BEFORE News Line arrived in Paris, there had been reports of French riot police charging at thousands of youth occupying the railway station in Nantes, western France, during a national day of action on Tuesday March 14 – firing tear gas at them.
Outside the Sorbonne University in Paris, from where students had been violently evicted on Saturday March 11, there were more reports of tear gas being used against a crowd of angry youth, with clashes continued in the French capital into the night.
Other reports said that crowds of youth had been prevented from entering the train station at Lille, northern France, whilst around a 1,000 students had apparently blocked the railway tracks in Brest.
News Line was told that almost 60 universities were blockaded or occupied by Thursday March 16, with calls growing for a general strike of all students and workers across France.
Students and high school youth were assembling in the centre of Paris at Jussieu to prepare for another demonstration on Thursday morning.
The students had put out a table with food and refreshments and newspapers and magazines to read, and they were busy discussing the situation with each other.
Gabriel, from Paris VI faculty at Jussieu, said: ‘The government say the new rules they make are made for the youth, but in fact when we read the text and try to understand it, we can only see more and more hardships for young people.’
He added that the CPE will mean ‘no job security and you can’t even borrow from the bank or get a place to live.’
He continued: ‘Actually in France it is very, very hard for young people to get an apartment or anything.
‘I think it’s the same in England.’
Speaking about the blockade of the university, he said: ‘At night we do not occupy the faculty because the campus is too big and we can’t check all the people coming and going.
‘It’s only a problem of security, because it would be easier for us to occupy the faculty every day and night, to organise the movement.’
He said that, ‘This movement is getting much bigger because students began the movement and now high school lycee students are joining in.
‘At first there were six to ten faculties on strike and blockaded and now there at least 56.
‘Even the administration of the university voted to support the strike and asked the government to cancel the CPE law.
‘We have seen the big trade unions and they say “we can’t tell our people to just go on strike, it must be organised, prepared’’ and everything like that.
‘But they are beginning to follow the movement and I think that, if we continue to explain to all the people – not only the students or the people in the suburbs, but everyone in France – then maybe the unions will join in.’
The Thursday March 16 demonstration featured a delegation from Charles V English language department, who joined the students from Jussieu.
They were carrying placards and banners in English, including ones that said: ‘We will never surrender’, ‘Bring down the government’, ‘We are not litter – the young are in anger’ and ‘De Villepin – in France you are not the king’.
As they marched, students and teachers from Jussieu and Charles V spoke to News Line about the economic and political situation.
Marion Cavanna, aged 20, said: ‘We are here to demonstrate about the CPE, the first employment contract.
‘We want to dismantle this measure because the government doesn’t want to hear – the government is deaf!
‘We should continue until the government gives in.’
Marion hoped the French Socialist Party would reverse the Gaullist UMP’s plans.
‘We want new social measures for employment.
‘The Socialists in France have proposed some social measures instead of the CPE.
‘We want a socialist republic because it’s more fair, Socialists are more fair than the Conservative Party.
‘The UMP is Conservative. They just seek profits, they don’t think about social measures.’
Speaking about the clashes reported on Tuesday March 14, she said: ‘The police threw tear gas at students. It’s a minority of students who fight against the police.
‘The police are very violent. The other newspapers don’t say that it’s the police who are violent, they say it’s the students. That’s also unfair.’
Jenny Low, a teacher, added that: ‘They also say the students are divided, but that’s not true.
‘The university students stand up for the poor students who have no degrees at all.
‘We are in solidarity with the students because we want our children to have a future.’
Students felt that French television ‘lies about what’s really happening’, and alleged that ‘the extreme right students’ were getting publicity and protection from the state, at the expense of the majority.
The students said that many of them have to work full-time to pay for their studies.
The student bursaries are not enough to live on, they said, and there are no student residences.
Jenny Low said: ‘I was in 68 and if you were to ask me for a comparison, I would say there is no comparison because we had full employment in 68 and now they have no future.’
Emilie Barbette, 21, said: ‘I have friends in England and they asked me what are these riots again? It’s not riots.
‘I want to say I’m here to demonstrate peacefully.
‘I was sceptical at the beginning, because I really wanted to have my degree and keep working. But what’s the point of having my degree if I can be fired at any moment, for no valid reason?’
Emilie added: ‘We won’t give up. Our teachers are with us. Public opinion is with us.’
Arthur Delustrac, aged 22, believed that: ‘De Villepin is losing more and more credibility in his own party and from the whole population.
‘I absolutely think we need a socialist republic,’ he said.
The political situation is changing ‘by the hour’ in France.
The tensions between the French masses and the capitalist state have been heightened by the serious injury suffered by postal worker Cyril Ferez after the huge demonstration in Paris on Saturday March 18.
In other cities there were also reports of brutal charges at anti-CPE demonstrators.
In Lille around 40,000 workers and youth marched and several people were believed to have been arrested or hurt in clashes around Rue de Bethune, in the centre of the city.
The capitalist press in France and around the world initially tried to discredit the movement against the CPE as the work of ‘a few troublemakers’, trying to stop France ‘modernising’ along Blairite lines.
In fact, it is a revolutionary movement which has spread to all sections of society – rejecting the government’s ‘solution’ to the mass unemployment that fuelled an insurrection by impoverished youth in suburbs across France last autumn.
A one-day general strike has been called in France for Tuesday March 28, as more youth and workers become aware that only replacing the Fifth Republic with a workers’ republic can end unemployment and stop the CPE.