Social movement: Montpellier trade unionists and demonstrators between pessimism and hope

The episode of refinery strikes and fuel shortages raised hopes of a national social movement on the issue of wages. But already before the interprofessional day of October 18, several of them had returned to work. While corporate disputes over wages have been on the rise for several months, Le Poing spoke with various trade unionists and demonstrators from Montpellier in the parade on October 18, between pessimism and hope.

On October 26, the English newspaper The Local titled on French shores with the air of a wet firecracker, while anticipating that winter was more likely to be hot than it would be cold for some. A good description of these last weeks of social movement?

Tuesday, October 18. Several thousands people march through the streets of Montpellier, at the call of an interysyndicale FO-FSU-Solidaires-CGT. The announcement of this day of strike and demonstration fell only a few days earlier, in the form of a gamble on the part of the CGT, just after the announcement of requisitions launched by the government on certain petrochemical workers.

A few days before the 18th, when nearly a third of the country’s gas stations were in a state of at least partial shortage, the movement was rejected by part of public opinion. Another was enthusiastic, in view of the numerous calls for mobilization various trade union federations and the first signs of a possible economic blockage in the country.

Meanwhile, several refineries are back to work. The demonstration is marked by the remnants of this bubbling, which, whatever the key sectors, echoes a very real multiplication of social conflicts, as well as by a certain disappointment at seeing the sauce fall, already. Sometimes accompanied by a more general pessimism about the state of society and its capacities for resistance. A duality that has only grown stronger in the meantime.

In the streets of Montpellier this Tuesday, October 18, Doriane, unionized letter carrier at the CGT, earns 1500 euros per month, with seventeen years of seniority. “La Poste has become a multinational, with its shareholders”she notes. “Traditional means of struggle such as the strike are becoming complicated to use. » La Poste is one of the public services that pays its employees the least. Even if the rate of strikers at the Jules Guesde high school where she works as a physical education teacher is around 50% for this interpro day of October 18, Nathalie argues that even if “ it’s going badly, the economic reality makes it very difficult to mobilize. »

The mobilization of the day is indeed more than variable geometry: some sectors are very mobilized, while elsewhere the strike is struggling to extend beyond the most determined activists. Tiphaine, unionized at SNUIPP-FSU, is a professional high school teacher in Nîmes. She also notes a very strong mobilization in her establishment as in all professional high schools. It is that a day of action had already been planned for a long time this October 18, against a new vocational education reform accused of handing over a third of the young people who attend these establishments, generally the most popular, to corporate interests. “On the one hand we are a bit drowned, on the other the inter-professional mobilization echoes ours. »remarks Tiphaine, who does not really believe in the unlimited extension of the social movement: “The general strike is not really that, people are disillusioned. » The crisis of collective action seems deep, almost anthropological for Alexis and Eric, both Montpellier railway workers unionized at the CGT: “ Creeping individualism is progressing, everyone thinks of getting out of it by becoming self-employed or creating their own start-up. Difficult to create the conditions for a collective reaction with this type of positioning. » Even the “perfume of generalization of the strike” perceived by the two companions has meanwhile been denied, since only one third of general meetings organized this Tuesday, October 18 have decided to renew the strike, and that the mayonnaise has descended a little more since, in a sector exhausted by the many weeks of strikes and loss of wages in the many national or local social movements in recent years years.

The game of machines does not always help the situation, even according to certain activists in charge of union mandates. ” Union mobilization is complicated in the public service by the professional elections which arrive on December 18. », deplores Lénaïc, a former educator in child protection at the CGT. “They are very time-consuming because they require the unions to engage in extremely procedural procedures. »

But all is not all black either in the Montpellier demonstration. Clémence, an AESH unionized at the FSU and activist at France Insoumise, is delighted that “Young people are taking up the torch of the fight, even if the generation of forty-somethings seems much more blasé. “The mobilization is not stronger than the September 29 because people have other things to do. », she continues. If the situation does not necessarily allow to multiply the days of mobilization haphazardly, while waiting for something to happen, events perceived as particularly serious can put an end to resignation. Although not going on strike, many yellow vests, for example, mobilized in 2018 for the first time in years, the events giving them the impression of not wasting their time.

