Socialist Worker

French students defy repression to protest against new law

by Dave Sewell
Issue No. 2496

Students on the march in Paris

Students on the march in Paris (Pic: www.force-ouvriere.fr on flickr.com)


French police failed to smash striking students off the streets on their third national day of action against a vicious new employment law today, Thursday.

While a special cabinet meeting debated the new law, some towns saw their largest protests so far—despite repeated and vicious police attacks.

In Paris there was fighting on the streets. Cops were filmed beating a 15 year old, reportedly breaking his jaw. Manon, a student from his college, told the press they treated him “like a dog”.

“I’ve honestly never seen anything so sickening in my life,” she added. “One officer wouldn’t stop yelling ‘shut your mouth’ at us.”

Even employment minister Miriam El Khomri who is moving the new law had to admit there was “police behaviour not appropriate for dealing with a college student.”

It follows several shocking police raids on students inside their universities in Paris, Lyon and Strasbourg last week.

Despite the repression, more universities were barricaded, and a new round of occupations began earlier this week. There were also a number of marches on Tuesday—in the western town of Rennes marching students blocked train lines.

Many workers joined Thursday's demonstrations, notably from the CGT union federation which has called strikes in the public sector following a bad pay deal.

Majority

The centre-left government wants to help bosses work their employees longer for less. But the majority of the population opposes its new law, as do many unions.

Without changing the substance of the reform, president Francois Hollande and his ministers have made enough concessions to win over right wing unions. The large CFDT now accepts the reform.

But bosses say even this goes too far. Powerful bosses’ union Medef now says the law is “unacceptable” and demands it is returned to its original from.

In particular they want moves to cap tribunal payouts for unfair sackings to be reinstated. But that’s a sticking point for the CFDT, which says it will oppose the law if it happens.

Bosses hate French workers’ hard-won employment rights and have wanted to smash them for decades. They say this is about boosting employment. It’s really about profit.

Students point out that cutting working hours could allow them to be shared out fairly, helping reduce both overwork and unemployment.

The government is trying to call the students’ bluff. In particular prime minister Manuel Valls has been goading them.

In an interview last week he borrowed their language to joke that he was a “temp” on a “precarious” contract. Then at an agricultural fair on Saturday, when a woman shouted that “we don’t want” the new law, Valls smirked “Well yeah, but you’re gonna have it.”

But a looming anniversary casts doubt on his bravado. Next month will be ten years since student strikes forced a government to repeal its youth employment law—after parliament had passed it.

Organising at the rank and file in mass assemblies, students are standing firm. Some colleges have called an extra shutdown tomorrow to protest against the police violence.

And a key test will be their walkout next Thursday, when all the unions opposed to the reform are set to strike alongside them.


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