Report by Kamgar Ekta Committee (KEC) correspondent
“Everything’s more expensive—fuel, rent, food—everything’s going up, but our salaries aren’t going up at the same rate,” said Thibault, one of the workers who had joined the nationwide strike in France on 18 October 2022. Tens of thousands of workers, students, retired persons, and supporters took to the streets of France to demand higher wages and pensions to keep up with inflation.
With an inflation rate of ~6%, the cost of food and energy have soared and become a heavy burden for the working class in France. The 18 October strike included workers of oil refineries, railways, nuclear power plants, port and docks, post offices as well as teachers and hospital staff. People’s organisations and NGOs also joined the strike demonstrations. The strike of nuclear power plant workers disrupted 10 nuclear power plants and reduced output by a third. The participation of transport workers disrupted train and bus services, with half of all regional trains cancelled. The government responded to the strike by unleashing police action on the protestors.
This strike is an extension of the four weeks of strikes organised by oil refinery workers from September onward to demand a 10% increase in wages to keep up with inflation. Oil workers have accused big oil corporations such as TotalEnergies and Esso-ExxonMobil of making huge profits while ignoring workers’ needs and decreasing standard of living. The oil strikes have affected three of seven oil refineries and five major fuel depots, disrupting fuel supply across France. According to reports, one in three petrol stations is out of stock. The French government issued back-to-work orders, legally forcing oil workers back to their jobs to ensure the flow of fuel from depots. However, workers have denounced this attack on their right to strike and continued their protests.
Students participated in the 18 October strike in support of refinery workers and in support of teachers and other workers. Several schools had to be closed. “I am 17 years old but I am also a future worker. The issue of wage increases concerns us all,” a striking student said.
Major energy producers and distributors across Europe have made astronomical profits from the energy crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the people in Europe are facing an acute cost of living crisis, with skyrocketing food, fuel, and energy prices. Capitalists accumulate profits while workers are forced to starve.
Profits of monopolies rise even during crises, as we have seen during the pandemic, when the wealth of capitalists like Adani increased while thousands lost their livelihoods. Today, as the working class in India struggles with the steep increase in food and fuel prices, Indian capitalists are multiplying their wealth.
The nationwide strike in France is an important development. Workers of various sectors, including teachers and hospital employees, united for the strike. Moreover, they mobilised the public, including retired workers, the unemployed, and youth, to join the demonstrations; several student and youth unions participated in organising the strike.
Workers in India must take inspiration from those in France and mobilise their cadres and common citizens. We must fight unitedly against all attacks on the working class.