Tuesday, March 22, 2011

French Lesson: "Its Not Over"

By Tony Murphy
Published Mar 21, 2011 9:19 PM

Once Gov. Scott Walker signed anti-union Act 10 on March 10, the media treated the battle in Wisconsin as over. “Republican tactic ends stalemate in Wisconsin” blared the front page of the New York Times on March 11.

Yet the next day, the largest-yet march in Madison protested the dismantling of collective bargaining.

The dynamic, inspiring movement against Walker’s union-busting bill is alive and well — and not going away. Its spreading to Ohio, Indiana and other states is much needed, and will be like oxygen for the labor movement.

Hanging in the balance is the question of whether the struggle in Wisconsin itself is really over.

Of course, the corporate media would have us think it is.

However, Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette has refused Walker’s request to publish the new law before the state’s customary ten-day waiting period. “It’s been rushed enough,” La Follette said. (La Crosse Tribune, March 11)

Can a law be reversed after it’s been passed? Yes. This has happened in recent history — in France in 2006.

Take a lesson from France in 2006

On March 31 of that year, President Jacques Chirac signed a bill, known as the CPE, which allowed bosses to fire workers under age 26 for no reason or with no explanation.

At that point, protests and one-day general strikes against the CPE had already closed universities, blocked railways and rocked France for weeks.

Students and unions took passage of the law as a sign to ratchet up the street struggle. Another national strike was called for April 4.

Unions estimated the strike’s turnout at 3 million. Creative and militant tactics included electricity workers sabotaging the power supply at the Montpellier Town Hall and the Polygone shopping center. Electricity was cut for at least half an hour.

Chirac and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin kept explaining that they were pushing the CPE against the will of the people for honorable reasons. They kept on saying that right up until April 10 when the demonstrations forced them to reverse course — and announce that they were scrapping the law for good.

Like Walker, Villepin was not held back by legality. The Financial Times reported that he “rammed reform through parliament as if he were leading a charge of the Imperial Guard.” (April 5, 2006)

The French movement’s defeat of the CPE speaks volumes about how to proceed with the struggle in Wisconsin. While the Wisconsin’ South Central Labor Federation voted to endorse a general strike, Democrats and many unions are pushing a recall campaign against Walker and other Republicans. This is now widely advanced as the next step in the struggle, along with ballot-box vengeance.

Whatever is done with legal and electoral tactics, the real strength of this movement is in the streets. The protesters themselves have shown again and again that their impulse is to return to the streets in Madison and elsewhere. Some 4,000 people confronted Walker on March 13 when he attended a Republican fundraiser in Howard, Wis.

The movement still has great momentum. And the defeat of the anti-worker CPE in France is an object lesson pointing the way for the struggle: The workers’ greatest power is in the streets.

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