Socialist Worker

Politicisation at the heart of the French movement

by Ross Harrold, high school teacher in Paris
Issue No. 1994

Last weekend many people feared that the trade unions delay in calling a general strike would be a serious blow. But more than 80 universities continue to be occcupied or heavily affected by strikes.

Many schools have not only been on strike but have also been occupied or blockaded before being shut down by the authorities. In fact, despite fears of demoralisation after the defeat of the long school student movement over education reforms last year, this time there are even more schools blockaded than last time.

In the universities not only has the movement held strong but there is a growing politicisation on the campuses. All sorts of “commissions” or workshops have been set up to debate economic alternatives, ecology and feminism.

Films have been shown and mass meetings organised to decide whether blockades should be continued – mass meetings of 1,000 or 2,000 and in places like Rennes or Poitiers, open air meetings of 4,000 and 6,000.

Despite these huge mobilisations, the government seemed determined at the start of this week to stick it out. This has widened the gulf between ministers and the population they claim to represent.

The latest opinion polls remain firmly in favour of a withdrawal of the CPE – 66 percent of the population, 80 percent of young people and more than 80 percent of voters of the left.


Faced with the arrogance of the prime minister, the national student delegate coordination which gathered on Sunday for its weekly meeting, further upped the stakes by calling not only for a continuation of the movement, but for the resignation of the whole government.

In workplaces, discussions among many rank and file militants have centred on the strategy of the trade union leaders.

On Friday, when they accepted an offer of talks from Villepin, many people feared that a sell out might be close, at least on the part of the moderate leaders as happened in 2003 during the pension strikes.

However, under the pressure of the rising student movement, unity has prevailed with a common call on Villepin to withdraw the CPE prior to any further talks. Everything now hangs on the response of the government to Tuesday’s mobilisations.

If Villepin refuses to withdraw the CPE there will almost certainly be a call for a huge national demonstration in Paris. However, apart from the students, there is for the moment only a minority who are conscious of the need for an all-out strike of at least several days in order to obtain victory.

In two weeks’ time schools start to break up and there will be growing pressure in the universities for a return to work if the movement drags on.

The scenario of the pensions strikes in 2003 looms large, when the strategy of calls for one-day strikes every seven or ten days continued till the summer holidays and ended in a crushing defeat.

There was agitation among the militant rank and file for continuing the strike on Wednesday. But there are still a lot of arguments to be won on the consequences of the new law and the fact that it is not just a question of striking in solidarity with young people but a fight for the interests of all.

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