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The French Revolt: Updates and Analysis

An article by Henri Simon analysing the connection between the Banlieue riots of Autumn 2005 and the present movement against the CPE. The article looks at the CNE/CPE within the context of international capital, and considers the potential for the movement to generalise beyond specific demands and sectors of society.

Latest in:

-The police force have opened the Gustave Eiffel High School, in Gagny, by force

-A hundred anti-CPE demonstrators, including the Revolutionary Communist League figurehead and postal worker Olivier Besancenot, blocked the postal sorting office in Nanterre earlier today

Earlier today:

-tf1 report that students in Montpellier have emptied the local UMP offices

-Several demonstrators challenged in the station of Bordeaux at the time of an anti-CPE demonstration

-17 young people challenged Tuesday evening at the time of incidents after an anti-CPE demonstration condemned to writing an essay

-The UMP does not intend “to bury the CPE”, affirms the Villepin ally, deputy George Tron

-Trains blocked in La Roche-sur-Yon, after a general assembly of high school students.

-The 12 trade unions engaged in the fight against the CPE ask for the law to be repealed before April 17th

-The students trade union UNEF calls for the “intensification of the mobilization” against CPE in the universities

-Anti-CPE protesters block access to two sorting offices of the Post office in Toulouse

update form our contact near Toulouse:

At 5 am, two postal senting offices located at Lardenne et Lalande, two Toulouse districts, were blocked this Wednesday, the 5th april, by school, university students and workers. The postal trade union, Sud-PTT, gave its support to this action. According to Associated Press, demonstrators will stay mobilised for further actions at private firms which are reputed to provide precarious jobs.

-600 anti-CPE demonstrators have been blocking access to the Market of National Interest since 05h15 in Nantes

-Australia advises its nationals to avoid journeys to France

-Anti-CPE youths block the principle access roads in Poitiers and a road axis in Rennes

-The twelve trade unions of employees, students and high-school pupils all require the withdrawal of the CPE

-between 250 and 300 high-school pupils block a commercial zone in Nimes

-high school and universitiy students in Lannion have blocked access to a business park since 6.30am


Henri Simon: From the Suburbs Riots to the Student Movement
April 03rd 2006 Posted to France CPE

An article by Henri Simon analysing the connection between the Banlieue riots of Autumn 2005 and the present movement against the CPE. The article looks at the CNE/CPE within the context of international capital, and considers the potential for the movement to generalise beyond specific demands and sectors of society.


Henri Simon

Preliminary remarks:

Suburbs riots concerned only a small part of the suburbs populated with the poorest and mixed ethnically part of the population, surrounding quite a lot of big and small towns all over France student movement involved not only university student but also the students in the last three years of the secondary cycle (lycées) preparing the “baccalauréat”, the key for the entrance to the university or to the “grandes écoles” (top public and private schools reservoir for managers and top political and business leaders) . Already at 16 (end of compulsory education), at the end of the first part of the secondary cycle, quite a lot of children of the poorest part of the population are supposed to leave the education system or to be orientated towards low level technical or professional schools.

The CPE ( Contrat Première Embauche) is presented as a special job contract for people under 26 - supposed to work for two years in a kind of training before getting a definite job. During this period these young people could be sacked without being told for what reason and only with some minor compensations (money and training). This reform (not yet implemented because some juridical problems) has been imposed without discussion in the Parliament following a special emergency procedure and is not only aimed at diminishing the high rate of unemployment of young people but is also a political manoeuvre in the prospect of the presidential elections in 2007.
Even if it is difficult to foresee the future of the present opposition to the CPE, we can underline that, as in the past, this student movement is growing just before the Eastern holidays in all the education system and that most of these students will have after to prepare exams during the last term. Of course, this doesn’t mean we have to drop any analysis about the present movement.

The suburbs riots of autumn 2005 against living conditions, and the students’ movement of spring 2006 are opposite ends of the same stick: the world movement of capital. This doesn’t mean, in the present situation, that, especially in France , these ends will rejoin: in the middle there is the huge mass of workers, all these people whose work is the core of capital. Only their generalised struggle could open the way if not towards another society, at least to be a more powerful lever against the present attack against working conditions.