“The positive point is that today everyone is on the same concerns, such as purchasing power or pension reform. So don’t let up on the pressure, don’t let yourself be won over by fatalism: all fights take a lot of time to explain. », Dorian analysis.

“The preparation times were very short, this day of October 18 is not so bad. », explains Lénaïc. Before getting excited: “I think we have something in mind, and that we have to transform the test. The inter-union is already relatively broad, and the themes of mobilization around purchasing power are in the process of being linked to those of pensions. Often the great social movements look like this, before the great popular wave. »

Nathalie believes that it is possible to adapt to the strong constraints that weigh on a whole section of the working classes. “It’s very good that the demonstration is at noon, so we can come there without necessarily going on strike. », she confides to us. This search for practices able to better integrate the precarious and low wages into the traditional social movement, she is not the only one to be sensitive to it. “It is time for citizens to overwhelm the unions taken by the professional elections. That’s the only thing to provoke a major movement. », says Denis, union member at Sud Recherche.

Some union structures lend themselves to the game. Like the Local Union of Alès which tried on October 22 to rally to its cause “the many temporary workers and people on fixed-term contracts who cannot demonstrate during their working hours. », by organizing a demonstration against the high cost of living, the pension reform and for salaries on a Saturday.

Ten days later, while the strike by refinery employees only affects two TotalEnergies sites, some 14.5% of service stations nationwide still lack at least one type of fuel. Work gradually picking up in French nuclear power plants after the agreement reached with the management of EDF for wage increases. The irruptive high school movement triggered in recent weeks is calming down with the All Saints school holidays. On the contrary, the social movement continues throughout the territory in the electricity and gas industries, strong mobilizations are announced in the professional high schools. And many local conflicts are ongoing, such as among the parisian garbage collectorsthem Hospitals of Nantesor even the Ardennes firefighters.

Add to this landscape many rallies, demonstrations, or local general assemblies aimed at organizing a fight against the high cost of living, as in Nimes, Ales, MontpellierLille, Nancy, which although of modest size can prepare the ground and create a protest atmosphere.

After October 18, two days of mobilization were announced by the CGT. For October 27, it will remain alone. Even Solidaires will only follow locally. “For the 27th, we have decided to refer the decision to strike and demonstrate to the departments and sectors, there will be no national appeal”, told AFP Simon Duteil, co-delegate general of Solidaires. The idea for the CGT is that this day serves as a springboard for social conflicts in companies, it is moreover the Local Unions which deal with the coordination of the struggles on a territory which have pushed there. This day of October 27 was chosen because of a precise calendar: it is this Thursday that TotalEnergies must publish its half-year results. The confederation also aims for tripartite negotiations between unions, employers, and the state on the issue of wages.

There remains the interprofessional strike day of November 10. Some non-mobilized inter-unions this Thursday, October 27 are calling for massive seizing of this second date, as at the RATP. And behind also looms the explosive pension file, while Macron has just confirmed that the retirement age will be raised from 62 to 65 and that all the unions, including the most reformist, are opposed to the project.

Will the winter be placed under the sign of the junction between the struggles for wages and against the high cost of living and that against the pension reform?

If no specific appointment has yet been set in Montpellier for the next interprofessional mobilization on November 10, a second general meeting against the high cost of living will take place on Saturday November 5, from 2 p.m. place de la Comédie or 2:30 p.m. under the kiosk Bosc of the Charles de Gaulle esplanade. A national call for demonstrations in Montpellier is also scheduled for Saturday December 10 at 2 p.m. Place de la Comédie.

Social movement: Montpellier trade unionists and demonstrators between pessimism and hope – Le Poing