Around 400,000 people demonstrated across France on Tuesday of last week against the right wing government’s plans for a neo-liberal “contract for young people”.
The government wants firms to offer “flexible” jobs to people aged under 26 that would allow them to be sacked at short notice during the first two years of employment.
One in five 18 to 25 year olds in France is unemployed, double the national average. Now the government wants to make it easier for employers to fire young people and harder for young people to find a decent, permanent job.
The government responded to the demonstrations by ramming through the legislation using emergency powers that bypassed the need for a parliamentary vote.
The mobilisations against the contract were solid all around the country – and massive in some regions, such as 15,000 in the southern city of Toulouse and 10,000 in Rennes in the west.
In both these areas the protests had a large and visible turnout of young people. The universities there have voted to go on strike against the contract proposals.
Some 45,000 demonstrated in Paris. Trade unionists turned out in large numbers there, though holidays meant that there were less young people. All in all, it was a great start to the campaign against the contract laws.
This campaign is being supported by all the key left wing forces in France, including the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, the Communist Party and the Socialist Party. There was also a good turnout from the CGT, the main trade union federation in France.
All these organisations issued a common declaration last week opposing the government’s contract proposals. A national day of action has been called, though the date has not yet been set.
At the heart of this coalition are the left forces that came together in May last year to defeat the neo-liberal European Union constitution – a defeat that shocked the French ruling class.
The size of last week’s protests shows that the majority of people in France reject neo-liberalism and are making connections between the constitution and the government’s latest attacks on workers’ conditions.
This hasn’t always been the case. The “contract for young people” was announced by the government last month in the wake of the November riots by young people living in the banlieues (suburbs).
Initially, opinion polls suggested that most people agreed with the plans. But now those polls have changed. These proposals have no direct connection to the riots and won’t be a solution for young people – and the majority of people now reject the government’s mystifications.
While the latest demonstrations represent a step forward in building a unified political alternative to neo-liberalism in France, there is still a long way to go.
The row over the Danish cartoons demonstrates this. The cartoons were most recently reprinted in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. This publication also called for a yes vote in the referendum on the proposed EU constitution.
But unfortunately much of the left thinks that the main debate is about freedom of expression, rather than racism. The protests against the cartoons have mainly come from Muslim organisations, rather than the anti-racist left more generally.
Nevertheless last week’s mass mobilisations are a first step in reunifying the left and connecting with the young people of the banlieues who rioted last November.
They also show that the government is a good deal more fragile than it looks – and very scared of a mass movement rising up against it. We have to work to build that movement in the coming months.
Over 100,000 demonstrators from Germany, France, Poland, Slovenia and Italy were gathered in Strasbourg to protest against the EU Bolkestein directive as Socialist Worker went to press.
Antoine Boulangé lives in Paris and is an activist in the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire. He writes here in a personal capacity.