FRANCE GOES OFF THE RAILS 1986-7
This text is the responsibility of BM Blob and BM Combustion though several other people helped with some of the translations and information. This is the first text we've produced together. It may, or may not, be the last. Our specific collaboration on this does not pretend to constitute any organisation, association, re-groupment, milieu or clique.
B.M Blob, London WC1N 3XX
B.M. Combustion, London WC1N 3XX
Produced in London, April 1987
Documents about and analysis of the mass workers struggles of students and workers in France from November 1986 to January 1987.
Between the end of November 1986 and January 1987 France experienced some significant social struggles. A largely conventional students' movement had some unexpected reverberations: high school students and working class apprentices destined to work in electronics factories went on strike; demonstrations turned to looting by a minority; the killing of an Arab by the cops ended in riots; and the movement was followed by a national rail strike. This text was one of the few produced in English on the movement. (Above paragraph inserted by Endangeredphoenix)
NOVEMBER 1986, PARIS:
The State's anti-terrorist strategy means that almost every time you go out in the evening you're virtually sure that you'll get searched by the cops...Over the previous months, two drivers have been killed by the cops for going the wrong way down a one-way street...Even jumping the Metro ticket barriers have the cops pulling out the shooters....paranoia..suspicion Two years minimum before anything could come to life" ....Hell.
DECEMBER 1986, PARIS:
.....and people are beginning to talk excitedly with one another once again.
Of course, nothing's that easy, and explosions after years of repression tend to be full of confusion, which is why we've produced this: to set the record straight about what we know of these events this last winter, to help clear up this foggy mess.
Students, like the desperate times, have changed since the 1960s, when there were 'bad' students there just for the grants. From 1966 to 1968 an active minority of them achieved a critique of the university from within. Most of the students were "good" students (and are today's cadres and leaders); nonetheless, many of them belonged to various leftist sects, and were looking forward to a confrontation with the government, in order to make their own ideology prevail. For these reasons, the students' movement could be the actual starting point of the May '68 revolutionary movement (and only the starting point: as we know, May '68 was not a students' movement). From May 3rd on, a week of daily clashes with the cops provoked the sympathy of other sectors, and, on the famous May 10th "night of the barricades", students were already a minority amongst the rioters. On the following days, students acted as a counter-revolutionary force, especially during the occupation of the Sorbonne . But workers, marginalised youth, school kids, etc. went on to make good use of the weaknesses of the State to create a situation which went way beyond a crisis of the university, terrifying rulers everywhere.
In 1986 it wasn't a transformation of society that students even pretended to want, but the conservation of their superior intellectual/cultural niche within this society .There are virtually no more 'bad' students nowadays. The vast majority of them really want to become what a somewhat smaller majority will become: our enemies. "I'll stab you when you're my boss", someone shouted during a confrontation with them in December. They don't even fake any bad conscience about it. Probably some are just there to delay being on the dole (though in France nowadays it's a lot more possible to depend on a grant than here in the UK), yet none of them openly expressed any criticism of their present and future condition. The chance of a critique of the university coming from students themselves are about as remote as the chance of Thatcher slitting her own throat.
Moreover, students are to be criticised, not only because of what they will become, but also because of what they already are: the most concentrated reformist force in society. They no longer pretend to be 'revolutionaries' (and that's good, as it was only a pretension); they claim they are 'apolitical' - though all their leaders are former leftist bureaucrats - yet they defend directly the basic principles of politics: equality of opportunity, impartial justice, integration, culture for all, etc. Their main reference is not 1968 but 1789, date of birth of the old political lie about "liberty, equality, fraternity". They protest against the government when it does not apply its own principle (which is to say, quite often!). Students are the social basis of the new French ideology.
For instance, it was mainly students who set up, from 1983 onwards, the "SOS –Racism" anti-racist movement whose main result has been the prevention of any organised vengeance against the numerous shootings of black and Arab kids by cops and petit-bourgeois scum. Though they sometimes fail, particularly in the atmosphere of opposition in December: on the 7th, a young Arab was shot dead by a drunken off-duty cop in a Paris suburb. This was kept secret for two days, because of what was going on then (the filth even hid the corpse!). On December 9th, SOS-Racism organised another silent and peaceful demo (they even prevented Arab guys joining in because they were tough-looking). But the following night, two police stations were petrol-bombed and a police car set alight in the area.
Footnotes: (1) See The Beginning of an Era in Ken Knabb's Situationist international Anthology and Vienet's The Enrages and the Situationists in the Occupation Movement. Vienet, however, became a professor, a nauseating role he had poured shit on in his excellent, though excessively optimistic, book).
(2) The aim of the Devaquet Law, the object of students' protest, was to make the universities more competitive between one another, tightening up the selection process so that would-be students had no automatic entitlement to go to the University of their Choice simply because they'd passed the French equivalent of 'A' levels (the bac).
The students' movement has got the same aims as the anti-racist movement - more justice within this society, and it uses the same means too - gentle peaceful pseudo-carnivals - lots of degrading examples could be quoted. They were offering flowers to the CRS, explaining to them that their children were concerned too. As a demo was passing in front of La Santé prison, jailbirds shouted, "Come on, lads, smash everything up!" a student shouted back, "We're not in '68". During a meeting, a student said she disagreed with a call to workers' unions for support, because "What shall we do if some day they ask us to support them?".
All that crap went on for 15 days, highly praised by the media. The December 4th demo was meant to be more of the same -and it was. Yet, trouble erupted at Invalides, where a concert was due to end the masquerade. It is noteworthy that nowadays political mass-meetings have to rely on Bob Geldof-like musical or sporting shows. Political ideology has to rely on theatrical shows to be attractive. But if these shows generate passive crowds, they also sometimes provide an opportunity for hooliganism. This was the case that night. Among the estimated million people gathered at Invalides, 3 to 5 thousand youths (most of them high school pupils) disrupted the show & systematically attacked the cops, injuring 121 of them. Obviously this had nothing directly to do with the student movement, which, from this moment on, did everything it could to stop what was going on. Nevertheless, the fact that a mass movement had begun, however insipid, privileged and safe, was an encouragement to genuine subversion, although these moments were rare.
On December 5th, students gathered in the Latin Quarter to protest against police repression (three guys had been severely wounded by grenades). No-one really knew what to do. But since the area has a symbolic significance connected with past history, something somehow had to be done. So, when someone shouted out "Let's occupy the Sorbonne!" everyone rushed into the building. The first few in started smashing windows until stopped by stewards, who then, unlike in May '68, did all they could to make sure that all non-students were kept out by checking everyone's identity cards (at the London School of Economics., during the recent occupation against apartheid, students did the same thing: only press and officially recognised organisations could enter; opposition to apartheid in South Africa, but support for student apartheid here). Some non-students managed to get into the Sorbonne with forged I.D. Cards. They then called an 'assembly', consisting of large numbers of students milling around in the courtyard. Monopolising the microphones, they asked for a vote on the following appeal: "The General Assembly of the occupied Sorbonne calls all the workers of France to show their solidarity with the struggling high-school pupils and students". Five people stuck their hands in the air. No-one voted against. They then put out leaflets throughout Paris, even sending them to contacts throughout the world, saying that the "spontaneously convened General Assembly...had unanimously voted, with enthusiasm" for the appeal. This they did under the name of "December 5th Committee for the Generalisation of the Movement" (we've translated two of their leaflets here –"NOW" and "HELL'S TRAIN"). When the cops were gathering to evict the students, the very same students who'd just been keeping non-students out of the occupation, ran round the streets asking the same people they'd just kept out to support them against the filth. Naturally, they were told to fuck off. The occupation lasted three hours: a pathetic B-movie re-make of '68.
But the Latin Quarter is not only a student area. It is also one of the places where suburban youths meet, during the Friday and Saturday night stupor. Friday, they seized the moment to smash a couple of shop windows, and set a Porsche alight. This provoked the charge of motor-bike squads during which a student was truncheoned to death.
On Saturday Dec. 6th, a silent demonstration was organised by both student and anti-racist rackets (the victim was an Arab student), as a funeral of their dead (this is no cynical joke - some students actually told non-students, "He's not your dead"!). They asked the authorities that no cops should be in sight, in order to prevent any 'provocation'. Thousands of non-students joined the march which was due to end at the hospital where Malik had died. As people arrived there, the organisers, who didn't know what to do with all these people, decided to march on to Place d'Italie. Harlem Desir, the anti-racist leader, is reported to have said, "Let's hope they won't notice the 13th arrondisement police station in the next street". They did, and hundreds of people rushed there and pelted the CRS for some time.
