Struggles in France: Greetings to the new generation of the working class!

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The massive mobilisation of students in France against the attacks of the Chirac/Villepin/Sarkozy government which wants to impose the “Contrat Première Embauche”[1] (CPE) by force, is part of the present resurgence of the international proletarian struggle. This movement is nothing  like previous inter-classist movements of young students. It is part of the struggle of  the whole working class. From the outset, this movement has been firmly on a working class terrain, against economic attacks, against the “no future” that capitalism promises the younger generations. The students in struggle have been able to put to one side their own specific demands (such as the reform of the system of LMD diplomas) and instead have put forward a common demand of the whole working class: “No to the CPE! No to precarious work, to lay-offs and unemployment!”.

The movement’s strength lies above all in the growing and active SOLIDARITY in the struggle. The students (and the high school students) have understood that unity is strength, and have closed ranks to put into practice that old slogan of the workers’ movement: “All for one, and one for all!”. This is how they have been able to draw in behind them the teachers and office personnel who have held their own general assemblies (“assemblées générales” or AG). The students in the universities have opened their AG to their own parents and other workers, and even to pensioners (at Paris 3 Censier in particular). They have asked them to speak and to help with their “ideas”. A kind of “suggestions box” has been carried around in the street, in the AG, in supermarkets, at workplaces, on the Internet, etc. This is how the most conscious and determined battalions of the movement have been able to make solidarity come alive and widen their struggle to take in the whole working class!

The mass general assemblies are the heart of the movement 

The day following the 7th March demonstration mass student general assemblies spread throughout the universities of Paris and the provinces: Villepin,[2] the “man of iron”, stuck to his hard line; the CPE was voted in by the National Assembly because it was out of the question that the “street should rule” (as the ex-prime minister Raffarin said in 2003, when he pushed through his reform of the pension system in order to throw old wage slaves into poverty after enduring 40 years of exploitation!) The students have not given in. The lecture halls where the AG are held have been filled to overflowing, the spontaneous demonstrations have multiplied, especially in the capital. The students have lifted the media blackout and forced them to break their law of silence and lies.

The ten days from the 8th March to the 18th have “shaken the world” of the French ruling class. The students have increasingly organised in one direction and one only: SOLIDARITY and UNITY with the whole working class.

In the capital this dynamic has spread out from Censier, which has been in the vanguard of the movement towards the extension and the centralisation of the workers’ counter-attack.

In the AG the workers who were “passing by” have been welcomed with open arms. They have been invited to participate in the discussions, to contribute their own experience. All those who have taken part in the AG in Paris and in several other provincial towns (notably Toulouse) have been astonished by the capacity of the young generation  to place its creativity at the service of the class struggle. At Censier especially, the richness of the discussion, the sense of responsibility of the students who have been elected by the strike committee, their ability to organise the movement, to run the assembly, to allow all those who want to expresses their point of view to do so, to convince others and to unmask the saboteurs through the confrontation of arguments in the discussion has fully confirmed the vitality and the strength of the young generations of the working class.

The students have constantly defended the sovereign character of the AG, with their delegates who are elected and revocable (on the basis of mandates and the giving back of mandates), by open votes in the assembly. Every day a different team (including both unionised and non-unionised students) chairs the discussions.

In order to be able to share out the tasks, to centralise, to coordinate and to keep the control of the movement, the strike committee of Paris 3 – Censier has decided to elect different commissions: Press, “Animation and Reflection” to think about wider issues, Welcome and Information etc.

It is thanks to this real “democracy” in the AG and the centralisation of the struggle that the students have been able to decide on what action to take, with their principle concern being how to spread the movement to the workplace.

The dynamic spreading the movement to the whole of the working class

The students have clearly understood that the success of their struggle is in the hands of the wage workers (as one of the students said during a meeting of the Île de France Coordination of 8th March “if we remain isolated, they’ll make a meal of us”). The more the Villepin government refuses to budge, the more determined the students become. The harder Sarkozy[3] hits the more angry the workers get and the more the “voters” grumble.