At first we have to consider that France is no longer, is spite of the pretences of all politicians, political and union organisations of any tendency, a “sovereign State”, reduced to be a part of a coherent and supranational European Union . This E.U. itself is involved inworld capitalist dynamics which nobody can master and which imposes its laws on any structure or organisation working inside this production system to try to maintain its perpetuity. Even if we could detect in the present movements of capital some elements of a serious crisis, and consequently some significant struggles and movements, we can’t underestimate the possibilities of adaptation of the capitalist system as we could have seen in the past, even in some more serious crisis for instance in the 30’s.

The essential problem we have to consider related to the two movements that have shaken France in some months is not :

neither in the discussions about the tactics or strategies of the reformist or “revolutionary ” organisations which jump in the bandwagon in order to get a good place in the political competition.

neither in discussions about cosmetics which would come anyway to get the social peace.
nor in the condemnation of some violent actions in the name of a (proletarian or not) morale. Struggles are what they are and always we could find some “disturbing” elements including police manipulations . In front of any fact of a certain size we have to try to understand and to see what it socially expresses.

The measures taken by the government, presently contested, and any other measure which could be taken instead to replace them, only aim at maintaining in the national frame the social peace needed for the exploitation of labour, and somewhat soften the consequences on the working conditions of the capital dynamic at the world scale. The essential problem is precisely at this world scale and what happens in France is only the peculiar aspect in the national frame of the world evolution of capital. Any struggle against only one problem, in one country will only succeed to help capital to overcome its present difficulties, even if it shows some radicalism and gets some results for the fighters involved (workers and others).

The more capital expands (and it has considerably and successfully for the past 50 years spatially and in sectors of activity where it did not exist), it develops at the same time a more and more important army reserve (see Marx, Capital). This army reserve has grown, all over the world more than 1 billion. Until recently, it was mainly concentrated in the third-world countries. It invaded little by little all the industrialised countries with a constant important rate of unemployment that most of the countries try to dissimulate the extent of with various expedients. The oversize of this reserve army obliges us to think that most of it is not eventually “recoverable” workers but “irrecoverable” people for capitalist purposes. And definitely expelled from the capitalist process of production. The action of capital often has dispossessed them of their traditional non-capitalist means of living and obliged them to be displaced towards these awfully poor suburbs of the big cities.

Considering this, we could see the distinction in France between unemployed counted as so in the unemployment rate, and people without work betting only the special benefit called RMI and not at all counted as unemployed: this segmentation would not be a matter of money but a parting between ex-workers potentially recoverable and ex-workers irrecoverable for capital. The new labour contracts (CNE, CPE, etc.) giving employers the possibility to sack a worker for two years without having to give a pretext could also be seen as a mean to sort the workers and separate the recoverable and the irrecoverable for the process of exploitation of labour.

The present problem for capital confronted to this huge growing population of irrecoverable displaced human beings is not so much how to integrate them eventually into the production process (it is evident that this prospect is not at all possible) but how to maintain them in a survival situation to keep a minimal social peace allowing it to go ahead, either with the extraction of raw material or with the exploitation of recoverable labour.

Of course, the solutions answering this problem differ according to the situation. A wide range of measures could be seen from minimal benefits for the irrecoverable in industrialised countries, such as the RMI in France, or the parsimonious food help provided by the NGOs in the third world countries. On the other hand, we can see some similarity in the survival solutions as well in the French suburbs as well as in the ghettos and shanty towns all over the world: any kind of traffic, legal or illegal, theft, drug and underground work.

One of the problems raised by such situation is to know if at a world scale, capital can divert enough surplus-value to help the survival of so many people and so maintain the social peace it needs to keep the production process working. Quite a lot of social measures taken in France are only devoted to this aim, and it is evident that even in this restricted national frame these questions of money becomes essential and push the government to promote a wide range of fake jobs to try to reinsert the irrecoverable into the capitalist production process enlarged for this purpose by quite a lot of unproductive sectors. In France, amongst other attempts, the CNE and CPE are part of such a politics.

Such problems are not so simple for capital because it is in opposition with the imperative for capital to find ways to counter the fall of the rate of profit (another consequence of the spreading of capital independent of its dynamics itself). All over the world, capital must imperatively recuperate part of the maximum of surplus value and diminish the share of this surplus value allowed for the reproduction of the labour force and for unproductive sectors.