Some hours later, people gathered in front of the Paris Town Hall (Chirac, as well as being Prime Minister, is also mayor of Paris: the Town Hall's his palace). As this was unprepared, there were only a few cops around, and at first it looked as though the crowd was about to seize the place. But they were far from the Paris Commune: student stewards linked arms in front of the demonstrators, giving time for heavy cop reinforcements to arrive. At that stage, the slogans were no longer about student reform. "Malik has been murdered", "Pasqua = Terrorist", and even "State = Terrorist".
For over a year, the spectacle of terrorism has been the most effective weapon used by the State (regardless of its socialist or right-wing tendency) to reduce people to silence, fear and isolation. Here was the first opportunity for hundreds of people (who don't give a toss about students' problems) to react against this. After months of a continuous state of siege in Paris, punctuated by a series of 'accidental' shootings and a massive law 'n' order campaign, disorder was back on the streets at last. This was the best part of these events, a breath of fresh air. On that same night, everyone moved back to the Latin Quarter again. The CRS, who were occupying the bridge leading to the right bank of the Seine, were pelted with various missiles by some hundreds of youths for several hours, without charging back! This was a good occasion, as they had obviously been ordered not to repeat the previous days' murder/blunder - 58 more pigs were injured that night, including 3 Chief Constables. Meanwhile, cars were being overturned and set alight. These barricades didn't even have any tactical purpose; it was just for the hell of it. Then, shop windows began to fly. As it would have been difficult to carry a load of stuff away (you could just bring a souvenir back home -a teddy bear, a pair of jeans, an electric train...), looting was merely for the sheer pleasure of spoiling posh shops. For once, that ugly commercial area had recovered a human face.
However, all this was far from being an English-like riot. The street didn't belong to the rioters: they had to struggle for it all the time, against the force of the hostility of the vast majority of students. Some of the students actually tried to physically stop people from looting, but the looters fought back and the students beat a retreat. However, they kept on boring the looters with such stupid questions as "Why are you doing that?" whining about their movement not being taken into consideration by these nasty hooligans. When someone was about to set fire to a newspaper kiosk, a student intervened, saying, "Don't do that- it belongs to a worker". At that moment a guy ran up, shouting, "I work here burn it, burn it!". Ten minutes later it was in flames. Some students saw the looters as fascists; echoing the anti-fascist slogan of Spain 1936 ("They shall not pass!"), they chanted, "The thieves shall not pass!" hoping thereby to protect the legal thieves - the shopkeepers. It should be added, however, that amongst the looters were a few students. So - no determinist bullshit about students. Some are as capable of attacking the commodity as workers or more marginalised proletarians.
On the following day, outraged reactions in the media were really over the top: Pasqua (the Home Secretary) called all good citizens to "get ready to fight for democracy", leftist journalists talked about the shop-window breakers being cop-manipulated provocateurs, union leaders urged Chirac to repeal the Devaquet Bill, as "just one spark could set everything ablaze." The nightmare of '68 was everywhere, yet it didn't have much reality. What had been going on so far? Some hundreds of people had used a reformist movement as a pretext to demonstrate their dissatisfaction. Yet they remained dependant on that pretext.
The Saturday night fever had compelled both government and students to put an end to the crisis. On December 8th, Chirac, as a good democrat, announced that the Devaquet bill was repealed. The students had won, and didn't ask for more. On Wednesday December 10th, they celebrated their victory with a massive demonstration, together with workers' unions, parents' associations, etc. As the demo was over, some hundreds of people refused to withdraw. For some days, an enthusiastic feeling of camaraderie had spread throughout Paris (though it remained a feeling, as nothing more could be achieved on such an enemy ground): whether in the streets, bars or metro, you could meet and talk with strangers about anything. That night, everybody knew the occasion was over, so people just went on chatting for a while before going back underground again.
Ultimately, though, it's not what people think about the French student movement that counts, any more than what the intentions of these students were: what counts is the practical effect of Chirac's climb-down on the world. Following a not-so-mini-riot, for the State to retreat has clearly been an encouragement (though not in Little UK, as usual). The petrol bombing of two police stations and the burning of a police car on December 10th would have been unlikely without this confidence boost. And though the initiatives towards a rail strike were already underway before the student movement (a strike call had gone out on November 11th), the railway workers, by their own admission, felt strengthened by the albeit, reformist successes of the student movement. This has also been true of students in China, and especially of high-school students in Spain. And also, probably, in Mexico. 
To be sure, the reformists in France will do their best to impose their 'lesson', promoting an ideology of victory through peaceful means and ends. In the run-up to the bicentenary of Bastille Day, they hope to affirm an ideology of The Peoples' Will compatible with the democratic form of commodity totalitarianism, using December 1986 as a model. But are most people so easily conned by this distortion of history? Don't people know the real reasons for Chiracs' compromise? As the Daily Telegraph put it, "Chirac bows down to the rioters". Against their intentions, the students encouraged a Third Force which is not so easily bought off.
That's why; a week after the students went back home, discontent in France erupted again, and on a much clearer basis, as the railway men went on a wildcat strike.
 It seems almost certain that the French events directly influenced the large student strikes in Mexico during January 1987. The student protests in Mexico were marked by more explicit appeals for "university democracy" in the narrow sense of a University Congress (for the worlds' biggest University in Mexico City) that would be run through a directorate of students, teachers, administrators and workers. The protests were also tinged (something of a throwback) with the populist "student/worker" rhetoric of the late 60s. And like in France, the students were also protesting against reforms that would impose tougher entrance and examination standards and the growth of private universities. However feeble as regards a thorough critique of the University, the student movement did appear to have an impact on the electricity workers strike in March 1987. Significant numbers of students were present, for instance, in the electricity workers demonstration in Mexico City on March 4th. In one sense at least a comparison can be made with '68 when, prior to the Olympic Games, electricity workers were amongst other workers - chiefly petroleum and railway workers and telephonists, who joined forces with the students only to be gunned down in a bloodbath when the student revolt, most definitely in this case influenced by the uprising in France, threatened to spread to other sectors. As a Guardian report said at the time (Oct.5th, 1968), ''In factories too, students have been gaining support. Workers tired of union leaders being bribed by the government came to voice their opinion in student assemblies". In terms of possible repression, things now may be different. So far, the cops have kept a low profile and the army is nowhere to be seen. Following the electricity workers strike, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which has ruled Mexico since the liquidation of Villa and Zapata's guerrillas, fears a strike wave. More than in most other countries this would be of great significance because of a particularly institutionalised form of entente between unions and government (always the IRP) which dampens revolt from the outset. On a more general level, it could be said Mexico's turbulence is down to a crisis of 'westernised' Bolshevism coming hard on the heels of an acute debt crisis.
"They were swiftly translated, together with other leaflets, into Spanish and distributed to, amongst others, striking high school pupils in Spain, where the ongoing character of the real movement has bee, and still is, much deeper, and more violent, than its French counterpart. For example, in Gijon, in Asturias, on Dec.11th 1986, a 5000 strong demonstration of students & high school kids was joined by football supporters/hooligans of Gijon - the "ultra-boys" (they use the English handle) who then went on to sing the Spanish version of "Here we go!". And recently, it seems, some Spanish dockers joined in one of the high school kids street riots. These riots, sometimes mini, sometimes massive, have been continuing virtually non-stop in different parts of Spain since the beginning of December. High-school strikes & riots have been continued by ''uncontrollables'', despite the fact that the Trotskyist-led (connected with Militant here) d100l students committees called off the strike. .
In fact the student revolt in Spain is, to a far greater degree than in France, a revolt of dispossessed youth in general. There the high school kids are attracting marginalised youth in their thousands (c/f the following letter). And because high school kids are far less settled into a career structure the relationship between these two overlapping sectors tend to complement one another.
Spain is a country that has never really died down and its period of quiescence can be measured in months rather than years. Moreover, the student/school kids' struggles, continuing unabated in a series of strikes & riots since the beginning of Dec.1986, have had a terrific impact after they got the government to promise to spend more on education. On the industrial front since the New Year strikes involving car workers, construction workers, railway workers, miners, even the mint, have, as The Economist put it (March 28th), "spread to almost every group of Spaniards except bankers andbullfighters." In one, now famous, lovely incident a squad of paramilitary civil guards were overpowered, disarmed, and stripped naked by the people of the Basque town of Reinosa.
UNABRIDGED LETTER TO 'EL PISS', PUBLISHED ON JANUARY 31st 1987
"The Madrid press in its entirety, including yours', has accused as "ultra-rightists" us youths who participated in the disturbances during the student demonstrations on Dec.17th and 'an. 23rd.
