Anarchist Bookfair: Meeting on the movement against the CPE in France

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Militants of the ICC were at a number of meetings during October’s Anarchist Bookfair in London, among them one on the students’ struggles in France during spring 2006.

The French state had attempted to introduce the CPE, a law that would enable employers to dismiss people 26 years-old and younger, without having to give a reason, within the first 2 years of the job. There was widespread resistance throughout the universities and amongst young workers-to-be. They forced the French state to back down and withdrawn the CPE, through the organisation of their struggle and by reaching out to the working class in general.

Some people who been involved in the struggles in France had come to the Bookfair to relate their experience and give a perspective on the events. They saw a development from the struggles in France in 2003, because in 2006 there was a more violent response from the French state. They saluted the assemblies that had been created because they had ‘overwhelmed’ the unions’ initial control and because the government was eventually forced into an embarrassing climb-down. However, the fact that the unions had been able to take all the credit for this seemed to show that the movement hadn’t seriously challenged the unions’ ultimate control.

In response to this we tried to make a clear distinction between the union form of struggle and that of the student assemblies. The proletarian nature of the movement was shown in its ability to turn its combativity into the deployment of proletarian methods of organisation. The students wanted to generate a broader solidarity within the working class as a whole. In contrast the unions stood in the way of the extension of the struggle and workers’ taking it into their own hands. The speakers from France didn’t understand the difference. Instead they were euphoric about violent confrontations (like that at the Sorbonne) and applauded the rioting in Paris during Autumn 2005 (See WR 290 ‘Riots in the French suburbs: in face of despair, only the class struggle offers a future’).

In discussion before the meeting started properly, we’d already indicated how the broadest media coverage was given to events that linked the working class with mindless acts of violence, but deliberately made little reference to the student assemblies and the expressions of solidarity, both by students towards the working class and by workers across the generations towards the students.

The ‘facilitator’ of the meeting didn’t feel comfortable with discussion focusing on the student assemblies and wanted to move the discussion on. The meeting rejected this approach. People wanted to look more into the significance of the French anti-CPE struggle. There was a genuine curiosity in the methods adopted by the French students.

In particular there was a need to contrast, on the one hand, the movement for the greatest participation of workers and students in struggles and its use of necessary force with, on the other, the individual and conspiratorial violence characteristic of other social strata. As we said in WR 293 (April 2006 ‘Notes from the students struggles’):

“Not only does violence tend to discredit the movement within the rest of the class, but it also puts into question the sovereignty of the general assemblies since it takes place completely outside the latter’s control. In fact this last question - the question of control - is one of the most critical ones; the violence of the working class has nothing to do with the blind violence of the young hotheads at the Sorbonne or - it must be said - of many anarchist groups, above all because it is exercised and controlled collectively, by the class as a group. The student movement has used physical force (for example to barricade the university buildings and block entry to them): the difference between this and the confrontations at the Sorbonne is that the former actions are decided collectively and voted by the general assemblies while the ‘blockers’ have a mandate for their actions from their own comrades. The latter, precisely because they are uncontrolled by the movement, are of course the perfect terrain for the action of the lumpen and the agent provocateur, and given the way in which this violence has been used by the media, there is every reason to suppose that the provocateur has been present and stirring it up”.   Duffy 2/12/6