In the industrialised countries this mean everywhere remove in one way or another all benefits which could have been conceded n the previous periods and to get more workers efforts in rebuilding after wars or some primitive accumulation. No need to tell much about France (and not particularly about France) not only about a general attack against all kind of benefits but also about constant pressure (legal or not) to increase labour productivity i.e. increase the rate of surplus value extorted by capital.

Capital has a dilemma, on one hand obliged to subside without counterpart an important mass of irrecoverable people, on the other hand to pressurisee more and more all the productive and unproductive (even more this last ones) workers. These two terms are contradictory but they could generate anyway social disturbances, situation which obliges to maintain, nationally and worldly more and more important measures of security, the security of capital and of exploitation, the social peace proceeding more and more on a “terror balance”. There is another problem, inherent to capital itself, but which expresses itself through companies, trusts, multinationals and States. In fact quite a lot of problems directly connected to the fierce competition in the capitalist jungle.

It will be very long to develop the industrial and financial channels used in this competition but we have to underline that the world economy is constantly shaken with problems of overproduction which sharpen even more this competition. Capital needs to keep on and go ahead of consumers to convert the surplus-value. Partly it is also the meaning of the subsidies to keep alive all the unrecoverable people. But, on the other hand, if capital, in order to stop the fall of the rate of profit squeezes the part of the surplus-value going to the workers for the reproduction of the labour force, it is in total contradiction with its needs. Then comes the importance of credit in all its forms which is a central world problem: it contributes to maintaining a certain level of production, bur the result is a levy on the future of what will be conceded to workers. It is a vicious circle for the years ahead as the pressure on wages and conditions of work already draws a dreary future.

To raise labour productivity is the core of the production process and an essential part of the capitalists competition partly considering their privileged national interests. In France, the reforms implied by the CNE and the CPE are not isolated facts but have to be related to the context of a tendency already working for more than twenty years:

most of the collective agreements which regulated work in national branches of industries often improving the basic labour laws for the workers have been repealed unilaterally by the employers unions in the past years.

The 35 hours laws have seriously improved the flexibility about working time all along the year, overtime (reduced increase on an annual average) and wages freeze. According to figures from the employers’ organisations, France is now the first in the industrialised world for the productivity per man per hour.

the multiplication of all kinds of precarious labour contracts (according to some official reports, we could number 38 different job contracts allowing the management to choose what is more convenient to its purpose and the need of the industry)

All these measures introduced little by little, were successive steps towards flexibility and were implemented without serious opposition because of the economic pressure on workers (unemployment) and of deceptive presentations (e .g. the 35 hours laws presented as a cut in the working time). The CNE (New Hiring Contract) can only be used in companies exploiting less than 20 workers, giving all kind of workers the legal threat to be fired for two years without any explanation. It was voted by Parliament last summer practically without serious opposition from the unions or from the workers. The CPE (First Hiring Contract) was exactly the same kind of labour contract in a different field: it was to be used only for young people under 26, otherwise it was exactly the same. Another kind of labour contract of the same kind was implemented for old workers in order to soften the frequent sacking of worker above 55,or even 50.

These new labour contracts answer several purposes. They will allow management to adapt the exploitation of labour, for a longer period and with less expense, to the fluctuations of the market. They are apparently patchy but beyond this appearance they are separated steps towards a unification and a simplification of the labour contracts in the companies’ interests and of the conditions of exploitation.

The workers unions are unanimous to condemn and to support the strong reaction of the students against the CPE: but it is partly only words (for the suburbs riots, it was openly a rejection). In fact the main unions CGT and CFDT are studying for months their own reform of the labour contracts and their discussions are following the same way as the present government (they have already given a name to their project: Professional Social Security) . The same reform is also to be implemented with this name at the European level, what a European commissary called “flexsecurity ” (Les Echos 23/3/2006). In Germany, part of this European plan is implemented with the project to extend of six months the trying period in a labour contract up to two years, exactly the same as in France.

