As the 12th day of the strike against the pension reform in France comes to an end, while the media are launching their usual refrains about violence (which should be condemned,) and the number of demonstrators is decreasing (or not) let’s take the time to analyse the consequences of the orders coming from above and the systematic recourse to the strike as the only mode of action.
It’s obvious that today in France, blockades and sabotage are taking place in some places, but we have to admit that the strike dynamic is omnipresent and that it seems, in the eyes of the majority unions, to be the only way to make the government bend. But it has its limits, which are significant.
First of all, it burns us out as workers, because a lot of effort rests on a few people. The trade union dynamic in France is such that the organisation of the struggle is based on few people. As a result, militant burn-out is just as likely as Macronist repression.
Then economically, faced with the “wait and let rot” strategy from the other side, it seems difficult to believe that our most precariously-situated colleagues and comrades will be able to hold out on strike for long. We know that solidarity and strike funds are being organised, but will it be enough?
Finally the “others.” We know that a very favourable opinion exists in favour of the struggle against the pension reform and this is not by any means negligible. But what does this “silent majority” do? Not the strike in any case. Indeed, not everyone can go on strike, because it costs money, because we are afraid of the employers’ reprisals or of the police violence, or for all sorts of other reasons.
If the strike doesn’t suit these people, how can we still put pressure together? We have to find techniques of struggle that do not exclude a part of the population and that can have a global effect against the political strategy of the Macronists.
The idea that all workers who feel concerned can participate within their means in a struggle they believe in should be a priority objective!
GET MORE PEOPLE INVOLVED, DIVERSIFY THE STRUGGLE!
If the IWW’s Organiser Training (OT101) taught us anything, it’s that trade union history is full of examples and methods of direct action that have broken the bosses. Basically, the means of action are as diverse and varied as there are workplaces, ideas and people. And this is one of the advantages that we workers and organisers must take in hand to increase our power. And no, the work of building power is not something that can be delegated to a handful of union activists, partly for the reasons we have seen above.
One sentence sounded like this: “We are being asked to work two years longer, so we will work slower in order to conserve ourselves a little.”
And this may be one of the solutions to including more colleagues in the resistance!
Between the billing or “good service” strike, which consists of not charging customers; the work-to-rule strike, which slows down work by over-compliance with procedures; the grève perlée*, which consists of taking 15-minute breaks every 30 minutes or every hour; the “freeze” moments, where everyone stops working for a given time at a given hour; the simple slowing down of the pace, the “ignore the boss” days where we simply ignore any interaction with our hierarchy, and traditional blockades and sabotages, there is a fertile ground for all kinds of local and disorderly actions that neither the government nor the bosses can counter by requisition or by our wallet. The range of action is enormous. We need to slow down the economy, lower profits, ignore bosses’ subordination and organise our colleagues locally and democratically.
So of course some of these actions appear less radical or “total” than a strike where the absence of work is complete. But these actions make it possible to include a maximum of our colleagues from their level of radicalism in a balance of power that is tenable in the long term. If we do this well, these actions can increase in intensity and turn into massive strikes where a few weeks earlier there was no contest, because the involvement of our colleagues in our organising and resistance efforts starts from them and not from us. Our question is how to accompany them from their level of radicalism to direct actions that are tenable and conceivable by themselves, and then to move to a higher level of power.
We know that this work of grassroots organising and increasing involvement is not easy. Indeed, it means decentralising as much as possible to grassroots committees in the workplace. Committees that are active and democratic, committees that include the largest number of colleagues. To achieve this means building links between colleagues, developing these relationships, linking up, meeting regularly to decide what we want to change in our workplace and then moving to collective direct action to achieve improvements.
It is the slow, long-term, collective work of ants. It is work that has an impact on our daily lives. But it is also work that transforms us because we develop strong bonds and the solidarity that goes with them, because we learn the practice of direct democracy, because we gain confidence in ourselves and in our collective power, because we become active subjects with our colleagues. It is hard and often invisible work that is key and essential behind the big social movements. This is why it is often neglected or ignored in favour of the easier shortcut of mobilisation or calling for a strike from above. In our view, it is essential to start again from this basic work that we call organising and which is the object of the basic training : OT101.
But obviously, far be it from us to say that it’s “enough” to do this or that, but rather to bring the reflection back to what could, in addition to the strike, in addition to the words of order coming from above, make the bosses bend.
So we think we need to use our imagination and the history of direct action in our workplaces and be rooted in the links we build with our colleagues. A multitude of direct action tools exist and our colleagues probably have the best ideas for applying them. Let’s take advantage of them!
Moreover, these methods of action obviously do not conflict with the days of strikes and blockades organised by the big trade union structures, on the contrary, they amplify them. Finally, big days of strike action coordinated from below, and massive, are useful in the struggle because they have an important impact on the economy.
This is the way to make capitalists understand that even if they own the means of production, we are the ones who produce. Without us they are just people with empty factories or offices. But if these strikes are followed by working days where we catch up with the pace and economic delays, then they are not enough.
We remain convinced that multiplying and varying direct actions against the capital is the only way to make it flinch.
Discovering a powerful way to bring down a government as ideologically convinced as Macron’s would be a powerful message to bring to workers around the world. So this is obviously an opportunity to evolve our struggle techniques.
With this slogan, used in Hong Kong, the demonstrators expressed the multiplicity of actions which makes the global movement uncontrollable, like a torrent which despite the rocks, despite the curves, always reaches its goal: the sea.
The idea against authoritarian regimes is applicable against the capital, which is in essence also authoritarian.
Rather them than us, rather victory than 2 more years.
Courage colleagues, courage comrades!
Signed, French and Belgian unionists, members of the IWW Brussels
*La grève perlée is directly translated as a pearl strike. In English, this would be sort of like an intermittent strike, or a slowdown or reduction of productivity; like a string of pearls, they aren’t physically connected. Instead of a direct response to an employer, the union would launch a series of seemingly unrelated and unconnected actions that are unpredictable for the boss.
This article was originally published on IWW Brussels’ website and has been translated into English and published here with permission.