French university and school students have been protesting, occupying, holding mass meetings and demanding their voices are heard. Their demonstrations come just days before a presidential election that they feel excluded from.
Most of those involved denounced the “electoral masquerade” which pits a neoliberal Emmanuel Macron against the fascist Marine Le Pen. Macron is ahead in the polls and looks likely to win. But student are looking beyond such a narrow choice.
As one school student told a French newspaper, “The election puts an ultraliberal and a fascist face to face. They should not be treated the same”. “But they both present programmes that oppress us so we want to create a national movement of questioning” the status quo.
Last week university students launched occupations at ENS-Jourdan and the Sorbonne in Paris. Others followed at Creteil, Paris 4, Paris 7, Paris 8, Nanterre, Paris-Saclay, Sciences Po Paris, Toulouse, Rennes, Bordeaux and Lyon. In several, students mobilised around the elections but also demanded the university authorities register Ukrainian refugee students.
Then on Tuesday this week high school students at around 15 sites joined in. “Youth say fuck the National Front,” chanted students at Lavoisier school. At Balzac they had a banner, “No fachos in our neighbourhoods, no neighbourhoods for fachos.” But they also had placards and banners against Macron, saying he had “blood on his hands” for his racist and sexist policies.
At Paul Robert des Lilas school one prominent placard was “Expel Le Pen, not migrants”. And everywhere there was the slogan, “Neither Le Pen nor Macron”.
At Louis-le-Grand school, students produced a leaflet headlined, “We’re going straight into the wall.” It centred on the themes of environmental collapse and accelerating inequality. “Nothing that is done measures up to the magnitude of the disaster that is brewing,” said the leaflet. It pointed to the “hyper-concentration of resources” and “unbridled enrichment”.
“We fear for our future,” students wrote. And they concluded, “The action that we are taking, certainly violent, is justified in our eyes by the urgency of the ecological and social situation”.
There is a big debate on the left now about the “third round”—the next stage of confronting the right—after the French election. Most see the best hope as voting for Jean-Luc Melenchon’s People’s Union grouping in the parliamentary elections on 12 and 19 June.
Melenchon says, “I ask the French to make me prime minister”, whoever is president. He claims that the People’s Union is in the lead in 105 constituencies—out of 577—and when the lower-scoring candidates are weeded out in the second round it would have a chance in 420.
His People’s Union is potentially based on his own party plus, he hopes, an electoral bloc supported by the Green, Communist and far left groups. Tense negotiations are taking place over whether this will happen, and what the distribution of seats will be.
But there’s another vision of the “third round”, based on struggle. The students have shown it’s possible to fight and resit whoever will be elected on Sunday.
There is not a national movement yet in schools or universities. But it’s worrying the right. Christophe Barbier, a well-known journalist and columnist, said on television, “It is a very important phenomenon for me, perhaps the most important.
“We are witnessing a foretaste of what can await us at the start of the academic year, that is to say a radicalism of this youth. In fact, the mobilisations at the Sorbonne, in high schools and in universities show an unprecedented radicalism. By contesting the very results of the most important election under the Fifth Republic, their character is deeply subversive and political.”
Well done to them. Let’s hope we will see more such protests—some are already planned for one minute past 8pm—French time—when the media announce their exit polls.. And a rebirth of the Yellow Vest protest and the strikes of recent years would be a real challenge to the new president.
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