The strength of the struggle against the CPE at first from university students then from secondary school students was not initiated by the workers unions or political parties, though some students unions have some clear connections with left parties. Most of the success of the movement comes not from the specific opposition to the CPE (which sparked the ignition) but from the general and vague discontent about the economic pressure of the past years. It is significant that in both movements, the suburbs riots and the student movement, only young people were involved in the start of the struggle. They are the first victims or this global pressure, of course in a quite different ways. For the students, belonging for most of them to until now a rather protected milieu, for some of them having to deal even after successful studies with an uncertain future, the CPE was the image of this precariousness they fear disturbing the dream of a future similar or better than their parents’ life. For the workers unions, they know perfectly well the evolution of the general conditions of labour, evolution they couldn’t oppose radically because of their basic function in the capitalist process of production and they also know that it was the cause of their decline, which was used by managers, employers unions and government to push, as far they could, to reform the conditions of labour exploitation.

On the other hand, the workers’ unions also knew well that precariousness and unemployment made difficult, if they had the intent to do it, to mobilie workers even for some precise reform attempt. So, the present movement is a surprise opportunity for the workers unions to have a come back in the political arena. Even if a small minority of workers are involved in the present movement, these unions altogether (improvised for the circumstance) could claim urbi et orbi their support for the student movement and their opposition to a contract they have already accepted for quite a lot of workers with the CNE. In fact, as usual, the workers unions try to use the dynamics of the student movement to impose to the government a general discussion about the present conditions of work for all workers. We can already see the prospect of a top meeting between the employers unions, the workers union and the government, something similar to the “Matignon agreement” which ended the big 1936 strikes or the “Grenelle agreement” which ended May ‘68. This “new look” of the workers unions was already prepared with some previous evolution: on one hand what we have said about the “Professional Social Security” unions palas, and on the other hand about a merging in process between the main unions CGT and CFDT under the name of “syndicat rassemblé ” (gathered union) (in this process, the small opposition unions would be swept away and a top meeting to settle the present dispute will be a good opportunity to marginalise them).

Nobody can tell what the future will be for the two distinct movements of struggle. The suburbs movement apparently has faded away, stopped by the repression and certainly by the fact it was isolated and not relayed by other people than the young people of the suburbs (anyway, the fire still is not damped under the ashes, what is feared by all the authorities, because the situation has not changed at all in spite of all the verbal promises and will stay the same even if some practical solution will stop the CPE student struggle).

The big difference between the suburbs riots and the student movement (presently we can’t talk of a workers’ movement) proceeds what we have said before about their social milieu. The students fight for a future they think threatened, the suburban young people fought for their present, the impossibility for them presently to “live normally”, only hoping to live as other young people which also implies of course a future.

From their respective situations also derive the totally different methods of struggle:

Because it is not directed against the system but only against some present disagreements, the student movement uses the same traditional peaceful legal methods advised and supported by the unions (even if some conflicts could come up when the rank and file uses them out of the unions control or against their will to stop the strike). Sit-ins, assemblies (somewhat “ democratic ”), demonstrations, blockades of streets, roads or railways lines, all that are part of the regular union arsenal . Of course not putting cars or public buildings on fire or fiercely fighting with the police. The student movement wants to get a “good image” and reject any kind of violence. For most of these students, even if the background was a general disease with the present society, very few claims went beyond the remove of the CPE. It is not by chance if it was agreed in general to ask for the help of the main workers unions for the organisation of the demonstrations even for the purely students ones and if the “ strong man” union teams controlled the demonstrations against the “suburbs youngsters” jointly with the police.

The suburbs youngsters have a totally different approach in their fight against the society and anybody or anything expressing the “normal” life in this society (it is not by change that a recent film describing the life of young people in these suburbs was entitled “The Hate”). Violence is what they live constantly and directly, far beyond the civilised violence of education or of work. They answer with violence at different degrees in the only public place where they have to confront this violence, the streets and various public resorts in their subur ; they have practically no claim only a vague idea they are fighting for “something else”, acting more violently when some repressive action has brought more harassment than usual, with arrests, wounds or even death. For part of them surviving through various illegal means, stealing with violence individually or regrouped in small gangs of fighting with the cops is a kind of usual practice. They have done that for ages in all crowded places using any opportunity (celebrations , feasts, marches, …demonstrations :in the last demonstrations against the CPE, they don’t care about it but see only the opportunity for easy prey and/or easy fights. Whatever can we think about these facts, such a violence and behaviour is the mark of a difference of class: dangerous class against middle class. This violence has nothing to do with the “organised” violence of some radical political groups.

