The leaders of the main trade unions have become partners in capitalist restructuring in its globalist phase. When the Gilets Jaunes movement appears, it is immediately considered a troublemaker in the subtle game of giving and receiving between the partners of the “social cake”. Even those who only pick up the crumbs want to keep them at all costs. “Don’t touch the Grisbi” is the cry from the heart of union leaders in yellow vests.
While many “grassroots” union members naturally found themselves on the roundabouts without displaying their colours, the leaders were determined to make the emerging movement look like a fascist emanation of the far right. The calls for vigilance from SUD or the CGT‘s management were of unparalleled stupidity. While the CFDT, which had long since rallied to the government, offered its services and was dismissed, the trade union world saw the monopoly of popular expression slipping away.
The CGT has lost a lot of credibility in this case. The “unorganized” Gilets Jaunes have succeeded where a century-old power plant has totally failed. They embody the extra-parliamentary and popular opposition to the strongest government in contemporary French history, whereas the mobilization against the Labour Law or the reform of the Labour Code had been failures.
Workers’ mistrust of trade unions is natural and the refusal of the Gilets Jaunes to find common ground for action is irrefutable for many. People have long memories in many places. After having participated in the disintegration of the French economy (end of mines, shipyards and the steel industry “made in France”), the unions refused to engage in the real struggle for the dignity of work represented by France’s Gilets Jaunes. All attempts by trade union leaders to recover the movement must be combated.
What do we do with trade unions in the current context? Can they be useful to us in the extension of the radical movement born of the Gilets Jaunes? Should we take back the unions from the bottom up? Organise coordination or advice outside? Impose the autonomy of the struggles?
We don’t have any miracle or dogmatic answers for you. But we believe that a combined form of the different modes of action will naturally emerge on the ground. That the trade union bases will naturally join the battles of the Gilets Jaunes.
We note that “radical” voices are emerging at the base of large power plants to challenge the statism of the management. Some are oriented by very political tendencies (France Insoumise, for example,) but they allow authentic supporters of militant unionism to express themselves.
The union bureaucracy will have difficulty making their voices heard. If they also know how to address elements outside their environment, the impact will surely be one of the supporting elements of the Gilets Jaunes. Union members support them.
Adapted from Les Syndicats face aux Gilets Jaunes. Translated from the French. Photograph courtesy of Olivier Ortelpa. Published under a Creative Commons license.