An interview with a French comrade
The information we receive from France, concerning the protests called “Nuit Debout”, is sparse and often contradictory. Most of the established media only deliver short articles whenever there have been clashes with the police or often describing the protesters as spoiled middle class academics defending their outdated privileges. As if there were not plenty of reasons for anger and resistance.
The structures of this movement, with no spokesperson or leading party but instead ever ongoing discussions open for (nearly1) everyone, does not help to get a clear picture of the ongoing events.
That is why we contacted a comrade, living in France to tell us about what has happened so far.
CM: Could you explain what happened during the last months in France?
…:The story of the current movement in France begins last February after the labour bill leaked in the press.
Everything started with a petition, released by some people, young and infamous but definitely not without political background as they are close to the socialist party.
This petition received soon 1 million signatures and people started to talk seriously about taking the streets. This is how the date was set on the 9th of March.
Because of that pressure coming from the base through the social networks, worker and student organizations decided to join the mobilization planned on the 9th of March.
This is a unprecedented for France, never before has a massive mobilization started from the social networks. People managed to get away from their screens and take the streets despite the “state of emergency” claimed after the attacks in November.
On March 17th, youth organizations called for demonstrations all over the country. On March 31st, student and worker organizations called for strikes and 1 million people took the streets.
This day was also the beginning of Nuit Debout, that they decided to stay up all night long.
CM: Since the labour bill was the spark that ignited the protest, could you sum up what was planned by the French government? How would this affect working conditions?
…: There would be various changes. For example it dismantles job guarantees, forcing employees to accept longer working hours for the same or less pay. This means that the weekly hours of work can be raised from 35 to up to 60 hours, if it is to the benefit of the company.
At the same time it allows employers to quickly fire staff if they refuse to comply with these measures.
Further, it introduces a new hierarchy of norms in the labour law by reversing the principle of favor. A less favorable outcome of a collective bargain may take precedence over the law. This will significantly diminish the influence of labour organizations.
On March 14th, several worker and student organizations went to negotiate with the prime minister Manuel Valls. After that meeting, the government conceded some crumbs, making for instance the cap on severance pay for workers dismissed by a company, the bill introduced, “indicative” instead of obligatory.
CM: Do these laws mark a turn in the politics of the Parti Socialiste or are they in line with the previous propositions?
…: These proposals are not really a big surprise. Before Hollande got elected as French president,in 2012, he declared during his campaign finance his ‘true enemy’. This was obviously an election strategy, a warranty to the left-wing voters and some people trusted him and then voted for him.
The illusion didn’t last very long. Since 2012, the government and the socialist party have regularly and constantly attacked the workers while they give to the capitalists a significant amount of money by reducing charges and doing almost nothing against tax evasion.
CM: Can you explain how it came to the emergence of Nuit Debout as a diverse social movement and the protest in form of the occupation of public spaces?
…:A few weeks ago, a documentary made by the chief-redactor of the independent leftist newspaper Fakir, a kind of French Michael Moore, made a huge success in cinemas. Until now, the movie “Merci Patron!” has been seen by almost 400 000 people (initially in cinemas, now public screenings take place on occupied squares and many people have seen it). The movie depicts a couple taking on France’s richest man, billionaire Bernard Arnault, director of the luxury industry group LVMH. The idea of Nuit Debout emerged among those activists linked to the left wing revue and the team behind the movie who called for action to stay on the square after the demonstration.
The collision of that documentary, the social, political, and economical situation in France, and the labour bill, brought together the factors required to produce something new and give a voice to many problems our society is going through: the fortress of Europe and the lack of consideration toward migrants, the state of emergency and the police violence, unemployment rate and the precarity of our living conditions in front of housing, labour, but also the defence of “la ZAD” (“Zone a Défendre”, a protest camp) against an absurd airport project and other environmental issues.
CM: How did the movement develop since its emergence?
…:Between the 31st of March and the 28th of April, many days of action took place. On 28th of April, almost 500 000 gathered again in the streets.
New tension rises demonstration after demonstration.
From the beginning, demonstrations have been confrontational in some cities. In Paris, but also in Nantes and Rennes, clashes with police erupted after banks and capitalistic symbols were systematically attacked during the demos.
The proportion of confrontational demos with occupations of workplaces, public squares and buildings, destruction/creation, and repossession of goods, happening simultaneously in different cities, was unprecedented in France at least since May ’68. For example, two police stations were attacked and two supermarkets looted by high school students on March 25th in reaction to police brutality against one of them the day before, while he was blocking the access to his school.
It is not the revolution yet, but after several years of apathy, class consciousness seems to rise up again.
CM: How does the state react to these protests?
…: Since a few weeks, it has been obvious that the government’s strategy against the movement has changed. The police is now even more brutal than ever. On the 20th of April the police got into the premises of the anarcho-syndicalist union CNT in Lille, breaking down the door and anything they could find inside and arresting two people. Last week, the 28th of April, in many cities and particularly in Marseille, where 57 people get arrested and 3 of them sent to jail, police violently attacked many demonstrations.
The same thing happened on May 1st.
About police brutality those days, I suggest you find some videos on Youtube, there are a lot of them and they will tell you much more than I could describe.
The number of injuries is countless, at least two people have already lost one eye.
The number of people arrested is countless too. Many people are already in jail.
If you want to support the victims of the repression, solidarity committees exist and are coordinating together right now in Paris.
Since April the number of people in the streets is decreasing. Now, days of protest gather almost 100 000 people all over the country. We are far away from the million people on the 31st of March.
But the whole situation has changed since the begining, in March. Maybe we see less people in the streets now, but people are still angry against the government and the Parti Socialiste as well as fed up with the whole economic and political system, in general.
Now the movement is evolving. Refinery, dockers, truckers, raillwayman and other sectors have started a general strike to block the economy. This way of action is highly effective, if it lasts.
We already see some shortage : few gas station are already closed, witnesses reported that Paris’ wholesale market (that sends merchandise all over France) was already impacted.
Meanwhile, the bureaucrats of the biggest union (CGT) are also trying to take the anger of thousands of people under their control in different cities like Paris or Marseille, by, among other ways, attacking the demostrations, side by side with the police2.
Let see where we are going. For my part, I think that economic blockade is the solution. But it won’t last long, if the struggle doesn’t continue in the streets. Actions of international solidarity would sure be appreciated.
The government and the mass-media are trying to spread fear across the country. They are determined to convince everybody to stay home and keep calm. The mass-media keep on playing their role, the media spectacle (“the spectacle’s function in society is the concrete manufacture of alienation.” G. Debord said) : dangerous black blocs and anarchists (also labeled as “casseurs”, word created by the police few years ago and reused massively by the media) against the national interest.
On the contrary, police is presented as innocent victim of an unprecedented and incredible violence (which, of course, is misleading).
The government and particularly the prime minister Manuel Valls, and minister of the interior Bernard Cazeneuve rule the country with an iron hand. For instance, anti-terrorist police forces have been used to dismantle the occupied “Maison du Peuple” in Rennes3. Meanwhile Hollande’s new slogan is ‘Things are going better’, as he prepares to run again as president candidate next year.
Policemen protested today in Place de la Republique to stand against “cop-bashing” and “cop-hatred” in several cities. In Paris, one police car was burnt next to the demonstration. Now they are investigate this incident as a premediated murder…
The link for the parisian “Caisse de solidarité” (solidarity fund) against repression: https://www.helloasso.com/associations/cadecol/collectes/defcol
1The philosopher Alaine Finkielkraut, who is often connected to the far-right link, had to leave the Place de la République in a haste.