It is evident that a movement of this size, even limited to a peculiar category of the population, provokes a lot of discussions, proposals and initiatives from all sides. But it doesn’t depend on anybody or any group to act in such a way to make these first steps in the present situation go beyond limited claims, or take more radical or more general forms of action. Of course some minority people or groups could try to radicalise the movement, to push it in larger fields mainly amongst the workers, and to give it more general aim posing the problem of the capitalist society.

It is always possible to find presently in this student movement some slogans, some specific actions, some local characters in the management of the student strike and/or of occupations and to propagate them as a proof that the movement is going a way we could hope it has to go from a “revolutionary” point of view. But presently it is not at all the general tendency of the movement which stays in the control and the limits of a traditional movement.

Some could think as well of a connection with the “suburb rioters” of last autumn: they came effectively but not in number and for a quite different purpose. The evolution of the movement will depend from the government decision and of the dialectical process between the repressive force, the political manipulations including the fights for political power inside the political majority, the manipulations from the unions. There is quite a lot of possibilities for the system to stop it spreading towards a general workers strike or any other kind of generalisation. There is still plenty of voices which ask the workers unions to organise such an extension of the movement through an order for a general strike: it is a complete illusion, such a strike could only come from the rank and file. Already the unions have decided, as the government stay in its position refusing to yield on the principle to withdraw the CPE, a new larger day of action: so we could have a remake of the 2003 movement in which the combativeness was exhausted through the repetition of useless union “days of action” never overcome by the rank and file.

What will remain anyway of the present movement as well as well as of the “suburbs riots” of autumn 2005? We have not to consider the eventual result of the present movement (the suburbs riots had apparently had no result) but to look at their common character. Both present a common feature which link them to the previous movements of struggle in France in a recent past, included May 1968. This common character outside of a mythical junction between, students, workers, dangerous classes and working class, is their quick generalisation to the national scale from a precise starting point, breaking with their spontaneity and their unforeseeable evolution the traditional frame of union struggles. This tendency is rather inarticulate though very strong but imprecise in its content and its forms of organisation and action. If it could not be fought openly by the unions or the settled political organisation, they are often diverted by these traditional legal organisations which try to contain it, to use it, if needed repress and exhaust it, until now with difficulty but at length successfully. We can’t draw presently a conclusion about its evolution but to observe that it appears year after year more or less stronger and with more or less the same characters. It is also difficult to tell if there is some lesson drawn by some from the past experience related to the same current. We can only consider that it is the consequence of the same reaction, beyond the specific situation starting the struggle, against the general situation in the system of work and life domination and the inability of the traditional organisations to answer the problems raised for everybody. The vague consciousness of the failure of political and union milieu to take in charge this general discontent is another present character of this tendency but it is also the consequence of the general economic situation. Of course, as for the present student movement, nobody can foresee the evolution of this tendency which depends of the movement of capital and of the transformation in the content and forms of the capitalist domination, including the measures taken to “solve” the present crisis.

Report from the National Student Co-ordination

But where has the real movement gone?

A political, critical and subjective report by a Sorbonne delegate on the National Student Coordination held in Aix-en-Provence on 25-26 March 2006.


First, and like a symptom, the TGV (high-speed train) which links Paris to Aix in three hours. We arrive in the middle of the desert: a huge station, covered in glass, a temple to contemporary architectural ugliness in the middle of the drought. And 15 minutes of freeway to the town centre. Time and space are cancelled out, we’re in the middle of nowhere, in an impossible centre, a product of the will to erase this no-man’s-land which the centre of France presently constitutes. We’re one of the first delegations to arrive; we register with a box-ticker, and neatly draft the ‘directions motions’ which we’d been asked to bring to the coordination. They are to be quickly entered into a computer and distributed during the debates. Everyone will put their badges on soon: delegate, cafeteria-worker, organizer, S.O. Here we all are, nicely organised, nicely differentiated, so that everyone is in her place.