We are youths and not, it so happens, "ultras". You had the term ultra-rightist concealed up your sleeve. I would have you know that amongst these provocateurs we find anarchists, communists, punks, skinheads, mohicans, heavies, mods, rockers, yobs and do-badders apart from the supposed ultras that you mention. All this fauna is concentrated there not only because of student demands but also because we are fed up of unemployment, of military service, of bourgeois democracy, of police repression, of prisons, of state abuses and so many other problems which, unfortunately, to day s, youth are (l victim 0[. There is no future for us, that is very clear. State violence generates violence in the street. If our violence is unleashed it is because we endure social violence day by day. Don't be surprised then by the vandalism of the young. One might ask who is the biggest vandal here - us or the system which, unfortunately is our lot to live in. And don't say to us violence is never justified because in our situation violence is a must (as a certain song says). –
Lourdes Rico Martinez, Madrid.
LEP ELECTRONICS – THE LASCARS
Amongst the leaflets here we have given special priority to those produced by the 16-18 year old apprentices from LEP electronics - the Lascars. Encouraged by a sussed anti-student, they were the only leaflets to make sides, by differentiating their aspirations and struggle from that of the reformist students: they've no future in this society, they are bound for the factories and they refuse it. On that basis, they expected other striking high-school pupils to join them & split from the student bullshit. However, though many high-school pupils had been involved in the clashes with the cops, they kept on following the movement. The experience of the Lascars remained generally isolated. But the leaflets were quickly recognised by those with a clearer grasp for their excellence, particularly because some dumb-fuck students, when handed them by their authors, said they couldn't understand what was written down!
(5) French Telecom
(6) French UBO/Job Center
[7)] Very famous French "superboss" – self-made scum who built fortune and fame on taking over ailing businesses. The vulture promotes enterprising young idiots on his monthly two hour TV programme (TN)
-We’ve all been infected with mental Aids : it’s normal, considering the time we’ve spent being fucked by the government.
-May in December –that’s brill.
-Cadillac arrest on Saturday.
-On Sunday, the day of our Lord, the CRS don’t work. We're looking forward to next Sunday.
-Have you seen my Alpine? [Written the night cars were burnt on Saturday 6th December]
-The only freedoms we possess are those the government can control the use we put them to.
-And if we did re-make the world...
-We want an explosive scandal and to explode ourselves (LEP school apprentices).
-Open the prisons.
-Pasqua has done a bunk underground -the youth have taken Paris.
-Beneath the tarmac, the pavement .
-Grassing is a crime. Pasqua’s a terrorist [on ads appealing for witnesses].
-CRS -your neighbour’s fucking your wife.
-Pasqua –it’s not you, but the street which makes the law.
-5 cars are blocking the street, today they open the debate.
-Tonight all Paris must be outside communicating.
-If you remain all your life crushed and exploited, then you'll understand the reaction in the streets.
-Another cross drawn up on the pigs’ slate, shivers run down my spine.
-Anger must come before something I find hard to be precise about [placard of an Arab on the 10th December demonstration].
-Paris belongs to us.
-Me cold? Never!
-Open your eyes, switch off the telly.
-Time shall not pass.
-The same wave rushes through the English streets & ghettoes (& in all Europe) but the international media won’t tell you about it because they’re afraid of our strength. Therefore, English ‘jeunes’ send you strength, support and eventually victory. [Written in English]
-Non-strikers are ‘Les Miserables’ [on a statue of Victor Hugo].Footnotes:
 Reference to a right-wing journalist who said that students were suffering from mental Aids.
 Reference to graffiti in May '68 "Beneath the pavement, the beach". After '68 paving stones were covered with tarmac to prevent them being dug up and used as missiles.
Up until then, the various States had always tried hard to make all traces of social revolution disappear, attempting to impose amnesia. The modern spectacle, on the other hand, maintains falsified memories. The social agitation at the end of 1986 -beginning of January 1987 had absolutely nothing in common with the wildcat general strike of '68. But the State has ceaselessly evoked a similarity. It was a question of falsifying a real threat by giving it an unreal dimension, of imposing confusion. This State strategy was destined to occupy and invade minds in order to ruin the novelty and the modern character of the situation.
If the State seemed to retreat - at the beginning of December, vis-à-vis the student conflict - it was because what was seized in this inoffensive agitation was the pretext for a general dissatisfaction to be expressed. The State wanted to cut this short by abandoning, to the students, a derisory victory. It was in this climate - where the feeling was that something had changed - that the railway workers went on strike.
The SNCF (National Society of Railways) is an enterprise with over 50% of its capital nationalised. Its private shareholders, not being a majority, have the incomparable advantage of never losing any money: the State agrees to cover any drop in the revenue from their shares.
This national enterprise is one of the major union strongholds in the country. The CGT (affiliated to the Stalinist party) is deeply rooted there. Also present are: the more modernist CFDT, a nest of self-management ideology, infested with social democrats, priests and leftists; Force Ouvrière (Workers' Strength), whose general secretary, Bergeron, regularly makes alarmist warnings to the authorities, some so-called 'autonomous' corporatist unions, like FGAAC, hardly powerful, except amongst the drivers.
The SNCF is considered in France as an enterprise in permanent deficit: over the last ten years it's lost over half the volume of its commodity transportation to road transport.
For two years, the Society has offered redundancy payments proportional to the years worked: 20 to 30 thousand francs (2 to 3 thousand pounds) for less than 5 years, and around 120,000 francs (£12,000) for 15 years. Already, 20,000 people have left, with 40,000 more planned over the next 4 years. On the other hand, the SNCF doesn't employ any new people and intensifies the pressure to take the anticipated redundancies.
It is clear that the State wants to make this enterprise profitable by 'modernising' it, studying projects for the privatisation of certain sectors. For the employees who are already overworked in this particularly hierarchical enterprise (some say it's even worse than the army), this push to modernise is connected with an aggravation of their work conditions.
This strike was remarkable for the rapidity and the magnitude of its extension. There were close to 180,000 strikers out of 230,000 employees, during the strongest moments of the strike. The press never revealed its real extent. From the very first days the strike spread like a trail of gunpowder. The social partners (the State, the bosses and the unions), who said they were ready to meet each other, found themselves impotent in the face of the sudden uncontrolled development of work-stoppages.
At the beginning of November 1986, a non-union driver on the Paris Gare du Nord network put into circulation a petition demanding the amelioration of the drivers' work conditions and the suppression of a project for a gauge of salaries based on promotion by merit (the petition also threatened the unions with "suffering the consequences" if they didn't support the strike). The petition rapidly received over 200 signatures. Only the CFDT, whose presence amongst this category of employee is virtually insignificant, agreed to announce a strike for the 18th December. Very quickly, several depots in Paris & the provinces walked out on strike illegally, without previous announcement.
From December 20th the "sedentaires" (those not working on the trains - ticket office employees, workshop workers, platform workers, office workers, etc.) joined up with those who work on the trains. The strike of "sedentaires" was massive and the media was especially silent about it.
The strikers were determined to wreck the project of a gauge of salaries and promotion through merit since such a project made increased salaries even more uncertain than they had already been with the old gauge (where the waiting lists for promotion are very long): promotion would be dependant on the degree of docility and submission towards ones hierarchical superiors. "They want us to bow before the office boss; they want us to be arse-lickers" (a striker). For the "sedentaires", who get paid less than those who work on the trains, the problem of increases in salary was posed in a more crucial way. Speaking generally, there haven't been any increases for 2 years in the public sector and Chiracs' famous "privileged" have the privilege of working for the SNCF for a wage close to the national legal minimum wage level or for a little bit more thanks to nights, Sundays and public holidays spent grafting. Such are the obligations of being a 'public service'!
The different strike committees and the numerous general assemblies called from the first week for the co-ordination of different sectors and strike areas in order to develop a better circulation of information and a more effective use of their strength. The will to organise themselves directly, without union intermediaries, was the characteristic of the first assemblies. In contrast with what had generally happened in the past, it wasn't the unions appealing to the assemblies and the assemblies thus submitting to their initiatives and decisions but the railway workers, unionised or not , who appealed to the assemblies.
In some depots (and always at Paris Nord), Stalinists were kicked out. This suspicion towards the unions was, to a great extent, due to the various intrigues of the past, and particularly to the useless and exhausting "sausage" strikes, the CGT speciality, consisting of 24 or 48-hour strikes to demand a bonus, the equivalent of which was deducted from one's salary, whether the bonus was granted or not. In the past, some movements, independent of the unions, like the wildcat strike of 1984 (see the French text "Décontrole d'aiguilles") was sabotaged by the union apparatus.
