Waking up at 5 a.m., meetings and phone calls: how the government experienced the March 7 strike

Waking up at 5 am meetings and phone calls how

The future belongs to those who get up early, but when you get woken up at five o’clock in the morning, you can legitimately think, with half-closed eyes, that this is also the beginning of the problems. It is still dark, Clément Beaune’s phone rings on his bedside table. We solemnly appeal to the Minister of Transport: the Hauts-de-France trucking unionists are asking to be able to tow in peace, in other words without having to fear the police, who have also already started their day a long time ago. Tow, not block, we assure the Minister to coax him. Request accepted… even if the protesters will end up, a little later, by blocking all the same.

France is not yet standing that it is promised to be paralyzed, “stopped”. The trade unions relied heavily on the mobilization of this March 7 against the pension reform to stagger the executive. “You should not shout before you are in pain”, indicated Monday morning the Minister of Labor Olivier Dussopt at the microphone of Franceinfo. Tuesday evening, the members of the government, far from howling in pain, much more heaved a slight sigh of relief. Nothing broken.

“Black Tuesday”, but life goes on: nothing to change the presidential agenda. Returning from his trip to Africa, Emmanuel Macron meets at 10 a.m. at the Elysée Palace with part of his government team for a meeting devoted to the “2030 Neighborhoods” plan. Around him and Elisabeth Borne: the Minister for Cities and Housing Olivier Klein, of course, but also Gérald Darmanin, Olivier Dussopt, Stanislas Guérini, François Braun, Christophe Béchu, Rima Abdul-Malak, Olivia Grégoire… opportunity, perhaps, to slip a few words to these ten ministers about the streets of Paris and the city centers which are beginning to be blackened with demonstrators? “Absolutely not”, assure several participants. “Not a word about it, he got into the tough quarters without deviating from it,” adds one of them.

From midday, the Minister of Public Service Stanislas Guérini receives from the General Directorate of Administration and the Public Service (DGAFP) the rates of strikers in the various sectors he covers. Once these figures have been compiled, he hastens to communicate them to the President of the Republic and to the Prime Minister. First source of satisfaction for the executive: “The rate of strikers in the public service is down compared to January 19, it is clear that it is not a mobilization of the same nature as that of 2019, it is not is not the level of strikes of the Fillon reform”, Guérini breathes.

3 p.m.: while the deputies pose their first questions to the government at the Palais Bourbon, Gabriel Attal takes the bench at the Palais du Luxembourg for the examination of the reform in the Senate. In the continuity of his offensive communication for a few days, the Minister for Action and Public Accounts pays a vibrant tribute to the “tens of millions of French people who make the country go round” and reprimand those who want to put “the country’s economy on your knees” – comments broadcast live on BMFTV.

Within the executive, the level of information fluctuates. At the Assembly, the ministers follow the course of the day with their eyes glued to their smartphones. “We are attentive to what is happening, of course, but it is not the super dramatic anxiety either”, jokes one of them. The level of information fluctuates according to the degree of involvement in the reform: some communicate with the prefects they know to take the pulse of the situation in such and such a territory; Olivier Dussopt keeps himself informed through his ministry channels and exchanges with his great friend the Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin on the state of the blockages and overflows that we see emerging in the streets of Paris. In his stronghold of Annonay in Ardèche, which has become the nerve center of mobilizations in the region, some 2,000 homes have been deprived of electricity by the CGT. “A day when I’m not there, it’s not very smart,” whispers the Minister of Labor, who deplores that high schools have had to send students home, for lack of light and canteens. “It’s disgusting,” later reacted his colleague Stanislas Guérini on RTL.

Others are in the oven and at the mill, like Clément Beaune and Agnès Pannier-Runacher at Energy. The crisis center at the Ministry for Ecological Transition, where we find around the table their cabinet, the Directorate General for Civil Security and Crisis Management, representatives of SNCF, RATP, ports and roads, gives them a point four times a day. The Minister of Transport, who lives with the television on, made around sixty phone calls during the day, remaining in constant contact with the boss of SNCF Jean-Pierre Farandou, RATP Jean Castex and ADP Augustin de Romanett.

At the end of the day, the figures fall: 1.28 million French people have beaten the pavement according to the Ministry of the Interior (against 1.27 million five weeks earlier), 3.5 million according to the CGT. It’s not a black Tuesday, it’s a gray Tuesday, we rustle in the corridors of the ministries. “It’s very high, but it’s not a tidal wave”, slips a pillar of the government. “We can clearly see that it is a strong mobilization: three days with more than a million people in the street, with more and more people in the provinces, it would be a mistake to say that it is a failure. On the other hand, it is not a blocking of the country”, estimates another minister. “In short, the mobilized remain mobilized. The Senate continues its work … And the Assembly its circus”, completes a third at the start of the evening, targeting just as much the Nupes as the Minister of Justice Eric Dupond-Moretti and his two “arms of honor” in the direction of the boss of the deputies LR Olivier Marleix. The Keeper of the Seals apologized, but at a time when the right is forcing the Senate and when we wonder about his reliability at the Bourbon Palace to vote for the reform, in the majority we would have done well without this blow. outburst against the government’s temporary allies.

Tuesday evening, the key word on the government side was “stability”, but also caution. The executive, which is counting on a breathlessness of the protest movement after the passage of its text in a joint joint committee and the solemn vote in the National Assembly, is waiting to see what will be “the rate of decline” of the mobilizations. “The real issue was not March 7, but the sustainability or not of the movement in the street, especially after having passed the examination of the text in the Senate”, explains a member of the government. Until then, negotiations remain tight with the right in the Assembly and the Senate, because there would be no better way to reinvigorate the inter-union and offend the French than to go through article 49.3…