggle has to be taken out of the hands of the trade union bureaucracies, mobilizing broader layers of the working class in France and internationally in a political struggle. This will inevitably bring the workers into conflict with the escalating security build-up launched by the French government, in line with governments across Europe.

Security operations for the Euro 2016 cup began yesterday under the terms of the state of emergency launched by the PS after the November 13 terror attacks in Paris. They involved a mobilization of 100,000 people in cities across France—including 42,000 police, over 30,000 paramilitary forces and gendarmes, 5,000 firemen and related civil security officials, 10,000 soldiers, and 13,000 private security guards.

Yesterday, a last-minute deployment of an extra 3,000 gendarmes was announced in Paris, where numerous convoys of CRS riot police vans streaked across the downtown. Vast security operations are being set up around game sites, with searches of cars arriving in parking lots, and fans passing through multiple security checks before arriving in stadiums.

The use of security forces mobilized in the context of this vast deployment to threaten to crush strikes points to the political issues involved in the PS’ decision to impose the state of emergency. The state of emergency is not primarily a measure against terrorism carried out by Islamist networks, which are in fact mostly well known to state forces due to their role as proxies used by the NATO powers, including France itself, in wars in Syria and Libya.

While these networks were allowed to spread and grow in the context of Middle East wars, the state of emergency has served to justify a vast police mobilization directed above all at opposition in the working class.

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