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(en) Ireland, Anarchist journal Workers Solidarty #92 - Victory for French Youth - Government forced to back down on unequal employment laws

Date Tue, 04 Jul 2006 10:08:23 +0300

During March and early April a wave of
protests and occupations gripped France.
On March the 7th over one million people
protested against the French government's
attempt to introduce the C.P.E., a new law
that reduced the rights of young workers.
The five weeks that followed saw 68 Univer
sities occupied as students and workers went
on strike. The government responded to
this popular protest by unleashing the
notorious police force, the C.R.S against
the strikers.
Thousands of arrests were made and a 39
year old Trade Unionist was put in a coma
following a brutal attack by the police.
The current wave of unrest is the latest in a series of social
upheavals in France. The protests against pension cuts in
2003, the protracted strikes in Marseilles and the
rioting of the urban poor in late 2005 show the
failure of capitalism to guarantee a decent stand-
ard of living for people.
The unemployment rate among young people in
France is 25% and is as high as 40% for the un-
skilled. The C.P.E. was supposedly an attempt to
solve the unemployment crises but as always it
was the workers that were expected to suffer for
the wellbeing of the economy.
In 2005 the C.N.E. was passed which exempted
small workplaces from the majority of labour
laws and protection for employees. The C.P.E.
was next step in the process of reducing the
rights of workers and weakening the trade union
The new law allowed employers to fire young
workers at any stage during their first two years
of employment. It reintroduced night work for
people as young as 15 and lowered the school
leaving age to 14. The new law encouraged boss-
es to hire young, easily exploitable workers, and
then fire them before they became permanent or
had the audacity to fall sick or join a union.
The effect would have been to create a pool of
insecure, low paid workers that could have been
used to drive down wages throughout the French
economy. It introduced job insecurity as a meth-
od of controlling workers and the union move-
ment. Workers and students throughout France
recognised this and decided to stand up against
this latest attack on their living standards.
Universities were occupied and democratic de-
cision making bodies were set up among the
students. General assemblies were held and
delegates were elected to allow the assemblies
to organise on a national basis. The actions of
the students became a catalyst
and focal point for popular dis-
School students went on
strike, impoverished youth
from the poorer housing es-
tates (banileus) joined their
peers, and workers linked their
struggles to those of the stu-
dents. The popular grassroots
support that the students re-
ceived forced the moderate
unions into action. Four days
of protest were called, culmi-
nating on March 28th when
over three million people took
to the streets to demonstrate
across the country.
The popularity of the student
revolt, the possibility of it
spreading and their willing-
ness to engage in direct ac-
tion forced the government to
back down. Despite blustering
promises to the contrary on
Monday 10th of April, just over
a week after signing the C.P.E.
into law, the French government was forced into
a humiliating climb down and promised to scrap
the law.
The French government's plans were just the lat-
est in a series of attempts by bosses and govern-
ments across Europe to drive down wages and
working conditions. In Ireland we have already
seen widespread exploitation of young and for-
eign workers, the efforts to undercut unionised
jobs and now the privatisation of Aer Lingus. It is
only by linking the struggles of young people and
workers that we can effectively fight back against
the agenda of the bosses and their lackeys in gov-
ernment. John Flood
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