The wage workers most accustomed to the class struggle (and the less stupid fractions of the bourgeoisie) know that this confrontation carries with it the threat of the mass strike (and not the general strike put forwards by certain unions and the anarchists) if the ruling “rabble” remains caught up in its present irrational “logic”.

This dynamic towards the movement’s extension, towards the mass strike, has appeared since the outset of the students’ mobilisation and has been expressed throughout the country, through large delegations to workers near the places of education.[4] They have come up against the unions’ “blockage”[5] and the workers have remained shut up in their workplaces without being able to discuss with the student delegations. The “little Sioux”[6] of the Paris universities have been very imaginative in finding means to overcome the union blockage.

In order to mobilise the workers, the students have proved rich in imagination. Censier have used a cardboard box called the “box of ideas”. In some universities (such as Paris Jussieu), they have had the idea of taking to the street, to address passers-by about the reasons for their anger, and asking for ideas for the “box” because “all ideas are worth looking at”. This has been particularly the case in relation to the workers who have passed by or who have come to show their solidarity, who the students have asked to place their ideas in the “box” in order that they can try to put them into practice. Thanks to their experience, they have been able to sort out the “good ideas” (which go in the direction of strengthening the movement) from the “bad ideas” (which weaken and sabotage the struggle in order to leave the students open to repression, as we saw with the idea of “occupying the Sorbonne”).

In many universities, and especially those at the forefront of the movement, the students have opened the lecture halls where the AG are held to wage workers, the unemployed, and even pensioners. They have asked them to pass on their experience of the workplace. They are eager to learn from the older generations. And the “elders” have been eager to learn from the “youngsters”. As the “youngsters” have gained in maturity, the “elders” have rediscovered their youth! This osmosis between the generations has given a whole new impetus to the movement. The struggle’s greatest strength, and its finest victory, is the struggle itself! It is the solidarity and the unity of the whole working class in all its generations and in every sector.

This victory has been won not in parliament but in the university lecture halls. Sadly for the government, its spies in the AG have understood nothing. They have been unable to give Mr Villepin any “ideas”. The Villepin/Sarkozy/Chirac infernal trio have run out of “ideas”. They have thus had to show the true face of bourgeois democracy: repression.

The violence of the police state shows that of bourgeoisie has “no future”

The student movement is far more than a simple protest against the CPE. As a teacher from Paris-Tolbiac University said at  the 7th March demonstration “The CPE is not only a real and specific economic attack, it is also a symbol”. It is indeed a symbol of the bankruptcy of the capitalist economy.

This is also an implicit response to the  police “errors” (which in the autumn of 2005 caused the “accidental” death of two young innocents  denounced as “ burglars” by a “citizen” and chased by the cops). Putting a pyromaniac (Sarkozy) in charge of the Interior Ministry has demonstrated the bourgeoisie’s inability to draw the lessons of its own history: it has forgotten that police “errors” (amongst others, the death of Malik Oussékine in 1986[7]) became factors in the radicalisation of the workers’ struggles. Today, the repression of the students of the Sorbonne who only wanted to hold an AG (and who did not burn books as the mendacious Mr de Robien has tried to claim) does nothing but strengthen the students’ determination. All the bourgeoisie and its hired media hacks have been endlessly spreading lies about the students being “hoodlums” (or “rabble” to use Sarkozy’s gentlemanly term for the youth of the suburbs).

But the lies have been too gross, and the working class has not been taken in. The violence of the hoodlums of the bourgeoisie has revealed the violence of the capitalist system and its “democratic” state. A system that has thrown millions of workers onto the street, which has reduced pensioners to poverty after exploiting them for 40 years, a system that imposes its “law and order” with police truncheons. Mr Villepin continues to play deaf, and has demonstrated the truth of the old joke: “dictatorship means ‘shut your mouth’, democracy means ‘talk all you like – we’re not listening’”. But the Villepin/Sarkozy/Chirac trio has gone one better: they’ve invented the slogan “talk all you like and shut your mouth”.