Everyone is stressed out. Things have to go better than they did last week in Dijon. There’s laughter though, and singing. The occupation has been running for three weeks, and it’s an honour to host the coordination. Of course, there are big welcome banners, stacks of chairs, signs pointing the way. Everyone is trying to grab some sleep in the lecture halls. Tomorrow, things kick off.


A painful wakening on the lino floor. Lots of delegations are in the foyer. It’s teeming with people, chatting. Reunions. How have you been since the last coordination? There are lots of veterans here. The same old union hacks meet up. A vile, neurotic family where petty rivalries and hostilities are played out. I don’t understand anything, don’t know what intrigues are going on between the various trot and leftist groups, what the finer details of their differences are. There’s scheming in the air, pettiness is the order of the day. There’s lot’s of pisstaking. The delegations are still pretending to be together. But people are already gathering, mixing, rumours are circulating. Who will take the chair? Have you seen the charter that Aix is proposing for holding the coordination? Who’s behind all that? Unef mino minority faction of Unef, left student union or Unef majo majority faction. And the coordination, they tell us is, an important space for debate.

Things start at about midday. The delegations from the closest towns allow themselves the luxury of arriving late. The chair is announced, it will be rotating. A big opening speech by a guy from the Union of Communist Students, handsome like a young Stalinist cadre from the 80s. People laugh. Hours of debate over voting mechanisms, the question of the ‘Aix charter.’ I don’t understand anything, except when something really stinks of co-option. After a while there are the reportbacks, uni by uni. We get the numbers for the General Assemblies and the numbers for rallies, town by town. Rennes wins. Next, the ‘special cases’ get to speak: closed unis, campaigns over freedom to study. In the end we hear very little about the hundreds of arrests that have been made, the legal follow-up and all that. As a Sorbonne delegate, I describe what’s going on for us, what happened during the week. With the strange division between those who’ve decided to set up shop at the occupied bastion of the Tolbiac campus, and others who preferred to get involved with the EHESS (School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences) occupation with the sans-statut fixe (militants with no fixed status). Behind me, someone hisses that I’ve only got two minutes to speak. Other ‘special cases’ have to have their say. We’ll have a minute of silence for the student who died of a medical attack in Strasbourg; then a minute of noise to show our determination. Results of the evening: Sadness 1, Noise 1. I think it was Noise which was on home turf.

A break. We start again. We’re going to address the inevitable question of the demands which will be taken up by the coordination. There’s already the henceforth sacred Toulouse platform. It will take several hours to decide whether we change it, expand it, what we’re going to do with it in sum. There’s strong pressure in the room not to go over it again. With the threat: remember what happened in Dijon. I don’t know what that’s about; nothing was heard about it at the Sorbonne General Assembly. At the same time, seeing things are such a mess, seeing the pathetic maneuvres that are going on, I can well imagine what happened. The delegates, at any rate, have heaps of demands which were voted in their GAs. The big board is covered in 70 proposals which are arranged in boxes: campaign, employment/précarité, politics, other. Easy to see that things are volatile in the local assemblies.

After another break a mysterious idea pops up: the book of grievances. A big bag to put all the new demands into, in the great tradition of keep-crapping-on. We wonder who suggested it. They explain: it’s about being credible, having a clear message which can unite everyone, students and workers. We still need to broaden the movement. Once we’ve won a victory on the ‘Equal Opportunity’ law, we can push forward on the rest. In the meantime, we can’t go to the trade unions with that. WE HAVE TO BE CREDIBLE.

The new demands are refused as we go along, since the mandates aren’t all that strict. Not enough mandates to refuse the reinforced surveillance of unemployed people, the RMA (work-for-the-dole), the fucked up status of casual workers, the proposed laws on the prevention of delinquency in crèches, the latest immigration law. Abstain, abstain, abstain, abstain. In the end, the Sacred Platform will include the rejection of the Single Employment Contract (which doesn’t exist yet), the demand that the government step down, and a CDI (permanent contract) for all workers. WE REMAIN CREDIBLE.

Four o’clock in the morning. We move on to campaign direction.