But though there was a suspicion towards the unions and a will to control the strike through assemblies, this strike wasn't anti-union. Very quickly, the wishes of certain strikers to not use the unions, even as a means of negotiating with the management, found themselves confronted with the refusal of the management, whose only intention was to negotiate with the elected union representatives. The National Co-ordination of train drivers and the Inter-categorial Vitry Co-ordination  quickly fell into agreeing to use the unions as simple organs for transmitting information between management and themselves, affirming their will to control them rigorously: for this reason they were called "taxi-unions".
At Paris-Nord the train drivers were so united they didn't see any need to hold assemblies or to vote on whether to continue the strike. Elsewhere, either through a show of hands, or a secret ballot, voting took place everyday showing everywhere a massive majority for continuing the strike throughout its duration. 
In the assemblies, delegates were appointed to form representatives from different stations and railway depots in the co-ordinating network. With some it was clearly stated that the delegates were revocable but with others the question did not seem to arise. Some strikers criticised the very principle of delegation as possibly constituting and becoming another form of Power.
 In the numerous assemblies, and more particularly of those who worked on the trains, it was demanded that unionised workers must participate in their own personal capacity.
 A Trotskyist-led co-ordination for all categories and all grades of railway workers (TN).
 Example: some strike supporters reproduced 3000 copies of an appeal to other workers put out by the Inter-categorial Co-ordination (see page 23). They then went along to Gare Austerlitz, where this Trotskyist-dominated Co-ordination was especially influential, and showed the leaflets to various drivers. They were completely indifferent, saying that the leaflets, though addressed to workers\unconnected with the SNCF, were meant purely for internal SNCF consumption. They then accused them of being police provocateurs and forced them to run for their lives. (TN)
Militants of every description - from leftists to traditional trade unionists, or those breaking from trade unionism, even some non-unionised elements -sought to imprison, in some neo-trade-unionist formula, all the excitement, the searching, the working out of new modes of struggle stirring within people. They were hoping an occasion would arise enabling them to seize control of this movement, which was altogether new in France.
Sectional differences persisted throughout this strike. In certain depots drivers found it hard to tolerate the presence of station staff in their midst - on the pretext that they were under union control, that they'd been late coming out or that their demands were different and likely to swamp theirs'. Often, even in the same railway stations, different general assemblies were held separately comprising station staff, drivers and guards. Then, after each assembly had been held, there would be mutual consultation to ascertain the results of the voting and what actions had been proposed. This did not prevent different categories of railway workers at Montparnasse, Gare de Lyon and St Lazare from setting up joint picket lines on the tracks.
In this new situation, in which everything remained to be discovered, the strikers found themselves confronted with the weight of the past and the sly manipulators of old ready to re-group at the merest hint of a weakening. During one of the last assemblies, a striker at the Gare St Lazare cannily observed, "At the outset, the general assembly has been the movements' strength but it has not known how to go forward." And if, in the beginning, particularly among station staff, the assemblies were not called by the unions, the latter quickly entered and controlled them - or tried to. At Montparnasse, the CGT took it in turns to read out long statements (which strikers referred to as "Mass") designed to lull the assembly to sleep and, through never-ending abstract generalities, to tire people out.
But if the CGT did not fill the assemblies with enthusiasm, on the whole meeting with the strikers' indifference (apart from where they were in the majority, as in some towns in the South) anti-Stalinists and others who well understood what their game was and didn't like it, were not able to launch a counter-offensive. By the same token, sectional archaisms and the general dismissive behaviour of drivers towards others who were not 'drivers' must count as a factor which limited the movement. 
 Unfortunately, in at least one station, even a formalistic notion of democracy was not respected: towards the end of the strike, a sizeable minority voted to go back to work. When asked if the would respect the wishes of the majority, these would-be scabs said they wouldn't, that they'd cross the picket lines. Instead of violently confronting these scum, the assembly had a re-vote manipulated by the CFDT union, and voted overwhelmingly to return to work. (TN)
The State responded decisively by refusing to give an inch, insisting meanwhile that the strikers were only seeking a wage increase (once the merit wages system had been dropped in anticipation of a new project which will be carried out jointly with their social partners -i.e. bosses and unions). In fact, the strikers had primarily drawn attention to their working conditions. Only station staff had emphasised a wage increase - however, this never received any mention....
The tendency towards self-organisation by the strikers came up against the State's intransigency, which, above all, had to combat and destroy this threat. In order to impose a trade-union presence the SNCF board put forward unacceptable negotiating pre-conditions such as the immediate resumption of work. Seguin, the Employment Minister, was able to state at the time, "the present struggle demonstrates the opportunity that exists in a country like ours to avail itself of strong, responsible unions." The State, surprised initially by the wildcat character of the strike, quickly resorted to dragging things out, convinced a long strike would exhaust, perhaps indefinitely, the strikers' combativity. They waited until the evening of December 31st before announcing the projected system of "merit wages" had been withdrawn and that subsequently negotiations on working conditions were underway.
The railway workers are not students. The entire rail network, as well as station and main crossover points had by then been occupied by picketing railway workers. Stalinists in the CGT proposed (in vain) that strikers take out strike-bound trains so that stranded holiday makers could return home. As a pretext they used the strikers unpopularity from the word go. Ensuring the "sacrosanct right to work" the cops descended on pickets, evicted strikers from occupied railway stations and went so far, in some places, as to check passengers' tickets (often passengers queuing for tickets were surrounded by armed riot cops). At the Gare de Lyon, strikers blockaded the booking office shouting, "It's free, it's free" (see the railway workers leaflet, "Railway workers appeal to passengers"). Confronted with the impossibility of mounting picket lines and maintaining the occupations, numerous acts of sabotage (it would be more precise to call them acts disrupting the movement of rolling stock) took place: points were jammed with stones, lights were left at red, signal boxes were put out of action by removing essential equipment. Hit squads of strikers brought trains to a halt in the open countryside and brakes were sabotaged.
But the angry railway workers knew it would be difficult subsequently to gain a victory .The State does not treat workers like it treats future managers, which is what students are. As the strike began to crumble it was the Stalinists who appeared to be going the whole hog. This uncompromising comic turn was meant to give the impression that they were the most radical.
Against all the odds, the railway workers have gone back to work in a mood of confidence strengthened by the exemplary nature of their movement and their experience. As some of them have asserted, "You see, we didn't win anything but we created a precedent by showing we were capable of leading a long hard strike outside the union."
Through its exemplary quality the movement has created in this country an incomparable precedent.
This period is characterised by a desire to make out that employed workers are privileged, just as previously they wanted to make out they were free individuals. This privilege up to now was linked with the inevitability of poverty and was successively described as necessary and inevitable. But during this strike this pseudo-fatality was shown to be both a plea and a threat in the mouths of State officials. The lie stands revealed - a weapon forged to contain the dissatisfaction of the poor. The State banked on an unpopularity which might have left the strikers isolated. It didn't turn out as they'd hoped. When the railway strike was hardening at the beginning of January, other sectors (buses and metro in Paris, seamen, electricity, gas and postal workers) went on strike. The confusion which surrounded these strikes, a confusion largely wrought by the Stalinists, reduced their scope but did not succeed in totally obliterating revived notions of self-organisation. Railway workers who set about collecting money in railway stations received, in a short space of time, considerable sums .
The consensus which reigned as far as students were concerned was not to be had when it came to railway workers. In November - December all the shitheads imaginable vied with each other to eulogise and proffer advice to students. In January, it was the exact opposite. During a demonstration in Paris in an office district it was astonishing to see the way in which middle-management insulted the strikers whilst employees, on the contrary, cheered them.
The media, so full of praise a month previously, now made many an enemy. In a railway depot, some journalists, on the look out for news to falsify, were approached by a bloke who said to them, "If you want to talk to someone just stay put - I'll go fetch my dog."
As to the discontent and unpopularity this strike provoked, it clearly came from middle managers, shopkeepers, industrialists, financiers and politicians - all that miserly scum, as our fellow Enragé's described them in 1793.
La, Lou & Al
Paris, beginning of February 1987.
(Translated from a French text received from some people we know in Paris; the title is ours')
 Unfortunately, there were very few collections, which must have been a factor in bringing the strike to an end, considering the railway workers had absolutely no strike pay. (TN)
The following contains some very brief information on other strikes in France....
During December: angry small farmers' demonstrations resulted in the Government giving away £200 million in special quotas to offset new EEC rules. Strikes by merchant seamen, dockers, journalists, metro (underground) workers.
December 24th: fear of a strike in the French civil service.
December 29th: seamens' strike escalated and brings most Atlantic and Mediterranean ports to a full stop. On the same day, electricity and gas workers who, for some time, had had planned for them a union-run strike, pressurised union bosses to bring forward the date.
