France: no to casualisation!

Hundreds of thousands of young people have been demonstrating and occupying universities and sixth-forms throughout France in protest at a new law passed on 9 March which significantly reduces employment rights for those under the age of 26.

The government forced the Law for Equality of Opportunities through parliament using a special article in the French constitution to bypass the National Assembly and thus suppress any debate. The new law creates a ‘First Employment Contract’ (CPE) which will allow an employer to fire an employee under the age of 26 during the first two years of employment without having to give any reason. The law has been billed as a solution to high youth unemployment, which at over 20% (and 50% in the poor suburbs) is twice the national average. The government says that rigid labour laws are a disincentive for employers to hire young people as they cannot afford the risk in the new economic climate. Increased flexibility will increase employment. In other words, workers’ rights are harming profits. This new First Employment Contract is part of a broader ruling class strategy of stripping workers’ rights. It follows an almost identical contract established in August 2005 that can be used by small businesses. In 1994 the Balladur government tried to impose the CIP or ‘Beginning Work Contract’ which lowered the minimum wage for those aged 25 and under in order to make them more employable. On that occasion mass action forced the government to repeal the law.

Resistance to this casualisation of labour has mushroomed, taking the form of demonstrations, strikes and occupations as well as direct action against the state. As FRFI went to press, 21 universities were being occupied and 46 more disrupted. The movement has also spread to the secondary schools, with 814 lycées participating in some sort of strike action. In some schools and universities teachers have joined the students in occupying the buildings.

Occupations of universities started in early March. On 9 March, students occupied the prestigious Sorbonne university in Paris. After three days, the police used tear gas and batons to force them out. The area outside of the Sorbonne is now heavily militarised, with a ring of steel surrounding the university. It has become a site of struggle between protestors and the state. Other occupied universities have also been brutally cleared by the police, on the pretext that protesters are destroying the buildings. The ruling class media has engaged in a deliberate smear campaign in an attempt to divide the movement. For example at the Sorbonne the occupiers were compared to Nazis for burning books. Independent journalists and students have refuted these claims stating that what was burnt was rubbish not books, and that the riot police came with axes to destroy the building.

Organisation of students is developing. For example at Censier university students have organised themselves into different ‘commissions’ with responsibility for different aspects of the work, from leaflet writing and banner making to barricade control. Students across the country are voting in general meetings to decide the next course of action. Trade unions, recognising the importance of the struggle, have supported the youth and are refusing to negotiate with the government until it drops the law.

The police are playing their usual repressive role, with the most serious casualty so far being Cyril Ferez who was beaten into a coma and trampled on by riot police. They originally claimed that demonstrators had attacked him but footage and testimonies have clearly disproved this account. There is also evidence to suggest that young fascists have also come to cause violence on demonstrations, with organised gangs attacking demonstrators in Paris on 24 March. However, in other areas such as Rennes poor working class people are fighting side by side with students, chanting ‘we’re all hooligans’, a slogan first adopted during the 1994 anti-CIP demonstrations. Within Paris, too, youth from the suburbs are joining in the protests. Resistance is continuing as we go to press with increasing speculation that prime minister Dominique de Villepin will be forced to resign.

Annabelle Richardson

FRFI 190 April / May 2006


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