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French students movement

papidan | 17.03.2006 02:04 | French CPE uprising 2006 | Analysis | Social Struggles | Workers' Movements | World

On the 16th of march, 64 french universities, out of 84, were on strike.
This huge movement has started in january. Why ?

The french government, and its primer minister Dominique de Villepin, has imposed a new law: the “loi sur l’égalité des chances” (equality of chance law !!).
The law was passed in a way that sidestepped the debate and discussion that is a traditional part of the legislative process in France, a special procedure known as Article 49.3 of the French Constitution.
This law:
- creates a “parental responsability contract” (your children are not going to school regularly, well, pay a fine and say goodbye to your family allowances),
- lower the legal compulsory age of school (16 to 14) to allow 14 years old teenagers to become apprentice,
- allows night-work for 15 years old teenagers.
- creates different shit working contracts. One of them is called CPE (Contrat Première Embauche, or First Employment Contract).

To understand what is the CPE, you have to know that, in France, there is, legally speaking - not in the real world obviously, two main working contracts: the CDI (Undetermined Length Contract, a contract with no specified end date) and CDD (Determined Length Contract, a contract with a specified end date). Under French law, the employer has usually only one to three months to terminate the employment of a new employee without having to provide a reason. After that, French labor law provides protection for the employee so that employment isn’t ended without objective cause.

The CPE applies to those under 26 years of age who find a new job. It gives the employer the right to terminate the new hire’s employment within TWO YEARS without having to give any reason. This means that during this two years probational period, every morning, you don’t know if you will still have the job the next day.

Last August a similar law was put into effect that applied only to employers with less than 20 paid employees. There are many instances of workers protesting they lost their jobs unfairly under this law: they were late for 5 minutes, pregnant, or they claimed their money for additional work... Those contracts take us back before 1973, when it was voted that layoff has to be justified.

Unstable work, unstable life...
The unemployment rate in France is an estimated 10 percent of the French population. This includes at least 20 percent of young people who do not have jobs. Needless to say that it is impossible, for example, to find an appartment with shit working contracts as the CPE/CNE

You have probably heard about other riots in France a couple of months ago, mostly by young workers in the poor suburbs. Everything is connected. Because people and youngsters in the suburbs are the first ones to suffer from this type of politics and reform.
Because they, and we, know that for governments and companies we are nothing, we are dust, the kind you brush away and notice only to get rid of it.

Because we know that unemployment and unstable jobs are very powerful tool to control us, to force us to accept shit jobs, low incomes and bad working conditions. You don’t want this job? No problem, there is a reserve army waiting for you position, with an even lower salary! Even stable jobs are “precarious”, because we are so afraid of loosing them (and then find ourselves together with the servicemen and women of the labor reserve army), because the only idea of happiness we have been educated for is having a big car and house, expensive clothes, and for that we have to pay our bank credits.

At the moment, the movement is a students movement, supported by some trade unions.
Some people claim for a concrete union of this movement and the people involved in the suburbs riots few months ago. We can only hope this will happen.
Universities are on strike, are blocked, and days of actions alternate with days of marchs and protests. The next big days of action will be March 18th and 23rd , though the fight is going on every day.

As in 68, the Sorbonne in Paris was occupied, but the CRS (the riot police = specialised in kicking the faces of activists, also specialised in collaborating with fascists groups to provocate and attack the youngsters) kicked them out. Anyway, this was just a symbol, and plenty of universities are still occupied.

French students are organised in a National Coordination, gathering every one or two weeks in a different university. The last one, in Poitiers on March 11th, was composed of more than 250 delegates from more than 60 schools (universities and others). As during the previous coordinations, they demand the abrogation of the CPE, the whole “Loi sur l’égalité des chances”, and the CNE as well !

This is not the revolution, but at least, like during the former riots, people are fighting together, people feel they are breathing, they communicate, they are doing something for themselves.

Papidan, a former french student now in London
If you have any comments, or if my english is not clear, contact me.

To follow, in english, what is happening in France, see the very up-to-date website

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