French government attacks Muslim population

The French Senate has voted by an overwhelming margin, 276 votes to 20, to approve legislation banning the Islamic headscarf or hijab and other ‘conspicuous religious symbols’ from being worn in French schools. The vote repeated a similar landslide in the lower house of the French Parliament, 494 votes to 36. Almost the whole French establishment has denounced the wearing of Islamic headscarves by young girls to school, with parliamentarians vying with one another for who can espouse ‘secularism’ the loudest. Ironically, only Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front, has opposed the law, on the grounds that it is a cosmetic exercise and does not sufficiently confront the problem of immigration.

Both French women’s groups and French Muslims, including women, are divided on their approach to the ban. On International Women’s Day, Muslim women marched both for and against the law.

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Côte d’Ivoire: French imperialism runs amok

On 4 November 2004 the Ivorian air force began bombing rebel-held positions in the centre and north of the country. On 6 November it killed nine French ‘peacekeepers’ and a US ‘aid-worker’ at a military base in Bouaké. France, with over 4,000 troops already in the country under a UN mandate, then destroyed the tiny Ivorian air force of two jets and five helicopters as they lay on the tarmac. ‘You do not kill French soldiers with impunity’, explained French prime minister Raffarin.

French military seized the airport and deployed 50 armoured vehicles in the vicinity of the President Laurent Gbagbo’s Abidjan residence. French soldiers fired into the air, surrounded the presidential mansion and placed barbed wire between them and thousands of Ivorian people who heeded radio appeals to protect their head of state. Strategic bridges were seized and armoured vehicles protected roadblocks from military bases to the airport. At the Hotel Ivoire, commandeered as a military base, French officials held talks with Ivorian army chief of staff, General Doue, while outside French helicopters continued to bomb Abidjan.

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France: the fire this time

On the night of 27 October, over 400 youth, mainly of north African origin, clashed with police on the streets of Clichy-sous-Bois, a north-eastern suburb of Paris; police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. Within days riots had erupted all over France, from Rouen in the north to Avignon in the south. Over the next 18 days and nights nearly 9,000 cars were torched and schools, buses and shops set alight as young people fought running battles against the hated police. On 5 November there were 1,400 arson attacks in a single night. On the night of 9 November, vandalism at two power stations caused widespread blackouts in Lyon, France’s second largest city. The unrest even spilled over the border into Belgium.

Police responded with brute force and mass arrests and on 9 November, President Chirac imposed a state of emergency throughout France, giving cities sweeping powers to impose curfews, limit the movement of people and vehicles, close public spaces where ‘gangs gather’ and place those identified as trouble-makers under house arrest. These special powers, which date back to the Algerian war of independence and have never before been used in France itself, are now in force across 40 cities and suburbs of France. At the same time the scale of the revolt has forced France to confront the issue of the appalling poverty, ghettoisation and discrimination faced by its immigrant community. In this there are parallels with the uprising by mainly black working class youth that erupted in Britain in 1981.

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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.

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Resistance to racist repression in France

An inspirational new anti-racist movement is developing in France, taking on both the state and the opportunist trade unions and aid organisations. France has introduced four new anti-immigrant laws since 2004, leading to increased repression of migrant workers. In response, hunger strikes, demonstrations, workplace occupations and strikes accelerated with thousands marching to demand the legalisation of some 400,000 sans-papiers (undocumented migrants). CHARLES CHINWEIZU reports.

Since 2 May 2008 the Bourse du Travail, building of the Confederation General du Travail (CGT) trade union federation, in Paris, has been occupied by around 800 men, women and children from the Coordination des sans-papiers 75 (CSP75), in direct challenge to the CGT’s attempts to stifle and control the movement. The CGT is closely allied with the social democratic French Communist Party. CSP75 is an umbrella group for all the self-organised sans-papiers collectives in the Paris region (the postcode for Paris is 75).

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