January 4th: the CGT, with its customary "knowing how to end a strike" methods, calls off the month-long seamens' and dockers' disputes. The call was, more or less, obeyed.
Januarv 5th/6th: bus and metro workers strike on and off. Brief and patchy strikes by munitions, dockers and postal workers (e.g. at Paris' Rue du Louvre Post Office, only 200 out of 2000 were on strike). Ports of Marseille, Nantes, St.Lazaire and Bordeaux are closed again by dockers. These strikes are very much separated from each other, hugely dominated by the unions and largely fall into the 24-hour ritual - a ritual deeply resented by not only railway workers. Also round about this time, seamen chuck some containers into the docks at Marseille, which the dockers refuse to pull out. Also, a gun is fired by seamen at dock security guards, though no-one's wounded.
January 9th: gas and electricity workers nonetheless extend strike action with the half-hearted support-cum-hostility of the unions against some of the more imaginative actions. There were many power cuts. Theoretically electricity industry management control the supply network but they're dependant on many other factors - not least, the mood of the electricians themselves. They can, for instance, reduce the speed of the generators to the lowest possible level at hydro-electric and nuclear power stations (indeed, at this time, there was some strike action by nuclear power workers . And by cutting supplies at electricity sub-stations, strikers, through this form of wildcat power, were able to target specific places (e.g. in Pads, notably at Gare du Nord, Gare du L'Est and La Defense). Nonetheless, management, in their well-guarded control rooms, were able, in this bitterly cold weather, to direct many cuts, knocking out supplies to homes and streets in the poor districts, keeping factories, big stores, State Departments, etc. well-supplied. In one provincial town, striking electricity workers managed to occupy one control room, but were quickly ejected by riot police.
January 10th: Growth of a backlash against the strikes by shopkeepers, small business people, sub-contractors etc. Anti-strike demos in Lyons, Lille, Marseille and other cities. It parallels greater splits in the railway workers ranks. Gare du Nord says it will "fight to the bitter end". Others like Chambery at the foot of the Alps vote to return to work.
Small proprietors in France have a tradition of being more virulently pitted against the proletariat than in the UK. A difference: English shopkeepers probe for your opinions first before saying anything leading, but French shopkeepers just let fly with their ghastly prejudices. Likewise, they have no qualms about searching you if they're suspicious - even when you've not even thought of nicking anything. Though the class system in the U.K. is more archaic and antediluvian than the French class system, nonetheless, small proprietors here offer very little resistance when faced with a riotous onslaught on their property and position, quickly giving up in disgruntled despair. Though here they look to the State for protection, this is very blinkered since they receive very little or no economic compensation, and in the inner-city areas, insurance companies increasingly offer no protection or their premiums are so high that few shopkeepers can afford them. In France, since the riots there in 1981 (mainly in Lyons) the State has adopted a low profile towards nicking, whilst surreptitiously encouraging the "petites commercants" to directly shoot down thieves. In France, the petit bourgeoisie protects the State and does not see itself as protected by it. After all, in 1789 their actions created the beginnings of the modern French State.
January 12th: after a few days skirmishing, trouble breaks out in the pits in northern France over the Governments' draconian plan to rationalise still further the coal industry. There was strike action in a few pits. Prior to the strike wave, Carmoux miners had been on strike over a threatened pit closure. The French Coal Board backed down and agreed to defer closure for a year....With the collapse of the railway workers all the rest of the activity, for the time being, has mostly fizzled out.
THE RAILWAY WORKERS LEAFLETS
Leaflet no.1 (below)
Printed on the reverse side of this leaflet is the following:
Leaflet no. 2 (below) .........Leaflet produced at the Gare du Lyon.
Leaflet no. 3 (below)
NOT HAVING THE FRENCH ORIGINAL, THE FOLLOWING WAS TRANSLATED FROM THE ITALIAN MAGAZINE 'OPERAI CONTRO'.
Below is an extract from an interview with some striking French railway workers by railway workers from Milan, Italy, taken from Operai Contro, no.37, March 1987.
Q: Do you think it might be possible and useful to maintain the co-ordinating structure after the struggle has ended?
A: It goes without saying it's not going to dissolve, it goes without saying it's there for good. The unions turned their backs on the strike, they made us submit and lose. Actually, however, we did not lose because we will continue to persevere with strike action and other forms of struggle. So the national co-ordination shall remain in existence and continue to do its job. To be sure, it was an expression of the strike and once over, it ceased to play that role. But the links remain and come the next strike it will go into gear once more. And it will be all that much easier now because there are names, addresses, telephone numbers without which one cannot organise a thing.
Q: Do you think you were influenced or urged on by the recent student struggles in France?
A: It wasn't the student movement that sparked off the strike but it must be said that it did encourage it in some sense and also because it met with the adherence of the most militant part of the working class. In particular, the railway workers - because It was they who took up the struggle with the students in opposing this government. All things considered, the student movement was important for us even if, to reiterate, it didn't cause the strike. It was of value because the students showed that relations of force are important: by getting rid of a minister, they achieved something. They demonstrated that by engaging in struggle all together, problems go - and to obtain what one wants, it's necessary.
Leaflet no. 4 (below)
Leaflet no. 5 (below)
Leaflet no. 6 (below)
Leaflet no. 7 (below)
Leaflet no. 8 (below)
Leaflet No. 9 (below)
Leaflet no. 10 (below)
TRAINS OF THOUGHT.........
When the French railway workers produced their leaflets, they had a directly functional purpose. They have the stamp of authenticity about them. Not only as regards their depth of experience as railway workers but also because they were not written with a view to impressing others or proving their revolutionism. The need to communicate the outlines of autonomous organisation, around which to organise struggle, came first and foremost, along with their specific demands. It would be easy to nit-pick in some kind of measly intellectual put-down, but for what purpose? For instance, one could say the leaflet put out by the users/railway workers committee from Paris and surrounding regions contains a hidden plea in favour of nationalisation, which lets the well-tried mistakes of the former erstwhile workers' movement in through the back door once more. However, the plea is ambiguous, and the other leaflets don't have any substantial leftist ring to them, or, if it's there, it's so subtle as to be almost unnoticeable (though it should be emphasised that the Vitry Co-ordination, which produced a couple of these tracts, was dominated by a Trotskyist leadership, though it's hard to know precisely how much they had to do with the production of it; in fact, in at least one station on strike, a Trotskyist steward clearly wanted to distance himself from one of the Vitry leaflets –"Railway Workers Appeal To Other Workers"). Nevertheless, they are better than any such leaflets produced by striking workers in the UK, who, nowadays, hardly ever think it worthwhile putting pen to paper. This wasn't the case in the period from the early 1960s to 1974, when there were quite a number. However, despite some good one-off lines and graphic descriptions of lousy conditions etc., most of these leaflets never got beyond a leftist, social democratic framework. The people who wrote them were often independently minded, suspicious of party manipulations, but nevertheless, hadn't moved clearly away from such perspectives, particularly in their trade union form. The only exceptions to this, as far as can be ascertained, were some very witty situationist-influenced leaflets written by some Tyneside engineering apprentices during some early-1970s strikes, which, amongst attacks on the Union and the Labour Party, suggested how to get the sack in 10 minutes, 55 ways of winding up a foreman and how to make a bed and go to sleep on your lathe. They were effective alright, and caused the shipbuilders' union big-wig on the Tyne, Jimmy Murray, to froth at the mouth, condemning the apprentices' attitude and 'bad' language.
