As French MPs prepare to debate a new law attacking workers’ rights, the centre left government is digging in its heels against workers, students and the new “Nuit Debout” movement.
Yesterday, Sunday, saw police kettle and then violently attack the annual trade union march for May Day in Paris. Police used tear gas and beat protesters on a march that usually passes peacefully.
That night cops broke up the general assembly of protesters in the Place de la Republique Square.
Jean-Francois, a 20 year old geography student in the western town of Rennes, lost an eye after cops shot him last Thursday. They used “flashballs”—rubber grenades that cops often aim at the face.
There have been many calls for the weapons to be banned. Jean-Luc Melenchon, a left-wing opposition candidate in next year’s presidential election, warned, “The way things are going someone is going to be killed.”
Embarrassingly for the government, interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve had to delay a speech in Lyon after a stray tear-gas canister was shot into the town hall. Cazeneuve is the minister responsible for the police.
But the violence hasn’t stopped the protests.
Some 600,000 people took to the streets last Thursday against the new Work Law, despite universities and many schools and colleges being shut for holidays.
Many struck, workers, students and others blockaded roads and ports, including the Genevilliers river port in Paris.
Strikers on the railways and in the entertainment sector have already taken direct action, linking up with students and the Nuit Debout protesters.
And in a significant intervention Philippe Martinez, leader of the powerful CGT union federation, joined the thousands-strong “Nuit Debout” general assembly in Place de la Republique that evening.
This brought together two of the main poles of resistance to the new Work Law.
The government wants to let bosses increase workers’ hours, supposedly to tackle unemployment. Martinez argued that reducing the working week to 32 hours could create 4.5 million jobs.
He told protesters, “The questions of how we bring together our struggles and how we broaden the strikes go together.”
The crowd chanted “general strike”.
“The CGT conference has called for continuous strikes everywhere that it’s possible—there’s no ambiguity there,” said Martinez. “But the question is how.”
It’s a question that could prove decisive. MPs are set to start debating the bill amid fresh protests tomorrow, Tuesday and vote on it two weeks later.
The government is already expected to use emergency measures to push it through parliament without a vote. Even normally loyal MPs in the Labour-type Socialist Party fear they will lose their seats at the next election to back the bill.
And a survey last week showed that seven out of ten people across the political spectrum now believe “class struggle is a reality in France”. Deepening and broadening the strikes could lead to an important victory in that struggle.