And as they hang on to power these gentlemen have enjoyed the “solidarity” of the media, and above all of its prime instrument of ideological intoxication: the TV news. The media’s ignoble pictures aim to stir up an exhibitionist fascination for pointless violence, to manipulate the crowds, and to corrupt the workers’ consciousness. But the more the TV piles it on to intimidate and paralyse the working class, the more they turn our stomachs (to the point where they even disgust the electorate of the Right).

It is precisely because  the new generations of the working class and its most conscious battalions hold the key to the future, that they have refused to fall for the provocation of the police state (and the imprisoning forces of the unions). They have refused to use the pointless and desperate violence of the bourgeoisie, of the young rioters in the suburbs, or of a few over-excited  “anarchos” and “leftists”.

The children of the working class who are in the vanguard of the student movement are the only ones who can open up a perspective for the whole of society. This perspective, the working class can only develop thanks to its historical vision, to its confidence in its own strength, thanks to its patience and also its humour (to use Lenin’s words). It is precisely because the bourgeoisie is a class with no historic future that the Villepin clique is panicking and can only use the same pointless violence of “no future” as the young rioters.

Mr Villepin’s determination not to give way to the students’ demands (the withdrawal of the CPE) shows one more thing: the world bourgeoisie will never give up power through the pressure of the ballot box. If it is to get rid of capitalism and to build a real human world community, the working class will be obliged, in the future, to defend itself by force against the violence of the state and all the hangers-on of its repressive apparatus. But proletarian class violence has nothing whatever to do with the methods of terrorism or with the riots in the suburbs (as the bourgeoisie’s propaganda would have it, to justify its  policing, its repression of the workers, of the students and of course, of real communist militants).

The counter-offensive of the ruling class to sabotage and corrupt the movement

In order to try and push through its economic and police attacks the bourgeoisie has laid mines around the counter-attack against the CPE. First, they counted on the university and school holidays to disperse the students’ anger. But the students are no goody-goody choirboys (even if some of them still go to church, or to the mosque). They kept up their mobilisation and have reinforced it since the holidays. Obviously, the unions have been present in the movement from the outset and have done their utmost to infiltrate it.

But they never foresaw that they would completely lose their grip in most of the university towns.

In Paris for example, more than a thousand students gathered outside Paris 3 Censier to go together to the demonstration. When they discovered that the CGT[8] had already unfurled their banners at the front of the demonstration in order to lead it, the students used all sorts of transportation and the vitality of their own legs to get to the front of the unions. At the head of the demonstration, they unfurled their own banners, emblazoned with unifying slogans: “University and school students, unemployed workers, workers of the private and public sectors, temporary workers, all in the same struggle against unemployment and insecure work!”.

The CGT was made to look ridiculous. It found itself tailing the students behind a multitude of banners: “CGT Engineers”, “CGT RAPT”,[9] etc., etc. Behind each of the CGT’s enormous red banners were to be found a handful of militants, completely disoriented. To beef up their troops, the cadres of the Stalinist party of Maurice Thorez (who after World War II asked the striking miners and Renault workers to go back to work and to “roll up their sleeves” because “strikes are a weapon of the monopoly trusts”) tried to shout a few radical slogans. They tried to drown out the students with their loudspeakers. The cadres of the CGT and the FRENCH “Communist” Party tried to stir up their troops by getting them to sing the Internationale. The old Stalinist dinosaurs only made themselves look still more ridiculous. Many demonstrators and passers-by on the sidewalks roared with laughter. You heard comments like “It looks like Spitting Image”.[10]

That same night the leader of the CGT Bernard Thibault said on TV: “it is true that there was an unforeseen aspect to the demonstration”.