First, the Jussieu motion is read out. All the trotskyists in the room have come to an agreement on it. A few minor amendments are made, to include a proposal for blocking traffic routes. The text is ugly and poorly written, full of credibility and movement-building newspeak. It can’t evoke the slightest enthusiasm, the slightest stoking of the flames. The thinking of union struggle summarised on a valueless dish-rag. WE REMAIN CREDIBLE. I’ve had enough, I’m getting irritated, I decide to do to bed. It’s six in the morning. The two other delegates stay, taking turns to sleep. At 10 o’clock, after twenty-four hours of GA, a national committee is proposed, refused at the last minute. The 20 spokespeople are elected, and rigged out with a non-derogable mandate (such that, in principle, they can’t express personal opinions.) A decent majority of them, it seems, come from Unef mino: the coordination is thus headed up by the part of Unef which doesn’t have a hold on its mouthpiece.

A press conference will take place at the end of the masquerade. The ‘Jussieu’ motion is read with about as much liveliness as it deserves. The questions asked are, as could be expected, about the violence. The spokespeople get out of it with the besancenotian after Olivier Besancenot, spokesperson for the LCR response: the first violence was that of the government. What repartee.


The first thing that struck me, when I went to the coordination, was the feeling of participating in a huge collective delirium. This whole badge-wearing, griping little world yelling, holding up pieces of cardboard, conspiring in the corridors, laughing with narrowed eyes when some leftist sect or other hasn’t been able to get up its motion, its perspective, its reportback. The lists of attendees with 70 names of universities, the chairs who yell hysterically to appeal for decorum and respect. All of this for a few vague sentences added to a little text and some nebulous days of action where everyone according to the local feeling will go and have sit-ins in the town square, campaign at the exits of factories and stations, have night-time demos. 24 hours of GA for nearly fuckall, aside from the power games between the organizations. No content, no speeches which hit you in the gut, a juxtaposition of sentences which overlay each other but don’t mesh. A hubbub whose meaning must be able to be found in the various political committees.

Where are we headed in the end? A call for a ‘renewable interprofessional strike’ (like last week), three more demands added to the platform. I can’t see what’s been coordinated. Barely a few days of action which would have taken place anyway. Why all this time spent in a General Assembly about this, to mandate, to think about the motions, to propose actions, if it leads to this.


It seems to me that at the current moment, two hypotheses are at work in practice. The first is the one on show at the national coordination and at the GAs. I would call it leftist-revolutionary. It’s articulated around the two-pronged-figure of the general strike called by the unions and public opinion. The chain of reasoning is simple. In order that the unions call a strike, we have to show the strength of the student mobilisation: hold big rallies, multiply the student strikes. The unions must also be able to share our demands: so we need a platform with which they can readily identify. Finally, the union rank-and-file must feel that there is a winnable battle: so we offer public opinion a clear picture of the movement, make it comprehensible to the biggest idiots, demonstrate responsibility regarding violence or demands. Thus, extensive dissemination of information to workers, in the stations, at the gates of businesses, with a CREDIBLE message, so that they can join us. Thus also, in line with this strategy, which was expressed explicitly at the last coordination several times: give the movement a strong leadership, a ‘real direction’ so that the unions and their members know where it’s going, so that the journos have a set person to speak to.

This hypothesis partly cuts across this movement, taking up time. Many insipid tracts are distributed in aid of this, many discussions of what is or is not CREDIBLE or what will pass in the media take place in this direction. The leftist-revolutionary hypothesis of the constitution of a large mass movement by means of simple catchphrases is at its height. The coordination in the form it takes today is a pure and disastrous product of this hypothesis.


