Huge numbers of young people and workers took to the streets of France on Tuesday in continuing protests against the right wing government’s CPE youth labour laws.
Initial reports suggested that the size of the demonstrations was even larger than last week’s massive day of action, when some three million protested across France.
This week saw hundreds of thousands marching through the streets of Paris. Over 250,000 demonstrated in Marseilles, 115,000 in Bordeaux, 70,000 in Nantes and 45,000 in Lyon, according to organisers. All these figures are similar to or larger than those of last week.
The strikes, in contrast, seemed around the same size or smaller than the previous week’s day of action.
Tuesday’s protests come at a critical point for the struggle against the CPE. French president Jacques Chirac announced on Friday of last week that he would ratify the law, in defiance of the huge wave of protest against it.
All France’s trade unions responded by refusing to negotiate until the CPE is withdrawn. The centre left Socialist Party for the first time called on its supporters to join the Tuesday protests.
By the day of the protest the government was in disarray, promising that even though the CPE had been ratified it would not actually be applied. The government is desperate to meet with the unions—but also desperate not to lose face.
Easter holidays start this Friday in many regions of France, including Paris. Activists fear this could demobilise the student movement which has been the driving force behind the protests.
The build-up for an indefinite general strike across the country has been slow. The crucial question is whether strikes can be spread to the private sector, and whether groups of workers stay out after Tuesday.
Trade union leaders were maintaining a hard line at the beginning of this week. But internal documents of the main CGT union federation argue against provoking a “regime crisis”.
The struggle is prompting mass meetings even broader than those around last year’s successful campaign against the EU constitution.
Around 1,000 workers and students met in Toulouse last week to discuss the political way forward.
The political mood in France remains extraordinarily polarised. If the movement gathers strength this week it can comprehensively defeat the CPE—but time is fast running out for the kind of hard hitting action that can achieve this goal.