The unions have unmasked themselves with their own manoeuvres. And Mr de Robien has still not understood this with his “indignation” at the acts of vandalism by the “students” at the Sorbonne (waving a few books torn up by the bourgeois specialists in manipulation) and his pretence that “the students’ revolt is being led by a tiny minority”. Mr Robien has put his glasses on the wrong way round. It is indeed a small minority that runs, not the movement, but the whole of human society. A minority that produces nothing but exploitation and repression against the great majority of the productive class.

The unions, CGT and FO,[11] have not gotten over their nasty surprise on 7th March. This is why some of the more intelligent TV journalists have been saying that “the unions have been humiliated”. They have also been humiliated by the students spontaneous demonstrations on 14th March. Incapable of restraining their fury against their “humiliators”, against the workers who have shown their active solidarity with the students during the demonstration of 16th March, the unions have ended up revealing in public, and in front of the cameras, their complicity with the troops of Mr Sarkozy.

In Paris, the stewards provided by the CGT (linked to the Stalinist party) and by FO (founded after World War II with CIA funding) were at the head of the demonstration, hand in hand, facing the CRS.[12] Suddenly, the union cordon disappeared as if by magic to let a few petty “kamikazes” who had infiltrated the demonstration move off towards the Sorbonne in order to play cat and mouse with the cops. All those who saw the new scenes of violence first hand have said that it was thanks to the unions’ march stewards that Villepin/Sarkozy could get out their truncheons and fill up the Black Marias.

Above all, the constant TV images of violent confrontations that have followed the Paris demonstration have been used to generate fear before the demonstration of 18th March. There are many workers and youths who intended to take part and who may now give up for fear of this violence.

The TV news anchormen have been able to announce the good news: the movement is “dying down” (according to the TV news on 16th March).

Those who want the movement to die down are the accomplices of Sarkozy, the forces of union control. And the working class is beginning to understand this. Behind their “radical” and hypocritical talk, the unions want to save the government’s skin.

The Stalinist party and its CGT deserve their place in the pantheon of Jurassic Park (alongside the brontosaurs of the UMP).[13] If until the unions have been unable so far to play their part as social firemen, it’s because the pyromaniacs Sarkozy/Villepin set fire to their banners on 16th March.

And if the workers have come to support the students in struggle, it is because they have seen the unions in their workplaces contributing to the media blackout of the mass general assemblies.

Since the 7th March demonstration, the unions have dragged their feet, they have twisted and turned in every way imaginable to paralyse the workers. They have carried out all sorts of manoeuvres in order to divide and dissipate the workers’ anger. They have tried to sabotage the students’ movement. They have radicalised their language – very late in the day – by “demanding” the withdrawal of the CPE before opening negotiations (this does not mean that they have stopped negotiating behind the workers' backs). They have even threatened a “general strike” in order to make the government “give in”. They have openly declared that they do not want the workers to mobilise in solidarity with the students. Their backs are to the wall, and now they have tried to slip the ace of trumps out of their sleeves: by using a few over-excited kids to keep the violence going.

The only way out of this political crisis for the French bourgeoisie, is to clean up the façade of the republican state. And this present is being offered to Mr Villepin on a sliver platter by the PS/PCF/Greens[14] who have all united to “put their case” against the CPE to the Constitutional Council.[15] This “helping hand” from the PS may let the government may let the government off the CPE hook by appealing to the “12 wise men”:[16] then it could stick to the Raffarin formula “it’s not the street that rules”, with the addition that “it’s the 12 pensioners of the Constitutional Council who do”!

The greatest victory is the struggle itself 

In wanting to “power-cleanse” the Sorbonne students (and their comrades who had come to bring them food) Mr Sarkozy has opened a Pandora’s box. And the Villepin/Sarkozy government have pulled out of this box of “black ideas” the workers’ “false friends”: the unions.

The world proletariat can therefore thank the French government. By brandishing the scarecrow of Le Pen[17] at the last presidential elections, the red-white-and-blue ruling class has managed to put in power the world’s most imbecile Right-wing. A Right-wing that has adopted policies worthy of a “banana republic”!

