Socialist Worker

Unity between workers and the young has put the Tory government onto the back foot

by Stathis Kouvelakis
Issue No. 1992

Even if spring has not officially begun, the temperature is rising very sharply on the streets in France.

More than a million people took to the streets in over 200 cities on Tuesday of last week.

They demanded that the Tory government withdraw its plan – which has already been voted through by parliament – to create a new labour contract, the CPE, for workers under the age of 26.

This new contract institutes a two-year probation period and allows bosses to fire the employee during that period at will, without even the minimal legal justification in the current job contract.

Dominique de Villepin has made it clear that the CPE is only a first step in a push to completely deregulate the labour market in France.

The demonstrations were the biggest seen in France since the struggle against pension reforms in spring 2003.

They were called by all of France’s major trade union confederations and by more than 20 youth organisations.

In some sectors, such as transport, education, media, the unions called for a strike. In most cases, they simply called on people to join the protests.

The success of this wave of demonstrations has given a new impetus to the anti-CPE movement in the universities, which started a month ago.

In a few days the number of universities on strike rose from 15 to 45.

In most cases, universities are occupied by students day and night.

This radical move allowed a quick and significant widening of participation in collective action among students and other sectors such as teachers and university workers.

The self-organisation of the struggle in the universities is impressive.

All actions are decided by daily general assemblies of students, where hundreds take part.

Commissions on specific tasks are also appointed by the assemblies, as well as delegates for the national student coordination, which decides on nationwide actions and holds weekly meetings.


The movement in the universities crossed a symbolic threshold with the occupation of the Sorbonne university, at the very centre of Paris. This hadn’t happened since May 1968.

Even the mainstream media sees that the government is in a difficult position. Opinion polls show that the government’s popularity has fallen to abysmal depths and that the CPE is overwhelmingly rejected.

The brutal evacuation of the Sorbonne, the standard lies about the supposed actions of a “radical fringe” and the rising internal dissent in the ranks of the Tories show that it has started to lose control of the situation.

The evolution of the struggle will depend on two factors – the capacity of the student movement to react on the streets to the brutal attitude of the government, and the strength of the demonstrations called for Thursday and Saturday of this week by the youth organisations and trade unions.

The call of the national student coordination for a day of nationwide strikes and demonstrations has not yet been followed by the main unions.

It decided instead to prioritise the Saturday demonstration and only to support the student actions from the outside on Thursday.

But the key to victory lies in the level of unity and coordination between the youth and the workers’ mobilisation. This is what is at stake in the streets, universities and workplaces of France.

Stathis Kouvelakis is a writer, activist and a member of the radical left LCR party in France

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