Unions set aside differences for massive May 1 protests

The eight main French unions will show a united front by marching together in traditional May 1 demonstrations, a first in the history of French social mobilisation. Polls show 72% of French people are favourable to the demonstrations.


This year’s Labour Day (May 1 for the French) will no doubt have a historic quality. It’s the first time that the eight main workers' unions have called their members to march together against the government’s social policies and response to the financial crisis.


“This has never happened before in France. Never had all unions united to call for a May 1 march”, applauded Bernard Thibault, secretary-general of the left-wing CGT union.


Nearly 300 marches are set to be held throughout France. In Paris, the CGT, CFDT, FR, CFTC, CGC, FSU, UNSA and Solidaires unions have called on their members to meet at noon at the Place Denfert-Rochereau, in the south of the capital. The marchers will then head to the iconic Place de la Bastille.


Seven out of 10 French citizens approve the protests



Police forces will be mobilised throughout the city for the occasion, especially as Kurdish and Tamil groups have also chosen to hold protests on the same date, alongside the unions.


According to a CSA survey published on Thursday in the communist French daily l’Humanité, 72% of French people support the march and sympathise with the protesters.


Labour day has traditionally been a choice date for social protests, but unions this year expect unprecedented levels of mobilisation. The social climate in France has grown more tense in the last six months, as wave after wave of layoffs were announced across the country. This is the third united march organised by unions, after those held on January 29 and March 19.


Open on Sundays



Unions believe the government has, so far, not listened to what they have to say. They demand reflationary measures based on higher purchasing power for the people, and strong action against unemployment. A new law allowing shops to open on Sundays, which will be examined by lawmakers in July, also incurs the wrath of protesters.


“The government has discussed neither job protection nor purchasing power, nor consumer-based economic revival with us”, deplored the "G8" of unions in a grouped press release.


And after May 1?



But will the united stance of the inter-union alliance hold after Labour day? On May 4, union leaders will discuss the next step. The secretary-general of far-left union FO, Jean-Claude Mailly, wants to prolong this day of protest with a 24-hour strike uniting the public and private sectors. But Francois Chereque, secretary general of the CFDT, has voiced his disapproval of a strike that “wouldn’t solve any problems”.


Unions do seem to agree, however, on the necessity of channeling social tensions to avoid radical excesses, like the wave of “bossnappings” that followed announcements of layoffs in several firms, and the acts of vandalism by workers in a Continental tyre manufacturing plant. None approved, however, of former prime minister Dominique de Villepin’s talk of a “revolutionary risk” among working class populations, words deemed “irresponsible” by several members of his own party.

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