Socialist Worker

French state steps up its repression

by Simon Assaf
Issue No. 1979

The right wing government in France has unleashed a new wave of repression on the banlieues, the poor suburbs that exploded into three weeks of rioting.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister, sent in the hated anti-criminal police brigades, known as the Bac, onto the estates in a new crackdown on “crime”.

Up to 100 people were seized in raids on 19 banlieues across the country.

The new wave of repression comes as many areas have been put under a state of emergency using a law drafted in 1955, during Algeria’s struggle against French colonial rule.

The law bans “any meeting of a nature likely to incite or maintain disorder on the street or in public places”. The offence carries a two month jail sentence.

The raids are widely seen as an attempt by the state to intimidate the banlieues at a time when French judges are handing down stiff prison sentences to those arrested during the revolt.

Jean Eric Malabre, a lawyer from Gisti, an organisation that represents immigrants in France, told Socialist Worker, “These youngsters are being brought up before the judge, the policeman reads out where they were arrested and they are found guilty.

“Of course some of these lads were throwing things at the police, but many others say they were picked up randomly. None of them are getting a fair trial.”

The media blamed black people and Arabs for the rioting, yet the arrest figures tell a different story. Around 4,740 people have been arrested so far and 650 youths, including many poor whites, have been jailed.

Malabre said the figures have blown apart the myth that these riots were just in immigrant communities.

“The court cases show that the ethnic origin of the rioters reflected the areas they came from — in some areas they were poor and white, in others mixed or black and Arab.”

In cities such as Lille police battled hundreds of white working class youths during the height of the riots.

In the northern town of Pas-de-Calais the rioters included the children of Polish, Belgium, Portuguese and Spanish immigrants. In Seine-Saint-Denis outside Paris it was mainly blacks and Arabs.

The government’s response to the causes of the rebellion — poverty, unemployment and racism — has been to offer companies incentives to move into areas of high unemployment. A similar scheme in the past produced only a few badly paid jobs.

The French state is pushing for harsh laws to punish the families of those arrested, including cutting benefits and handing over control of their finances to social workers.

“This will make the poor and excluded even poorer and more excluded,” Malabre said.

The new measures come as the French parliament is considering new anti-terrorism legislation that will force internet cafes to provide authorities with logs of people surfing the web.

All public spaces, including mosques and youth clubs, will have to fit surveillance cameras so that the police can “monitor” any gathering.

The opposition has supported the new measures. François Hollande, the Socialist Party leader, declared, “We must show that the left is more credible for public order and tranquillity than the right.”

But the government is not having it all its own way. Thousands of French rail workers struck against a plan to privatise the rail network last week. The strike is part of a wider wave of workplace militancy that has been building since the summer.


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International
Sat 3 Dec 2005, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1979
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