When mass protests against petrol prices forced the French government to back down and lower prices, it sent a message to Britain: militancy and direct action work.
They can work in Britain, where petrol and diesel prices are a great deal higher than in France.
Britain has been brought to the edge of paralysis by mass pickets blockading oil depots throughout the country. Nothing like it has been seen since the miners' strike of the mid-'80s.
Not long ago the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, was indignantly spluttering that French fuel price demonstrations were "holding Britain to ransom". Now, Prime Minister Tony Blair splutters: "We cannot and we will not alter Government policy on petrol through blockades and pickets. That's not the way to make policy in Britain and as far as I'm concerned it never will be." The great thing about the demonstration now going on is that it is, it seems, exactly how we are beginning to do things in Britain.
In fact, one of the sources of this militancy is the widespread feeling that "ordinary people" can't affect what the Government does. Everything, they feel, has been stitched up.
The Government argument that there is a "green" element to very high fuel taxes - by cutting the number of cars on the road - rings hollow when people know that the Government has not even a decent pretence of having an integrated transport policy.
High fuel prices, of which three-quarters is fuel tax, directly affect millions of people. The militant protesters against high fuel prices are, it seems, heavily middle class for now - farmers, hauliers, independent truckers, fishers, taxi-drivers. They have the support of millions who have not demonstrated. They can force Blair to climb down as the French demonstrators forced Prime Minister Jospin to retreat.
Wage-earning lorry drivers have refused to cross the picket lines around the oil depots. Blair threatens to use the anti-union laws which the Tories put on the statute book against them. Lower middle class protesters, who during the miners' strike were hostile to miners' mass picketing, now tell TV cameras that, looking back at it, the miners and Arthur Scargill were "right" to go in for militant action. Seeing the fuel prices demonstration at work, many trade unionists will now be saying exactly the same thing to themselves, and feeling the injustice of the existing anti-union legislation which forbids striking workers to engage in the sort of "secondary" picketing now being used against the oil depots.
The idea of militant action that spread from France to Britain may be about to spread within Britain - to the working class. A mass militant campaign to scrap Britain's anti-union laws is long overdue. Learn the lessons of militancy! 12.9.00