French union leaders announced a day of strikes on Tuesday. But their plans are still limited (Picture: Force Ourvriere on Flickr)

Trade unions in France are set for a major national strike on Thursday of next week against the government’s attempt to raise the pension age. Unusually, eight trade union federations have united to call for strikes and demonstrations.

The arguments over how workers can win mirror the debates in Britain. French trade union leaders move quicker and further than the TUC union federation because they are under more pressure from below. But their response is still limited, and rank and file workers are pressing for escalating and harder-hitting strikes.

Prime minister Elisabeth Borne, from pro-boss president Emmanuel Macron’s party, announced the planned assault earlier this week. Macron tried a similar move in 2019 but was forced to back off by waves of strikes and then the arrival of the pandemic.

Macron and Borne now want to raise the minimum age for a full pension by two years to 64. And collecting it at 64 will depend on having paid into the system for 43 years. However, the cops— exhausted by clubbing strikers, Yellow Vests and black people—will be able to collect a full pension at 54. Unions point out that, at age 64, 29 percent of the poorest workers are already dead.

Macron no longer has a majority in parliament so he has been talking to the mainstream conservative Republicans to back him. Even if he wins them over, he might still lose. So he’s preparing various anti-democratic ways to implement the measures without full parliamentary approval.

The attacks are a political choice. A report in September 2022 by the Pensions Advisory Council, a state body, found the pensions system actually produced surpluses of £800 million in 2021 and £2.85 billion in 2022.

But for Macron it is a key “achievement” that he has to deliver for the bosses, a signal that workers are going to pay for the surge in inflation and the coming recession.

It is crucial workers defeat him. The 19 January strike will be a start, but nobody believes it will break Macron’s attack. And trade union leaders are making only vague noises about a follow-up.

Some activists are organising for more. Unions representing French oil workers on Thursday called for a more serious plan. As well as a walkout on 19 January, there are calls for a 48-hour strike from 26 January and a 72-hour strike from 6 February. These would include “shutdowns of refinery installations, if necessary,” said Eric Sellini, national coordinator of the CGT union federation at energy giant TotalEnergies.

And after 6 February there would be a move towards an all-out strike, renewed each day by workers’ assemblies. 

There will be a battle between left and right over opposing Macron. At the same time as the left wing Nupes party and the unions are calling for action, so is the fascist National Rally of Marine Le Pen.

She is posing as the friend of ordinary people and said the French could count on her party’s “total determination” to block Macron. If the unions falter, the fascists hope to benefit from the bitter resentment that will follow—and to turn it against refugees, migrants and Muslims.

The high stakes underline why next week’s strikes have to be the beginning of insurgent and all-out resistance.

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