Socialist Worker

French unions join resistance

by Dave Sewell
Issue No. 2497

Students on the streets of Paris last Thursday

Students on the streets of Paris last Thursday (Pic: Force Ouvriere)


Major strikes in France against a new employment law were planned for Thursday of this week. They were expected to be the biggest strikes in the country for years.

The action follows repeated demonstrations led by students and other young people—which have been met by violence from the police.

Young people took to the streets in defiance of police attacks last Friday. It followed the third student strike last Thursday against a reform that would help bosses increase workers’ hours, undercut their conditions or sack them.

In Paris a number of colleges called a strike on Friday after police were filmed beating up a 15-year-old black student.

Hundreds marched to the police station, where some smashed windows and threw heavy objects at its doors in revenge.

Gael Braibant, a student at the Sorbonne-Pantheon University, told Socialist Worker, “There’s frequently police violence against student protests

“But this time has been particularly aggressive. Several people were hospitalised, and for the first time police are going inside the universities.

“There has been a reaction to that and it’s connected to the state of emergency. There’s a sense that after the attacks in Brussels the police will want to repress all mobilisation.”

In Marseille one college was shut by staff so they could march with the students to the police station where a classmate was being held.

They all stayed outside until she was released.

In Marseille, St Charles University student Pierre Ciavarella told Socialist Worker about the previous day’s march there. “We started out with maybe 500 to 1,000 people, mostly students and a few workers—the dockers and the teachers.

“But then as we marched it grew until it was really impressive. There was a good atmosphere, people were singing—and we blocked the motorway.”

Attacked 

But police attacked them repeatedly over the course of the day. “They surrounded us, and then they charged like animals,” said Pierre.

At one point they chased them into the university itself, firing teargas and rubber “flashball” grenades.

“A flashball is really frightening,” said Pierre.

“One of them hit a member of staff who was trying to help us, another hit a young woman in the chest.”

Young people are furious at the repression—and the smears that back it up.

“They’re out to make us look like idiots who just want to run around and don’t know why we’re protesting,” Pierre said.

“But someone who gets up at 6am every day to leaflet their college isn’t doing it for a laugh—it’s because they are conscious about what is happening.”

Gael said, “The government is trying to isolate the youth, to cut us off from workers and to grind down the mobilisations.”

But it won’t be easy. “The last demonstration wasn’t as big as the first,” said Gael.

“There were examples of workers getting involved in a big way, particularly the dockers in Le Havre, but often it’s only been the trade union activists.

“But for Thursday a huge number of workers are being called out.

“We’ve had well over a million people sign the petition against the law, and now we expect at least a million on the streets.”

Pierre said, “For me, everything that’s happened until now is just the beginning.

“So far it’s mostly just been the youth—now it can be all the unions in a general strike.

“That’s when it will really get started.

“We’re going to scare the government, and then we’re going to win.”


The law was beaten last time

The French Labour-type government wants to help bosses work their employees longer for less. But the majority of the population opposes it.

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

Bosses are incensed at any hint of retreat. Powerful bosses’ union Medef now says the law is “unacceptable” and demands it is returned to its original form. It wants moves to cap tribunal payouts for unfair sackings to be reinstated.

Bosses hate French workers’ hard-won rights and want to smash them. 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 and reduce both overwork and unemployment.

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

At an agricultural fair a woman shouted,“We don’t want the new law.” Valls smirked, “Well yeah, but you’re gonna have it.”

Past experience casts doubt on his bravado. Next month is ten years since students forced a government to repeal its youth employment law—after parliament had passed it.


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