Tuesday, March 21, 2006

France - reprise of 1968 ?

"It's like a reprise of the May 1968 protests. The CRS riot police cruise the
streets of the Latin Quarter in Paris, breaking up groups of protesters, and
storm the Sorbonne where students staged a three-day occupation last week.
Between 51 and 64 of France's 82 universities are now disrupted by the wave of
angry protests." 


But it's not quite like 1968:

"After November's three weeks of rioting attuned the world's newspaper readers
to government indifference, March's student revolt may be worse than a public
relations nightmare: the press here are already making comparisons to May 1968,
when 10 million workers and students effectively shut down the state for several
weeks. This spring's events mark the first time that the Unions have backed a
popular student movement since 1968.

But this time around, the alliance between workers and students is not fueled by
ideology, but by "précarité" - the insecurity fueled by increasing unemployment.
And this affinity can be extended to a third group: the disillusioned suburban
youth, primarily immigrants and first generation French citizens."


It is getting serious for the government: 

"But one analyst said the government would eventually be forced to bow to the
pressure, which included a fresh poll showing widespread opposition to the CPE.

"It's impossible for the government to hold on now. There were too many people
in the streets ... The government will have to get out of this crisis by
suspending the CPE," said Christophe Barbier, deputy editor of the weekly

"The political cost will be enormous for this defeat. But he (Villepin) would
reap an even bigger political cost governing a country that's blocked in the
event of a general strike," Barbier told Reuters."


Public support is growing:

"Some 60 percent of voters want the CPE withdrawn, according to an opinion poll
by the BVA organization for the Depeche du Midi newspaper, in a further sign of
pressure on the government. In answer to a separate question, 69 percent said
the marchers were justified."


The government has shot itself in the foot by uniting its opponents:

"... this time it's not the impoverished suburban minorities that French
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy called “Rascals,” but the cream of French
society: students of the prestigious Sorbonne university.

"In November, we saw suburban youth, frustrated by the fact that they couldn't
find a job and seemed to have no future, burning cars in the streets. Now, we
see the same sentiments being expressed by university students" said Robert
Gaignon, a union representative with the FSU.

...The government justifies the CPE by explaining that it will make it easier
for youth to find a job. Employers will be less reluctant to hire new workers
for fear that they will be stuck with them, it claims. The students and unions
counter that the contract will create a situation of disposable workers, where
employers will simply get rid of cheap young employees every two years instead
of giving them a raise and taking them on permanently.

... For the French government, things continue to worsen. Its popularity has
dropped 15 per cent in the last two months, according to the Le Monde, with 46
per cent of those surveyed agreeing that it is "too authoritarian."

... The unions are behind the students "for one simple reason" Gaignon said. "If
you introduce an underclass of workers into the job market without the same
guarantees given to everyone else, that weakens the working class as a whole."

For their part, a coalition of unions are threatening a general strike slated
for the 23rd, which could cripple the country's economy.

"Their battle is ours," Gaignon stated matter-of-factly.

The government seems to have inadvertently made things worse for themselves.
Through their actions, two traditionally disparate groups--the immigrant and
français-de-souche youth--have found common ground: the stark reality of facing
a hopeless future, without employment or adequate income.

"In November, I couldn't believe that people would burn down a school for any
reason, but now, faced with my own systematic discrimination, I'm starting to
understand," said Bureau [a student at the Sorbonne].



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