Trade union leaders in France have called a one-day general strike for Tuesday of next week.
The unions are demanding the withdrawal of the CPE, a new employment law being pushed by the Tory government that would allow young workers to be sacked for any reason without notice.
The outcome of this battle will affect everyone in the European Union. If the right wing government wins it will accelerate the race to the bottom across Europe as governments compete to drive down wages and rights at work.
A victory for the workers and students will, in contrast, drive forward the growing resistance to free market Europe.
The day of action – which will coincide with a strike of 1.5 million workers here in Britain – promises to bring together the power of French workers and that of the huge student-led movement that has rocked France in the past two weeks.
Students in universities and lycées (high schools) have been demonstrating, striking and occupying their schools and lecture theatres in protest at the CPE.
Up to two million people took to the streets against the new laws last Saturday, with further protests planned for Tuesday and Thursday of this week.
The movement grew during the week as occupations spread to more universities. It was significantly deepened as both lycée students and young people from the banlieues (suburbs) came out onto the streets.
All of this has created a massive political crisis for the French government. Prime minister Dominique de Villepin has refused to back down over the CPE, while other factions on the right are openly questioning his judgement over the issue.
The government’s response to the demonstrations has been brutal – sending in the riot police to attack students, workers and young people.
Cyril Ferez, a 39 year old telecom worker and activist in the Sud-PTT trade union, lay in a coma on Tuesday of this week after being trampled by riot police in Paris last Saturday.
The police refused to call for medical assistance as Cyril lay on the ground, even though he was obviously suffering from serious injuries. Sud-PTT issued a statement denouncing “in the strongest terms” the police violence at the demo.
On Monday the strength of the movement finally pushed France’s trade union leaders into issuing the call for a general strike.
But it is not clear that a one-day strike will be enough to break the Tory government. Villepin hopes that the student movement will have run out of steam by then, allowing him to ride out the crisis.
The national student coordination committee, which oversees the university strikes, met in the city of Dijon last Sunday.
It appealed for an immediate all-out general strike until the government withdraws the CPE.