After that, despite the intense strikes, there's been a virtual silence from struggling workers in the U.K. on this written level, although giving old buck and outspokenness has continued unabated. But to put things down in an enduring form, one that people are going to possibly keep referring to and having a go at you over, well, that's quite a different matter. On this written level, there's been a general feeling of hesitation about taking steps into the unknown. And to add confusion to the confusion, the old leftist reformist perspectives have acquired new sensitised, issue-oriented masks (anti-sexism, gay liberation, anti-racism, etc.) and prove much harder and more intricate to clearly subvert than had at first been imagined when they were in their unadorned, overtly oppressive form. In response to this change where everything could remain the same (in order to get worse), with the left playing as much a part as the right, bewilderment and demoralisation have often set in for those workers who'd had some desultory, half-hearted, faith-healing belief in social democracy. Writing has become a lot more complicated. The attitude has been, "Better to leave it to a more sure-footed day. After all, writing about what's happened in the past seems to be at best simply damage limitation." Simpler, in fact, to just act on your feelings and to hell with the tags, guilts and labels. But at the same time there's that nagging feeling that won't go away - that need to clearly recognise the outlines of a bizarre web beginning to take shape. The "new movement" (if one can safely call it that), which more or less began with 'The Winter Of Discontent' onwards through the 1981 riots and after, a movement neither left nor right, apolitical if not yet anti-political, has never produced from within, apart from a very occasional contribution, any throw-away leaflets in comparison with an earlier more social democratic form of struggle, when "unofficial committees" - in docks, print, buildings etc. - produced anti-bureaucrat rank 'n' file trade union papers which had reasonable circulation in the work-places. Now we're in an epoch where rank 'n' file trade unionism is largely impotent, even within its own limited terms (and, in fact, because of them). Once the movement had had its wings clipped by the TUC ensconced in the State apparatus between 1974 and 1979, this kind of rank 'n' file broadsheet (e.g.in the mines after the 1984 strike or the building sites) has never again had the same impact or gelled with the real movement when it keeps bursting through. However, reflection and the practical consequence of this reflection have not ceased. It expresses itself in life, in attitudes, far more than on paper, than in the need to adequately grasp theoretically the change. Things happen in the UK within a limited class consciousness - it is only later, much later, that their deeper significance begins to be understood. The 'Winter of Discontent' was a watershed, because in the absence of the great batteries of unofficial committees (without which vanguardists of every variety believed no fight-back was possible) an elemental movement suddenly surged forth. And what happened on the social level happened on other more formal levels. In a sense, organisations were stripped of their meaning, and often their membership, overnight. And though people did not cease to revolt and to want a revolution, only the more pretentious described themselves as "revolutionaries". Much has been made of (to use the conventional banality) the increasing "depoliticisation" of the Thatcher years and the concomitant atomisation. In fact this dispersal is, even given the brutal tendencies of Thatchers' reign where any opposition (even partly archaic forms of opposition) have been pulverised through mass sackings, jailings, etc., also symptomatic of the decay of leftist & "unofficial movement" illusions - both in the industrial & urban terrain. In their place, a more thorough-going, raging refusal, in fact, often breaks through the mask of pseudo-conformity, quiet desperation and schizoid resignation.
One can respond to all the reflections written down above pretty sharply. What the fuck do leaflets matter when in terms of sheer vandalism the UK has the most violent proletariat in Europe? After all, practically day by day, in small ways and often in big ways, they are trying to destroy this commodity nightmare and not philosophising about it in some kind of sub-literary way. But then you feel a limitation - a limitation which is very hard to pin-point. There's a moving practical consciousness alright - often brilliant - but which suddenly gets clogged up with a limited empirical outlook which just seems to intensify the increasing fragmentation. The very destructive real movement in the UK certainly overlaps interplays and mutually influences each rebellious sector, but with confused distances and gaps in consciousness which more often than not veil the connections for those involved. It couldn't be more different in France where, although the real movement is weaker, once it breaks out, connections are often made, which nevertheless tend to minimise separations in a false feeling of unity. In France, a certain notion of theory often gives the illusion of a class conscious movement, whereas in this country, the absence of an ongoing self-reflective proletarian consciousness plays into the ruling illusions that make each battle seem wholly unconnected, and, in some way, purely nihilist.
Can written theory play a part in changing this? There's never been a sure answer to this. Unlike in France, there's a relative absence of theory in the U.K. which, to be sure, saves it from an ideologisation process which so plagues France, where the written word stirs up passions out of all proportion to the relation to practical reality. Radical theory here is generally not well-regarded wherever it comes from ~ leftists, unemployed, workers, paid intellectuals or what have you. Indeed to produce something (like this, for instance) is looked upon with a complex suspicion-cum-hesitant acceptance, both good and bad -and its ambivalence gets through to you alright. In immediate on the spot terms, it means that theory lies uneasy in the hand, embarrassed, you almost want to deny you've had any part in it! Better to shoot the breeze – it's a more enjoyable form of communication! It's an atmosphere which means that written theory is virtually ignored. In some ways this is no bad thing - when this climate prevents one from acquiring any potential status or role as revolutionary theorist (which happens only too easily in France). People who come on heavy with some pedagogical pedantic use of theory are generally regarded as arrogant pratts. Practically, it means you've little choice but to remain in a constant state of raw alienation, taking hooks to the jaw like everyone else. But then do you want total nothing/blanking/absence, having the ideas you have that don't relate directly to any immediate practical reality being met with indifference?
No such leaflets like the partly ideological, but interesting, French ones criticised & translated in this text could be done here. Or if they were, it would mean the whole place was in a real, almost no-turning-back, uproar. After all, during the civil war of 1640-45, England was the first country of the revolutionary tract. So it would be a far less institutionalised thing than in France - it would really mean something. Significantly, some of these leaflets (again, typical of France) received a fair amount of publicity from recuperative leftist outfits. What precious little radical theory that has come from the UK over the last few years has been virtually blanked all the way from leftist rags to the so-called 'quality' gutter press. And it's impossible to get any publisher to accept anything of value or get any ready dosh for subsidising it. No free 'publicity' from our enemies here! For instance, "Picket", the excellent fly-sheet which accompanied the Wapping, News International strike, (and which it certainly helped to prolong and to whose violence it almost certainly contributed), received no mention - or at best a line - in the leftist press, despite its weakness in avoiding criticising the trade unionist mentality and Trade Unions as such. No copping a plea here about lack of distorted publicity in lefty papers or complaining about the blinkered well-off but mean intelligentsia here who, unlike sections in France, can see no point in compromising their position with some radical status/image, by financing and copy-righting loss-making revolutionary analyses. In France, though the official publication of revolutionary critiques gives them a wider distribution it also turns them into ideology, their content belied by the fact that they've been turned into property, and thus can no longer be taken so seriously; in this way they become more palatable, less poisonous, for the intelligentsia which can now quote them to prove how chic they are. In comparison to France, recuperative dulling of the fangs (apart from, to some degree, in culture (music) some TV and academia) is underdeveloped in the UK. In the end, though, one has to say, with a measured but very sure certainty that radical theory does have an impact in the UK. (and this could be true elsewhere, too) which is virtually impossible to fathom. Certainly examples from the past and from other countries (e.g. Kuron & Modzelewskis' "Open Letter To The Polish Communist Party", produced in 1965, which had an effect on Poland in 1968, or, better still, the Situationist Internationals' 'On the Povertv of Student Life', scandalously produced in Strasbourg in 1966, which had an effect on France in the run-up to 1968) show that written theory does have a concrete historical influence. But can they serve as models for the future? Certainly not the avant-gardism in them - the idea of an already fully developed body of theory taking hold of the masses almost by conversion. Nevertheless, the risks these radicals took, and their timely written attacks, are exemplary, even if, nowadays, they are inadequate also: today, of course, the practical needs, the risks and the stakes, are far higher. This question requires something more complex than can be developed here in this text.
Generally speaking, rebellious proles in the UK don't read theory just like that and take in the nuances of the contents. To be sure, unlike some instances in France recently (calling some who handed out leaflets "provocateurs" etc.) and because of the changes which have taken place here throughout years, every now and again, of having a go, they're not going, despite the general scepticism towards the written word, to knock you for doing it. On the contrary, it's taken more or less gladly. But also, miners, pen-pushers, tough inner-city kids and others don't generally go through some text line by line looking for possible errors, ideological confusions or mistakes. As theory in short. If anything, first and foremost it's liking the commitment of having done it for them, the raj style/language etc. at the same moment as there's a healthy mistrust of theory as being part of 'them (i.e. something that comes from intellectuals, from specialists, from the division of labour), which you are sometimes mistakenly bunched in with, categorised as a 'writer' (of course, there are some people who claim to want a revolution who use writing as a fetishised mediation which dominates their social relationships, so in such cases people are perfectly correct in their suspicions).
