Below is a translation of the statement of a witness to the police repression meted out against students, youth and workers at a demonstration last month in Lyon, France against the pension “reform” and the attacks of the French ruling class. The French police have also picked up on their British counterpart’s tactic of “kettling”, particularly using it to prevent any collective reflection on the best means of struggle that is emerging in minorities of the working class fed up with being marched up and down and then sent home by the unions.
The British police were strongly criticised for their illegal kettling at the G20 protest and the killing of Ian Tomlinson. But following the overwhelming of the police (deliberately allowed or not) by demonstrators at Millbank on November 10, there was little doubt that the kettling tactic would be used again in the UK, especially after the activist wing of the NUS and other leftists had announced their intention of marching towards Lib Dem HQ on 24 November. And so the 24 November demo was led into the cynical trap laid for them a few hundred yards after leaving the meeting point at Trafalgar Square.
At Lyon, the violence of a handful of demonstrators was possibly manipulated by the police, but was anyway used by them to prevent any coming together and discussion between students and workers at the end of the demonstration. What the bourgeoisie fears above all is that students will join up with other elements of their class under similar attacks: young, old, employed or unemployed. It is these general assemblies, however much a minority they start off with, that can discuss how to take the struggle forward and that were so effective in avoiding police provocations and joining up with workers in the struggles against the CPE in France in 2006. It was precisely the growing threat of this unification that forced the French state to withdraw its immediate assault on students’ and young workers’ conditions.
Lyon, Tuesday October 19, another demonstration against the changes to retirement. More than 45,000 are present, including thousands of schoolchildren. The latter met up in the morning in front of schools and joined up with the main demonstration. The omnipresent police laid into any “outbursts” from the beginning from various points, outbursts that they largely helped to provoke through their aggressive presence.
In the Place Bellecour, right in the heart of Lyon, where a good part of the demonstrators had come and were still arriving, the forces of order were collecting in numbers. Some dozens of youths faced up to them. The police reacted immediately and violently in the middle of thousands of demonstrators; firing tear gas and with loaded flash-balls in hands. All the repressive forces were mobilised – cops, civil forces, GIPN... They used orange markers to stain the demonstrators. Police helicopters hovered overhead to take photographs and to report to and direct the forces below. River police were also posted on the Rhone. In sum all efforts were made to brutally attack the youngsters present and, at the same time, sabotage the end of the demonstration.
Confrontations lasted up to the evening and it wasn’t only with the youths. A number of demonstrators responded to this police provocation and physically prevented heavier attacks.
The question is immediately posed: why such a level of repression, such a disproportionate use of the police faced with this situation. Who profits from the crime?
Obviously, the ruling class didn’t “just let this happen”. In unleashing this deliberately provoked violence it wanted to send a clear message:
- To spread fear among the youth who wanted to join the struggle but did not want to suffer from such repression.
- To frighten parents, demonstrators or not, in an attempt to dissuade them from joining in with the next demonstration.
- To provoke the high school and university students already involved and turn their discontent onto the single issue of repression and physical conflict. And in this way to try to obscure all the lessons of the CPE in 2006 where, rightly, the youngsters refused to respond to police provocation.
-To pervert any questioning during this social movement against the retirement changes and fixate it on the “irresponsibility” of Sarkozy alone; to attempt to wipe out the basis of our anger faced with the crisis that the whole of capitalism imposes on us.
But the unleashing of such violence was aimed above all at preventing hundreds of workers and demonstrators, large numbers of whom remained at the end of the demonstration on the Place Bellecour, from meeting up, discussing, looking to the next stage of struggle and asking, collectively, how to struggle.
Up to this demonstration it had been the unions’ loudspeakers with their deafening noise which had contributed to preventing any real collective discussions or any real massive General Assemblies. All of the unions had openly blocked such gatherings since the beginning of the movement. But today, there have been dozens of arrests and of wounded amongst the young.
Make no mistake about this repression. This violence of the state is directly addressed to the whole of the working class! Order must reign! This is the clear message from the state.
- We must respond but not on the terrain dictated by the cops
- We must first of all affirm our complete solidarity with the school and university students who were attacked and beaten.
- We must then reflect on why this violence took place and directly discuss it in all the General Assemblies held in Lyon and elsewhere!
A direct witness of events at Lyon, 20/10/10.