However this movement plays out, it is already a victory for the whole working class.

Thanks to the new generation, the working class has succeeded in breaking the unions “blockage” of class solidarity. Every sector of the proletariat, especially the new generations, have lived through a rich experience that will leave a profound mark on their consciousness.

This experience belongs to the world proletariat. Despite the blackout of the “official” media, the “parallel” media, “untamed” cameras and other “free” radios – as well as the revolutionary press – will make it possible for the world proletariat to make this experience their own. For this is only one episode in the world wide struggle of the working class. It is part of a whole series of struggles that have taken place since 2003 and that have confirmed that the working class throughout the industrial countries are overcoming the retreat that they have suffered due to all of the campaigns unleashed by the bourgeoisie after the 1989 collapse of the Eastern bloc and of all the regimes that claimed to be working class and socialist. One of the essential characteristics of these struggles has been the revival of solidarity between workers. Thus in two of the most important countries in the capitalist world – the United States and United Kingdom – this solidarity has lain at the origin of workers’ struggles. Just before Christmas 2005, the New York transit workers went on strike not for themselves but in order to preserve for young workers who would be hired in the future the same retirement benefits that they enjoy today. Similarly the strike, during several days in the autumn of 2005, of the baggage handlers at London Heathrow airport, was in solidarity with the workers in the catering sector who were the victims of an brutal attack by their employer Gate Gourmet.

These strikes were particularly significant of an unfolding tendency towards the development of struggles that has not stopped since the end of the 2003 movements for the defence of pensions in France and in Austria, which saw its biggest street demonstrations since World War II. The same tendency found expression in 2004 in Germany in the car workers’ struggle (at Daimler-Chrysler and at Opel especially) which clearly posed the question of workers’ solidarity against lay-offs. The same tendency was once again confirmed in Spain, in December 2005, at SEAT in Barcelona where the workers fought outside of and against the unions who had signed “the deal of shame” behind their backs to lay off of 600 of their comrades.

The students’ movement in France is therefore part of a struggle that is developing on a historical scale and whose final outcome will allow the human species to escape the dead-end of capitalist barbarism. The young generations who have engaged in the struggle on the terrain of the working class today have opened the door to this future. We can have confidence in them: all over the planet, they will continue preparing a new world freed from competition, profit, exploitation, poverty, and bloody chaos.

Clearly, the road that leads to the overthrow of capitalism will be long full of difficulty and dangers of every kind, but it has begun to be cleared.

International Communist Current, 17th March 2006

[1] Whose main measure is to allow employers to fire their workers without notice or motive during the first two years of the contract.

[2] French Prime Minister.

[3] Nicolas Sarkozy, Interior Minister in charge of the police who has made himself famous in particular by declaring his intention to "power-cleanse” the suburbs of their “rabble”.

[4] In Tours, for example, the students used university equipment to print off 10,000 leaflets calling for solidarity with the movement, which they distributed at workplaces around the town.

[5] A play on the word “bloquer" – in other words picketing the universities.

[6] An untranslatable expression referring to the supposed guile of the Red Indians.

[7] A student killed by the police during protests against the “reform" of the universities.

[8] Confédération Générale du Travail: the trades union still dominated by the Stalinist French “Communist” Party.

[9] RATP is the Parisian transport system.

[10] In France, a nightly satire on the TV news called “Les Guignols de l’Info".

[11] Force Ouvrière.

[12] Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité (riot police).

[13] Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (sic!). The governing party of Jacques Chirac.

[14] i.e. by the Socialist Party, the French "Communist” Party, and the Greens.

[15] The idea is that the Constitutional Council should find a face-saving way out for the government by declaring the CPE “unconstitutional”.

[16] i.e. the Constitutional Council.

[17] Leader of the fascist Front National, who came second to Chirac in the first round of the presidential elections.

Recent and ongoing: