France: towards a social explosion of historic proportions!

3 February by Yorgos Mitralias

Demonstrations against Macron’s pension reform on the January 19th 2023

The international media may say hardly a word, but that does not mean that these days France is not being shaken by the biggest social eruption of the last several decades! In particular, on Tuesday January 31st the demonstrations against Macron’s pension reform were the most massive in the country for 30 years (a total of 2.5 million demonstrators, according to the unions), bigger even than those of the historic, victorious and enduring mobilisation of 1995 which accelerated the fall of Chirac! This is not because the trade unions and the left say so, but, according to the estimate of the number of demonstrators made public by President Macron’s own government and its police.

So, if we take into account the fact that everyone realises that we are only at the beginning of a social explosion that is “doomed” to be radicalised and to last, then we can perhaps understand the historical dimensions of the events that are taking place and will take place in France. In this France which, let us not forget, has been for some centuries the permanent social and revolutionary “barometer” of the whole of Europe.

But what makes the current French social explosion so special and so promising? First of all, it is its unprecedented, specific characteristics. In particular, it is the unity of all the trade unions, which we have not seen for at least 20 years. And it is not only that the class struggle workers’ Confederations such as the historic CGT and the much younger and more radical SUDs are deciding together with the traditionally far more moderate CFDT. It is also that the white collars unions and other employees unions are also coordinating with them and, of course, taking part in mass strikes and demonstrations. And it is that the ever-increasing participation of private sector wage earners is impressive. And that along side, a multitude of other trade unions and professional associations are militantly participating and supporting - from the farmers of the Peasant Confederation to the bakers who are going bankrupt as they have been hit by an unprecedented crisis and half of them are expected to close by the coming March or April! And of course, it is that the French public supports the mobilisations and is consistently (at 70%-80%) against Macron’s reform which has caused his already poor popularity to plummet week by week.

It is also that we are also witnessing the phenomenon -unthinkable 20-30 years ago- of the most massive demonstrations taking place in the provinces, in small towns and even more so in towns of 10,000-20,000 inhabitants who traditionally vote for the right! Both in the first demonstrations on 19 January, and those 11 days later, there were numerous cases of provincial towns of 10,000-30,000 inhabitants where a quarter or even a third of the population took part in the demonstrations. And this all over France. [1]

And finally ,it is that in addition to the more or less well-known vanguards and members of the trade unions, these demonstrations were attended by people of all ages, professions and occupations, as well as very many people who were joining a demonstration for the first time in their lives, the so-called “primo-demonstrators”. But what do these unprecedented events reveal and how can they be explained? First of all, they reveal what is well-known in Macron’s France: the immense hatred that the overwhelming majority of its citizens harbour for the country’s president and his cabal. We are not dealing here with any antipathy or even with our familiar oppositional fury. We are dealing here with an abysmal hatred that is permanently fuelled by the arrogance of the conceited and egotistical neoliberal president-monarch who is used to humiliating his ’subjects’, and this hatred is now finding a golden opportunity to manifest itself centrally in a social outburst that has, moreover, a very good chance of spreading and winning. This is because it concerns an issue of existential dimensions, such as the increase in the retirement age to 64 years, which translates into the inventive but macabre slogan of today’s demonstrators, ’metro-boulot-tombeau’, i.e. ’metro-work-tomb’. But also in their militant and so eloquent conclusion, in the even more inventive pun ’Tu nous mets 64-on te mai68’. That is, “you give us 64, we give you May 68”...

But what makes all commentators and “analysts” - even right-wing ones - believe that we are still only at the beginning of the social mobilisation and that it will escalate and become radicalised. First of all, it is all the specific characteristics that we have mentioned quite briefly, namely its rare quality. It is also the particular characteristics of Macron himself and the government of his Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne, that make them neither willing nor able to make the slightest substantial concession any longer. Macron in particular is well aware that any retreat would mean the end of him and that is why he shows and says that he is determined not to take back his reform and that raising the retirement age to 64 is ’’non-negotiable’’.

The result, among other things, is that a wind of panic is beginning to blow through the right-wing French bourgeois establishment as more and more of its agents (media, various elites, politicians etc), and even French employers, seem to be very worried about the “irresponsible president” who is “leading the country to catastrophe” with a totally uncertain outcome. As a direct consequence, even members of the presidential party - besieged by their disgruntled constituents - are beginning to doubt and threaten that they might not vote for the infamous bill in a French Parliament where - let’s not forget - Macron and his party are in the minority and urgently need the support of the traditional right-wing Republican MPs (LR, Sarkozy’s party) who also seem to be less certain allies.

The conclusion is that the conditions are almost ideal for the escalation and radicalisation of the historic outburst in French society, which can also boast of an additional and not insignificant political success: the striking isolation of Mrs Le Pen and her far-right party which is conspicuously absent from the demonstrations. But it is obvious that its further development, generalisation and radicalisation will largely depend on what Macron himself fears more than anything else: the strengthening of the mass movement by the youth of the high schools and universities, who are already taking their first steps in this direction blockading schools, occupying university faculties and organising general assemblies that democratically decide on the continuation of the struggle.

So our attention is on France, which is beginning to look like a volcano about to erupt. Already in the next few days, strikes and blockades in refineries, transport and other public services are beginning, which could result in the country coming to a standstill. The next strikes and street demonstrations across France, decided jointly by the trade unions, are scheduled for 7 and 11 February. Without a doubt, something very big is already beginning to emerge on the social horizon of France...


[1A glimpse of the demonstrations of January 31st is given by the videos and photos and (humorous) comments from all over France sent by ordinary citizens and hosted by twitter :

Yorgos Mitralias

Journalist, Giorgos Mitralias is one of the founders and leaders of the Greek Committee Against the Debt, a member of the international CADTM network.



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