On a more general level, there are, of course, many differences between the movement in the UK and that in France. One of the main reasons French railway workers could write and talk so well about what they were doing was because they were making a breakthrough the likes of which hasn't been seen in the UK Put simply -they no longer gave a fuck about the union and weren't worried about being frank about it. The ideology of trade unionism is much stronger in the UK than in France. Now only about 1 in 6 French workers are unionised, but in the UK, it's still the overwhelming majority (although it's declining numerically) and, indeed, it tends to be the more rebellious proletarians who see Trade Unions as some support for their struggles - though this too is changing. But although there is an elemental movement in the UK - one that is almost without a name, and hardly even considers itself as a movement at all, but which appears in brilliant flashes like some Northern Aurora - it also, in off periods, falls uneasily back into the semblance of a tradition. Thus, in response to the stark facts that non-unionists in the French railway workers strike played a big part, the response of an independently-minded UK worker, glad to see it happening across the Channel, was glibly, "How can they strike if they're not in the union?" An opened mouth, jaw-dropping reply quickly changed the initial reflex comment into a ready acceptance that non-unionists were able to initiate strike action as much as those in a union. Nevertheless, this incident does point to a major obstacle in the UK now: how to clearly break from the trade union form of struggle and not just endlessly criticise it in fascinating detail, ringing the changes on changing the union! From changing the personnel at the top (election of leftist bureaucrats, etc.) to changing the rule book or the union structure to trying to make the officials be paid no more than the average wage of those they represent to more control by delegate conferences or particular mandated committees and so on and so on. In fact it's been the unions - and trade unionist ideology in the practice of the working class - that have kept Thatcher in power. For example, NUPE playing off COHSE and vice versa in the health workers' strike. Or ASLEF telling its' members to cross NUR picket lines, and vice versa, in the 1982 post-Falklands rail strikes. The miners' strike is more complicated - but, without going deeper into details, it's clear that trade unionism was a vital limitation & weakness of that remarkable explosive struggle. Undoubtedly, in the heat of practice, the union baggage is often pushed aside and ignored, but only to be slipped in sideways when it seems pragmatic to do so. Thus, even in wildcat actions, the smokescreen of unionism ("This strike is official" when it very much isn't, etc.) keeps making an appearance and it squeezes perception of struggle (which matters, too) into an outmoded shell which stops others connecting and catching on. Oh for the day when employed proles in the UK. will be as forthright as the French railway workers in the long and difficult task of emancipating themselves from the trade union form.
As regards perception of the French proletariat by independently-minded proletarians in the UK, it is again quite complex. Conditions have changed quite dramatically over 20 years and the proletariat in the UK has taken a battering (economically, socially, etc.), which generally has just not happened m France. Rebels in Europe or America often look to here, with its anti-State eruptions as an exemplary inspiration - but they tend to ignore the fact that the dispossessed here are increasingly at the end of their tether, and often find it almost unbearable having to drag themselves through the day. The UK has become increasingly a basket-case society. At the same time, proletarians here have slowly but surely become more and more internationally-minded in some kind of off-beat, patchy way, especially after the miners strike. There's developed vis-a-vis France a certain envy-cum-inferiority complex with an edge of aggrieved hostile jealousy towards the saner gallic emphasis on eating, drinking, sex, socialismg, etc., though there's a contradictory wariness about some of the curious attitudinising endemic to a certain part of French life. On the other hand, the feeling amongst intelligent proletarians here - "When the French have a go, they really have a go!" - was still there during the events of this last winter -1986 –'87. But it's also no longer a tale of two cities. It's a response shorn of a reverential awe of revolutionary France in comparison with conservative England, which has persisted for two centuries among the dispossessed here (from the Yorkshire Ludds, through to many a worker who occupied a factory in the early 1970s stimulated by some memory of France in 1968). This always simplistic contrast has become part of a historical mythologising at odds with the real experience of proletarians in the UK forced to come face to face with their very own periodic waves of intense revolt and an overall incredibly fraught atmosphere which one feels (without making hasty predictions) is forever teetering on the brink. Therefore, the model of a revolutionary France has become emptier and there's no intention of artificially trying to recreate it in these pages. Nonetheless, to go back full circle, the leaflets of the French railway workers, postal workers (produced on the last page) are a good read.
....AND IDEOLOGICAL PLATFORMS
Part of our initial excitement over the events of December in France were due not just to the fact that France had begun to wake up after years of agonising sleep but also to the plethora of pretty good leaflets circulating Paris during the student movement. Although we've always thought the Lascars leaflets were the greatest, we also liked many of the others, the ones translated following this article. This was partly due to our ignorance about the reality of what went on in December; there'd been - at long last - a riot in Paris, Chirac had been shit-scared, the railway workers had followed the students, and there were all these revolutionary leaflets, unlike in the UK. In fact, these leaflets had played a part in our overestimation of the situation at the beginning of December - and in the confusion of several other people included (for example, La Estiba - journal of the Barcelona dockers, Counter-Information in Edinburgh, La Sociale in Quebec, and doubtless many others).
Undoubtedly these leaflets give some expression to both the breath of fresh hope that filled the air and the way that this sudden hope can overwhelm the need to examine the complexities of the situation. The wave of enthusiasm, which broke the claustrophobic sense of utter defeat that had suffocated France up till December, was such a beautiful surprise that the inability to break free from a student reformist movement was hardly contested. These leaflets illustrate how insufficient it is to have a general social critique of the market economy, anger and a passionate will to contribute to developing a real movement of opposition. All of this can just lead to wishful-thinking, optimistically minimising the contradictions. When it came to the explicit theory of the time, only the Lascars really spoke for themselves and against student aspirations. The rest adopted an excessively positive attitude towards the students, even though they were far more critical than the Leftist /anarchist stuff. Yet the leaflets translated here are slightly cardboard imitations/intimations of another '68 (but with a greater emphasis on ecology and racism) in a situation which was completely different. Almost invariably they combined a critique of certain symptoms of the politics of the student movement with a contradictory approval of the political pretext for the movement (i.e. maintaining the existing hierarchy of the university against its intensification) and the inevitable political/democratic ideology that went with it. There were political criticisms of the student Co-ordinating Committee, as if it were a bunch of bureaucrats acting against a radical rank and file. Others praised the "direct democracy" of the movement, its revocable delegates and so on, and maybe all this was true, as almost all students shared the same interest in peaceful democratic reform. But what the fuck do we care about it? One leaflet -'Autumn Volcano' claims to dismiss the universities, yet ends up with a pie-in-the-sky conclusion calling - when all is said and done amidst the flowery phrases - for some kind of intellectual elite of clued-in students; yet one knows all too well that generally when students read the works of past revolutionaries it's in order to get careers as lecturers, journalists etc.! Another- 'Quick!' (a slogan from May '68) -has some pertinent anti-political comments yet ends up with typical patronising ultra-leftist advice like "We would straightaway like to draw your attention to the fact that there are many other remaining laws to be got rid of and many other ministers to dismiss". For this reason, to the horror of its authors, this leaflet was quoted in a left-wing journal as one of the best leaflets of the period. Lamenting this fact, one of its authors felt he had to dismiss the leaflet, along with the rest of the situationist-influenced tracts, as merely playing the role of Jolly Joker, easily tolerated by the 'democratic movement'. Probably this is going over the top: it's clear that, though some of the more modern leftists might like to refer positively to them, there are also important aspects of these leaflets that make them a bit worrying for recuperators - leftists and other good students. Unlike the reformist chatter, these leaflets, however partly politically & ideologically, express, nevertheless, a real rage and will to live. So it would be just reactive and intellectual to dismiss them as merely 'political', as limited, in a different way, as the leaflets themselves. Recuperable they may be - and for these reasons one must criticise them - but if recuperators feel the need to recuperate something, it's not simply because of the failures of their would-be enemies, but also because a threat has to have the sting taken out of it.
We reproduce them here  because we need to give an accurate critical account of the situation, including its partial distortion in the hands of revolutionaries; not to reveal these distortions and unravel the reasons for them would merely help their perpetuation in other ways. Besides, what's the point in criticising something which English-speaking people have no knowledge of? Coming from different angles of the situationist-influenced spectrum, these translations reflect ideologies far closer to a genuine antagonism to this society than Leftist ideologies: some have been produced by people we've felt quite close to at times, people who participated in some of the better moments of December. It's always more useful to criticise something which is partly, though insufficiently, uncomfortable for our enemies - particularly since those who want to end this society are generally more willing to reflect on their mistakes (in fact, in the aftermath of the euphoria, most of the authors of these leaflets have, been fairly critical of what they produced on the impulse of a heady occasion).
But the weakness of these leaflets was not just due to the unexpected nature of the events. In part, it was the desire of the authors to simplistically fuse their own revolutionary goals with the supposed 'unconscious' tendencies of a movement whose explicit consciousness was the enemy of these goals. They hoped to entice/convert students into a radical perspective when few students had any inclination to seriously act on such a perspective. Discarding the old Leninist coup d'etat perspective, they nevertheless hoped to achieve a coup of consciousness. Without risking making enemies of the vast majority of students who retained their student/careerist identity, such an abstract ideological application of 'theory' was bound to underestimate the gap, and did nothing to prepare rebels who joined the situation for the students' evasions and hesitations.
