Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
Million Protest Govt Offensive Against Young Workers’ Conditions
estimated 1,500,000 people demonstrated across France on Saturday, March 18,
2006, against the Gaullist government’s “First Job Contract” (CPE)
legislation. The national day of action was the third mass protest held this
month against the destruction of young workers’ conditions.
total of 160 rallies were held in cities and towns throughout the country. The
biggest protest was in Paris, where organisers reported that 350,000 people
attended. About 500 protesters later marched toward the Sorbonne (University of
Paris), chanting, “Liberate the Sorbonne—police everywhere, justice
nowhere.” The university has been sealed off by riot police since Friday.
Large demonstrations were also held in Marseille (130,000 protestors), Bordeaux
(55,000), Nantes (45,000), Toulouse (40,000) and Rennes (35,000).
demonstrations saw hundreds of thousands of high school and university students
again marching through the streets. Last Thursday, 500,000 students protested
nationally. The students were joined by a broad range of French society at
Saturday’s rallies. Retirees and older workers joined the youth in their
opposition to the CPE. Workers of all ages – from the public and private
sectors, unionised and non-unionised, immigrants and French-born – also
demonstrated. Entire families, including those with very young children, came
out to mark their opposition to the government.
Contrat de première embauche (CPE)
allows employers to sack any worker under the age of 26 without justification
during the first two years of employment. The Union for a Popular Movement (UMP)
government of prime minister Dominique de Villepin rammed the measure through
the parliament on March 9. Hostility towards the government has steadily mounted
in recent weeks. The CPE is widely recognised by ordinary people in France as
the prologue of a broader offensive against the conditions of the entire working
of workers marched under various trade union banners. Groups of Socialist and
Communist Party members marched toward the front of the demonstration in Paris.
François Hollande, Socialist Party leader, and Marie-George Buffet, Communist
Party head, also attended the rally.
people came independently and many carried their own placards: “No to
throw-away youths,” “Tired of being squeezed lemons,” “No to the Kleenex
contract,” “Slave labour by the back door,” “Throw away the job
contract, don’t throw away the youth!” One sign showed a guillotine slicing
through the popular slogan of the 1789 French Revolution: Liberté, Fraternité, Egalité. The most popular banner declared,
“Contract for slaves” (Contrat Pour
demonstrators marched in high spirits and expressed their anger at the
government and their determination not to give in. Young people chanted,
“Villepin—if you’re a real man, we are prepared to fight you” and
“It’s all going to blow up.”
numbers of black and Arab youth from the Parisian suburbs affected by last
year’s disturbances also attended the protest. The government’s attempt to
portray the CPE as a measure assisting these unemployed youth to find work has
Financial Times report on March 17,
“French poor and students keen not to be the ‘Kleenex generation,’ ”
noted widespread opposition to the government’s reforms in the impoverished
outer suburbs. Youth unemployment is as high as 50 percent in these areas.
those students came up here and saw what it was like, they might still be
protesting, but at least they would have a better idea of why,” Sema, an
unemployed 26-year-old living in Clichy-sous-Bois, told the Financial
Times. “[The CPE] is unfair. Two years is too long. That would be a big
risk for people like me to take, with two babies at home. I could be left with
nothing after two years. The bosses would take advantage of it to sack people
after a few months.”
numbers of youth reportedly threw stones and other missiles at police towards
the end of Saturday’s demonstration in Paris. Vehicles were set alight and
shops damaged. Officers fired rounds of tear gas at the youths. At least 17
people were injured, and authorities reported 167 arrests. Police also charged
and tear gassed protestors in Marseille, Rennes and Lille.
government and sections of the French media have attempted to use the violence
to discredit the students and their demands, despite evidence that neo-fascist
groups have provoked some of the clashes. Last Friday, Interior Minister Nicolas
Sarkozy met with riot police and held up a damaged police helmet for the press.
“Those who do this are not demonstrators, they are thugs,” he declared.
growing protest movement has created a serious crisis for the government. Prime
Minister Villepin, supported by President Jacques Chirac, has refused to
withdraw the CPE legislation and has only promised greater “dialogue.” Last
Friday, Villepin met with university chancellors. “He realises we are on the
edge of a clash, a real clash,” Yannick Vallee, vice-president of the
conference of university presidents, declared after the meeting. The university
heads called on the prime minister to suspend the CPE and negotiate with the
student strikes have affected about 60 of France’s 84 universities, and at
least 16 have been shut down by student blockades. Academic staff in many
universities have gone on strike in support of the anti-CPE movement.
government has also sought to hold discussions with trade union leaders. Last
week, the unions agreed to meet Jean-Louis Borloo, minister for social cohesion,
and Gérard Larcher, junior minister for employment.
union leaders met with student union heads in Paris last Saturday evening. The
student leaders asked the trade unions to call a one-day national strike for
next Thursday, March 23, when more high school and university student protests
will be held. The trade union leaders refused the request.
Friday, Bernard Thibault, head of the CGT, told France 3 Television: “If they
don’t listen to us we are going to have to think about moving to a general
strike across the whole country. [But] I’m optimistic...that the government
will finally take notice of the situation they’ve created for themselves.”
government insists that it will not rescind the CPE, but has indicated that it
is willing to make some kind of gesture to the unions. Spokesman Jean-François
Copé said after the demonstration that “[the government’s] hand is
outstretched, the door is open” to discuss ways of “improving” the CPE.
youth are in revolt. From the poor suburbs to the elite universities young
people have taken to the streets, occupied universities and closed schools in
protest at new employment laws that will trash their rights at work.
This movement is now in direct confrontation with the state, with mass
demonstrations in towns and cities across the country, and daily clashes with
the CRS riot police.
Oriana Garcia is an activist at Censier Paris III university. Her college is one
of 67 of 80 universities that have been in occupation since the protests began
on 24 February.
“Our movement has the spirit of 1968, but if that uprising was against
repression, ours is a revolt against neo-liberalism and a government that wants
to drive the working conditions of young people back the 19th century.”
“Our movement is now growing in an important way. We have the sympathy of
millions of wage earners across the country."
The movement against the CPE youth labour law in France has been on the up for
the last week with huge demonstrations and more and more universities on
strike, blockaded and occupied.
worrying for the government has been the clear involvement of school students
with schools blockaded, some even occupied overnight and then shut down on March
16, 17 and 18.
Everywhere you went the new law has been the subject of conversation— at work,
in bars, at home.
So everyone was expecting March 18 demonstrations to be big but they were
absolutely massive, in big cities and small towns alike. They were of a
completely different quality to the traditional trade union protests.
There were national estimates of 1.5 to two million people involved.
The 350,000 strong demonstration in Paris had a very similar feel to the demo of
a million people against the fascist Jean Marie Le Pen in 2002.
People of all ages, whole families, colleagues from work, students, all turned
up in huge numbers.
Whole stretches of the demonstration consisted of tightly packed marchers
pushing forward with the odd home-made placard here and there. They had a quiet
determination to show the government by their presence that enough was enough.
This time, rather than a very spontaneous flare-up of disgust at Le Pen's
electoral success, the movement has grown slowly but very surely after a long
period of argument and debate and on a clear anti-bosses
The student protetsts have attracted the support of much wider layers of people
who rightly see the CPE as an attack on all workers. A teacher exclaimed on the
march, “We’re fed up, right across the board.”
wsws.org and socialistworker.co.uk)