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Terry Fields

French Workers March Against Steel Closures

(March 1979)

From Militant, No. 449, 30 March 1979, pp. 1 & 12.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“The air was positively electric at 3 o’clock when we were due to start off. But with the numbers coming in from all over France, however, the start was delayed.

“From every side street there seemed to be people trying to get into the main avenue off the Place de la Republique. It was well past six when we arrived at our destination.

“There were old workers, retired workers, families, all participating in the march, sometimes forty deep across the road. The streets were lined with people applauding, shouting, chatting ...”

This was Terry Field’s impression of the massive March 23rd trade union demonstration in Paris organised in protest against catastrophic redundancies in the French steel industry which would devastate towns like Longwy in the Lorraine. Over 100,000 people marched on the demo.

Terry, a member of the Fire Brigades Union Executive, was in Paris as a fraternal delegate to the Triennial Conference of the public sector unions of the CGT [the CP-led general confederation of labour].

“We had been there all week and we certainly expected the demonstration to be the highlight of our visit.

“The most unanimous [1] sign for us, returning to Paris on Thursday, the evening before the demonstration, were the units of riot police heading towards the city on the main roads.

“By the early hours of Friday, there were literally tens of thousands of people assembling. Children with their parents had come to see the sights. There were banners and posters everywhere. The atmosphere was lighthearted, festive, throughout.

“Along the route there was no trouble. The largest contingents were from the CGT, and were well marshalled.

“Later on in the evening, around seven, there was rioting and the police were involved. You could see the police up the side streets, standing pretty much close to the march. The marchers were chanting: “No! No! No! to provocation!”

“Riot police concentrated so close was a definite provocation.

“When we spoke to leading members of the CGT public sector workers that evening, they had evidence of police involvement in the demo as agent provocateurs. In one case, they had details of a man armed with a revolver who was most probably a police agent.

“The press have reported the gangs of youths with balaclavas on their heads and wielding iron bars or chains. But the CGT was so well marshalled that I don’t believe that anyone from the CGT could have been involved in such a totally useless form of activity which is used by the media to try to discredit the demonstration.”

Note by ETOL

1. This should probably be “ominous”.

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