However, overestimating and underestimating students can be two sides of the same avant-gardist coin. Without subverting this need for an avant-gardist image, and the blinkered compulsion to have a "correct line" that wins you the most approval from your avant-garde scene, it would be very easy to simply criticise the Seductive Teacher form of this image, manifested by these tracts. But the flip-side of trying to draw such people unwittingly into a radical critique is to assert hierarchical ambitions on the part of students which not all of them have. This kind of other-directed notion of one's superior radicality - particularly in its formally organised forms - can just as easily turn from being over-indulgent towards potential cadres to a superficial contempt towards these students, deterministically dismissing them as "future managers" (and this sometimes comes from people who, not so long ago, were living off a student grant themselves). To be sure, in the last decade or so of this century even 'reformist' students simply wish to conserve their present and future roles - and for this conservatism, they are rightly despised, if not hated. But there's a not inconsiderable minority who go to college to get away from home or some rut or just because they don't know what else to do. And undoubtedly there are many students whose constant daily experience of proletarian life and poverty and the frustrated anger it inevitably produces mitigates against any chance of them even dreaming of making it in this shit world (but though they reject using the university to better themselves within this crap, these working class students tend to believe they can use an education to better themselves against it, a logic which tends towards a vanguardist use of intelligence, one-up on the rest of their class: they forget that all real education develops from their own mistakes and struggles, and those of their class. A few of these have some misconception that after having 'proved' they can make it in the "education" world they will then be able to turn round and tell this world to stuff it from a position of strength - as if a confidence found from approval by specialists could then be turned against them. Behind this choice of 'education' as a way-out lies the need for an externally directed 'education'. So this need, regardless of any original scepticism about the university, can be easily channelled into an ambitious careerist mentality which tries to create meaning within this meaningless world, thus reinforcing it. Of course, for many of them, once they leave college, they're forced to realise how these hopes were just a false exit from the misery they wanted to escape from. As the Lascars leaflets recognised, a large number of students will end up as proletarians, probably working in offices -the "tidy factories". There's still a huge over-production of managerial roles - managerial in the broadest sense of the term - and many ex-students, who haven't it within them to be grovellers and arse-lickers, retrain as office skivvies (often badly paid skivvies, too), manual beef (building operatives, etc.) and/or (there's a lot of jumping about too) become part of the unemployed lifer/scrounger/casual worker/honourable thief syndrome ("honourable" in the sense of hitting the rich, the State, businesses, etc. ~ but not the poor). Moreover, unlike the period up to the mid-1970s, many ex-students, because of the pressure of possible life-long unemployment, become workers simply for job security or a relatively good wage. And it's a better reason than previous ones. Gone is most of the ideological hogwash about joining the workers so as to radicalise them, foment strikes in the name of the revolutionary idea, etc.; all of which usually meant rapidly taking over some workerist bureaucratic postion from which the creeps could again, bit by bit, advance themselves in the social hierarchy, moving, in one way or another, towards reasonably well-heeled sinecures as managers of discontent.
Nevertheless, unlike twenty years ago, the real critique of the university/college etc. tends to come from without. Primarily by rebels, employed or unemployed, who have either left college years ago or have never been. Most of these dismiss students as cowardly wankers, full of complaining spiel about their own narrow and relatively 'comfortable', misery; as poseurs, at best their rebellion merely verbal and risk-free; as insipid innocuous 'nice guys', treating life as a superficial joke; as arrogant and smugly passive cynics, etc. And most feel very far from students' self-satisfied feeling of belonging to a 'community' which makes them feel, unlike the rest of the poor, somehow less isolated and desperate, saved from the raw anxieties of unmediated communication by their ready-made scene dominated by a common self-interest in conservative reforms. This judgement is obviously applicable to most students, but there are still a few, albeit very few, who have no ambitions in the system, who reject competitive individualism, who have no intention of being future authorities of various kinds and who go beyond good intentions and put their life where their mouth is. Even though the ever-tightening constraints of the economy have made the possibility of subversive anti-students seem irrelevant, even archaic, there are still some isolated rebels in the universities (like, for instance, the student who helped the Lascars apprentices). However, most students only see through their mis-education once they've left, once they've lost the carrot of a career and find themselves structurally within the proletariat, the former students who commit the one necessary suicide and slowly but surely have seen their educational interlude, whether in the realm of art, literature, science, sociology, psychology, teaching or whatever, as a complete and utter con (that is, when they're not bitter and fucked up about having had to take a lowlier job than they feel entitled to ). Practically though, this realisation comes too late: they're mostly impotent to do anything about it in the sense of having immediate access to wrecking the generally useless junk in the library, disrupting lectures, deflowering the art treasures, desecrating the temples of ideology, etc. (all this hampered even more by the fact that goody-goody students - as happened recently at the LSE occupation – won't let possibly disruptive outsiders through their well guarded doors). There are so many individuals like this, but, by and large, they're isolated from one another in their private, but very right, conclusions.
Certainly it's still very necessary to attack the institutions of higher education. And no liberal mouthings from ultra-leftists or whatever, backing student demands, in no matter how critical a way, about the erosion of arts/philosophy /humanities courses and the seemingly ever-encroaching monetarist invasion of the hallowed portals, should deter one from forthrightly tearing these institutions apart on every level. An updated critique of the university would be useful (e.g. the massively growing role of art, initially fostered in colleges, over nearly all aspects of commodity reproduction over the last 18 years) to give this creative destruction a really keen cutting edge - not an analysis that's rustily brought out of a first-rate antique collection of revolutionary nostalgia from many moons ago.
Radical theory here has its own self-motion, travelling on something like a self-regenerative fuel. Sure, one can point to a certain theoretical excellence coming from France in comparison to, say, the UK. But without carping on too much, one is left with the uneasy feeling - just what does it all mean? Does this ambience mean French workers are any different really from workers elsewhere? It seems, not a great deal. Therefore, how much does 'analysis' belong to a particular milieu - a milieu which is probably, on this level, larger in France than elsewhere. A bit of something to show to another in a charmed and, at times, vicious, circle; a logo to keep a name in circulation. Don't produce and you're discarded like an old bean can without even severance or redundancy pay! Produce something half-intelligent and they're not just going to criticise it, but they'll drag every word out of context and force, you to eat them, one by one. Obviously this at times unfortunate posturing competitiveness has had no interest over the years for the French poor.
Not all the situ-influenced tracts of December are translated here - just a few to give some idea of what people were saying and thinking at the time. Compared with '68 there were relatively far more situ-influenced tracts and far less leftist tracts in 1986.In four days the image of irrediable wretchedness that dominated
THE LEAFLETS OF DECEMBER 1986
Leaflet no.1 (below)
* Beaufs: An insulting term used by the French against lower middle-class, pro-cop, usually racist, people who are always suspicious of anyone who doesn't seem to fit. There are millions of these shits and each year they kill several dozen 'misfits' with hardly anything being meted out to them in return. Since the riots of '81 (mainly in Lyons, but also in other big cities) these 'beaufs' - particularly shopkeepers and store detectives - have killed an increasing amount of young, and especially immigrant, thieves (with virtually no social security, thieving is even higher than here). Such unpunished killings, with a nod and a wink from both the left and right-wing State, had managed, up till December, to effectively intimidate those at the bottom of the pile into terrorised silence.
**Pasqua: The Minister of the Interior (Home Secretary), well-known for his links with the French equivalent of the Mafia.
Leaflet no.2 (below)
Leaflet no.3 (below)
Leaflet no. 4 (below)
Leaflet no 5 (below)
* A dictionary which explains the meaning of words that iseither old or not well-known.
Leaflet no 6 (Below)
Leaflet no. 7 (below)
Leaflet no.8 (below)
*In fact this was the first major riot in Paris since the steelworkers' demonstrations of 1979 – and the fact that the State withdrew the Devaquet Bill
almost immediately after this was seen everywhere as partly a response to this mini-riot. So the "political profit" it tried to extract wasn't particularly instructive (TN)
Leaflet no.9 (below)
 Besse: Managing director of Renault killed in the early autumn of 1986 by the State-manipulated Action Directe. (TN)
 But even a right-wing State needn't be so unsubtle. The recent arrests of Action Directe, who must have been infiltrated by cops or cop informers for at least a year, has been conveniently timed to provide an excuse for saturation policing in Paris once again (if only during the trial), in a future which promises to be dangerous for the French ruling class.(TN)
FOR THE FUTURE .......?
Leaflet no.10 (below)
Reproduction of this leaflet is highly recommended in all countries, including the USSR
 Written by a postal worker (or postal workers), this leaflet was distributed to other posties via the post offices internal mailbag system, thereby not giving a grass or a manager any chance to do some fingering. (translators' note ).
 Reports are written on each post office worker, much like school reports, with marks and comments.
 Procés Verbal (oral trial)
Above: Back cover of pamphlet (A Lascars leaflet)