The second hypothesis, for its part, doesn’t show up in the coordinations, although it leaves its traces there. It is this: In the current situation, the strength of our movement is bound to what is happening in the street and in the occupations, it’s this turbulence which causes fear and which might well, by contagion, open up possibilities. This turbulence is first of all that of speech unraveling. We’re beginning to talk about politics again, about what it means to live in this world today. We’re sharing or rebellions, our anger, our refusals. Sometimes programmes are drawn up, with varying degrees of wackiness. This even bubbled over into the coordination, with the 70 demands voted in the assemblies which the (student) unionists didn’t know what to do with. To use their vocabulary, the rank-and-file are largely politicised: we are no longer, after several weeks of protest, limited to a mere refusal of the CPE, rather, and often explicitly, we are refusing the world which is unfolding today. The discussions on the margins of the assemblies, in the occupations, in the empty moments during strikes, are bringing hopes for radical change to the fore. We’re seeing the return, after a long absence, of the idea that it’s up to us to make this world. And, parallel to this, the means are being invented. Symbolic actions with greater or lesser degrees of feebleness are taking place, people are finding ways to get some cash together, salvaging food from the markets and the supermarkets to feed the occupation, equipping themselves for the confrontations, learning how to look after ourselves, to watch out for others, learning to express ourselves in public, make stuff. Practical solidarities are arising, we end up valuing the struggle less for its pretext then for the moments it allows us to live, the time emerging, the hopes being shared. People are seething and they’re getting organized. We end up telling ourselves that we can just as well get on with things without necessarily waiting for the exhausting endorsement of everybody else, that we can also speak authentically outside of the formal debates and the GAs.

What is taking form, at the moment, is the power of overflow. The vitality of union-based action is petering out, we’re losing the taste for gentle rallies or even clever songs which aren’t enough anymore. We’re losing the taste for slogans repeated a thousand times, tracts distributed a thousand times. We’re losing our curiosity for the finer details which led to the choice of a given route. So, obviously, things are degenerating, as they say. Words are becoming more utopian, acts are becoming more determined. The handsome, well-ordered processions fragment, non-officially-stamped tracts multiply. Things are beginning to head towards the incontrollable.

That’s where we are now. At the heart of the conflict between two hypotheses which were able to coexist for a moment, but which now will need to clash. The national coordination, again at Aix, claimed the title of proud coordination of the student movement. It only represents, however, the union-based side of the movement, smooth, neat, clear, CREDIBLE. Nothing more than this. It only crowns the dominance, in the GAs, of the principle of unification of catchphrases and actions, of the chair who notes down the lists of registered participants, of the will to obtain a general strike through the unions, by demonstrating that we come up to their standards. The real movement, for its part, is unrealistic, irresponsible, diverse, it thinks and it goes overboard. Its anger is too strong to be happy with mediocre, lacklustre slogans and well-ordered demonstrations. It doesn’t look good in the media, it likes to cook, organize actions, tell itself that this is only a beginning and that it can take its time.

The real movement is getting organized.

Nothing can really be predicted yet. There are already confrontations in the streets, things are taking a radically political turn in some GAs. We don’t know how successful the unionists and leftists will be in pursuing their attempts at encamaradrement word play on encadrement = management, control and camarade = comrade, their attempts to censor the political character of the movement which they helped to ignite. Let’s suggest a hypothesis: if there is general strike or generalised blockading, it will happen above all because, in the streets and in the occupations, the youth – whether from the suburban housing estates or the centre of the megalopolises – begin to organize for themselves, to think and speak loud and clear away from the megaphones and the mobile PA systems.

The disaster is too present for this world not to begin to show cracks. The need for rebellion is too great, too shared for the real movement not to emerge.

I think the Sorbonne should stop participating in the coordination because preparing for it takes too much time, because the results are and will continue to be minimal, because it cannot and will never be able to reflect the multiplicity of what is taking place at the grassroots, because it means endorsing the wacky logics of power of union and leftist organisations as if they go without saying. Someone said to me, and no doubt they were right, that if stopped doing all this in GAs, lots of people would leave. It’s true that some people enjoy themselves in these organisational games. But what about the others?

For my part, and I know I’m not the only one, I prefer the second hypothesis. Because I believe in our capacity to organise for the coming confrontations and to allow radical political reflections and autonomous organisational practices to arise inside this movement.

At any rate, I’ll never take the TGV to this sordid theatre-piece again. Exile is already difficult enough. I don’t need to go and see these keepers of the flock rip each other to pieces over the part of the desert they control. I’ve got much better things to do.

Kamo, 27 March 2006

from Autonomy and Solidarity


See also:

Unrest in France - blog launched

France's Political Crisis Grows as Three Million Take to Streets

France: Protests take internation turn

France protests - the story so far

CNT-F Statement - Three Million Reasons To Go On!

France: Echoes of 1968… and of 1984

French Protests Continue Following Chirac's Announcement