Since months, France is the theatre of the biggest social strike of Europe. In order to contrast the loi El Khomri, thousands of workers refused to work and new strikes are continuing to interrupt production and services. The flows of transports, commodities and oil – with the prolonged block of refineries – are a field of struggle in the whole country. The opposition to the labor bill triggered a mass politicization, whose starting point is the refusal of the capitalistic domination over the present time and the future of entire generations. The strike in France is not simply a practice institutionalized through the unions’ initiative. Rather, it lives in the streets and in the squares, it triggers a movement that is addressing Europe beyond its local roots and the national dimension of the opposition to the proposed bill. «To learn from France» means for us to turn France into the focus of a reasoning about possibilities and limits of an experience which has to do with how to overcome the impasse of the social movements’ political initiative, how to think Europe as the minimum field of that initiative and how to bring the strike on a transnational level.
The French mobilization against the loi travail combines the time of strike and the time of uprising, because the strikes themselves are a huge uprising against the proposed legislation and because the occupation of Place de la République and of dozens squares throughout the country was born and rooted just over the wave of the first strikes. Consequently, the strike is not simply the momentary break of a power relation inside the workplaces, but is rather a productive event. It allows the constitution of a political space where hundred-thousand men and women are able to push forward their demands, so much that the Valls’ government – truly fond of emergency procedures – had to call for the 49.3 article of the constitution in order to overcome the opposition to the law and is continuing to repress, through a stubborn and ineffective brutality, every huge mobilization. If the struggle against the loi travail et son monde is not only the struggle against one bill, but also against a destiny made of precarity and oppression, it is necessary to think the French movement in the long time of the social strike, also beyond the national dimension of the opposition to the reform of the labor market.
What is then the social strike? It is at one and the same time an industrial and a logistic strike, because it interrupts the continuity of the chain of value and it prevents the movements of commodities, people and profits; it is a metropolitan strike, because it runs over the capitalist metropolis and transforms the hierarchies that aspire to impose a universal and perpetual availability to labor. The social strike is the uprising of living labor against its own overall condition. This is why to privilege one of these struggles over the others means to misunderstand the contemporary condition and composition of living labor in Europe. After all, the diffusion and importance of the strikes are making increasingly topical and realistic the watchword on blouqe tout.
What is at stake is not only the possibility of realizing a general and prolonged strike [grève générale reconductible], as a part of Nuit Debout, many grassroots unions and some sections of the CGT are demanding, and as some sectors are actually doing. While this proposal concretely addresses the problem of how to «block the country» and to exercise an effective power against the governments’ authoritarianism, it also runs the risk of reproducing old logics and blind spots, caused by the confederal organization of labor and by the idea that the strike exclusively concerns specific places of production and services. Not all labor, in fact, is organized inside unions and can be durably localized in this or that work-place, in this or that profession. Consequently, to think the social strike means to create the conditions that allows to abstain from work also those who have flexibles, intermittent or casual labor contracts, those who do not have a labor contract, those who bring that contract in their pocket together with a residence permit. All these figures occupy an eccentric position with respect to the traditional organization of labor. While the union is still a central tactic of conflicts for men and women at work, it is not able to grasp the different forms of insubordination and refusal of exploitation that in the last months enlivened the metropolis of Paris and the French cities, from the occupation of squares in the name of democracy to the violent upheaval in the streets. The problem, therefore, is not how to represent all the figures of labor, but how to connect effectively and not occasionally the hundred-thousand men and women who are refusing to work in order to block the enactment of the loi travail and are uprising against «its world».
The long list of picket lines organized by the Nuit Debout’s Commission Gréve General to support the labor disputes underway – at the Renault’s as well as at the Goodyear’s plants, in shopping malls as well as in fast-food restaurants – clearly shows that a part of the square faces the problem to make this connection immediately productive, to support and extend the visibility of labor struggles, to pull Nuit Debout out of Place de la République so that its political character does not limit itself to the square’s perimeter. Yet, solidarity does no solve the problem of the multiple faces of the social strike. It indeed risks to reproduce the split between those who fight inside and those who fight outside the workplaces, without acknowledging that the square is crossed by hundreds of precarious workers who are wondering how to express their insubordination to work and its political conditions when it is not possible to strike. In front of this situation, not even to reproduce several minor labor disputes can make the square a tool to bring class struggle out of the place where it is a daily practice, in order to tackle the social and political conditions of exploitation. Still, this must be the aim if we want to force the «unionist vision of the strike», breaking the logic of labor categories, in order to create the conditions of a political strike that does not consist in the opposition to a law proposal and to the government supporting it, but it is an organized and massive practice able to run over society starting from the refusal of work as domination.
We believe that this aim must be pursued on a transnational level. Both if the loi travail will be rejected or will pass thanks to the ordinary suspension of the procedures of representative democracy, the struggle against precarity cannot involve just one country and not even end up in the opposition to one reform bill. Wherever in Europe the political conditions of precarity go beyond the rules that govern the labor market because they concern wage as a power relation, the changes of the welfare policies, the government of mobility and the border regime. By now the new European logistics crosses the whole space of the EU. It’s no more conceivable to fight austerity and the crisis regime in an exclusively national or even local dimension. At the same time, it’s no more conceivable that the transnational level of the campaign can be brought about only thanks to a random coordination, however important, of single struggles and mobilizations. Therefore, the urgent question is how to transform the French uprising in a tool to accelerate the political communication between subjects that in different ways, in every place of Europe, undergo precarity inside and outside the workplaces.
This communication cannot limit itself to 150 types, that is just to the level of campaigning, in order to be effective. An hashtag is for sure able to make clear the simultaneity of a transnational initiative as such as the 15M, at least to those who have already shared the initiative. Yet, the proliferation of reflections developed by many groups, that all over Europe are looking at France, shows that it is necessary to build a common political discourse, able to engage and mobilize even those who are not already part of an organized political path and who haven’t had yet the chance of protagonism provided by Place de la République. This is not so much a matter of unveiling the «toxic narratives» of those who, on the side of the government and the EU, try to sell austerity and precarization as necessary processes for the general interest. The French uprising has already essentially interrupted those narratives. This is why it was silenced by international media to prevent a domino effect beyond its borders. Building a common discourse means to give a content to the democratic demands in France as elsewhere, beyond the horizontal forms of conducting assemblies and beyond the exportation of electoral experiences brought about in a more or less successful way, as in Spain. The convergence of the struggles cannot end up in the homogenization or in the random coordination of different local initiatives. To give a content to democratic demands – claiming a European minimum wage, a European welfare and income and a European residence permit without conditions – means to make democracy not the mere, temporary gathering of unsatisfied individuals or citizens, but a mass and partisan practice that allows precarious, migrants and industrial workers to win increasing shares of power in order to materially transform, in France as in the rest of Europe, their conditions of precarity. The social strike as a transnational practice, as a process able to catalyze the refusal of exploitation expressed in the strikes, in the occupation of the squares, in the violence on the streets, must become the reality that puts the basis for this democratic uprising in Europe.