THE CRS and gendarmerie have remained on the streets of Paris since the uprising sparked by the violent state attack on demonstrators at Place de la Nation, at the end of last Saturday’s massive, 500,000-plus march against the government.
The march was called to oppose the government’s CPE (First Job Contract) plan, to take away the basic employment rights of all young people under 26.
Between 1.5 million and two million trade unionists and youth took part in demonstrations across France last Saturday, in the biggest show of strength so far against the CPE.
The SUD trade union federation said one of their members, postal worker Cyril Ferez, had been left in a coma as a result of injuries suffered during the police charges at the crowd at Nation.
Now the trade unions and students organisations have called a general strike for Tuesday March 28.
News Line reported from Paris for three days between Thursday March 16 and Saturday March 18.
On the Thursday morning students were assembling at Jussieu for a 120,000-strong demonstration of students, unemployed and high school youth from Place d’Italie to Sevres Babylone.
Many shops were shut up whilst students were in a jovial mood, confident that the government of President Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin could be forced to withdraw the CPE.
Rhita, a student at Jussieu (Paris VII campus), told News Line: ‘All over the country the whole student community is mobilised and the trade unions will also join the movement very soon.
‘On Tuesday (March 16) we were confronted by police outside the Sorbonne.
‘We wanted to show a peaceful attitude, but some small groups of people tried to lead our students into confrontation with police,’ she said. ‘As soon as we met police lines, they left straightaway,’ said Rhita.
‘Since those confrontations we have organised much better security for the demonstrations, to avoid a confrontation with the police.’
Rhita was worried that fights with the police would create a bad image for the students in the media and discredit the movement against the CPE.
‘When we show police we are non-violent, they don’t do anything,’ she said.
‘When they see these groups, they think the students are with them and students get attacked.’
This was before the clashes at Sevres Babylone at the end of the students’ march and the events that then followed last Saturday at Nation, where there were very large crowds, of many tens of thousands of people – youth, workers and others – confronting the forces of the state and coming under attack by them.
Jordan, another student from Paris VII, said: ‘We are going to keep on fighting, blocking the universities as long as possible.
‘Even the opinion polls say 60 per cent of French people are against the CPE and I am really amazed about the numbers of universities and high schools that are getting mobilised these days.
‘I didn’t think it would happen that way.
‘Of course, I am opposed to the police action when they evicted the people occupying the Sorbonne and I wish they would have let us stay in the Sorbonne, because it would have been a highly symbolic place from which to keep on struggling.
‘I wish there would be more strikes today in workplaces,’ said Jordan.
‘The problem is unions in France are weaker than in Britain and other countries.
‘But I think they still have strength and they should use it when it is necessary.
‘I’m a Trotskyist and of course I hope there will be a socialist society,’ he added.
‘I think it will be really important for us to win this struggle.’
As Thursday’s march began, students started loud chants of ‘One more time – resistance!’
They continued with more slogans on their way to the body of the main march assembling at Place d’Italie, including: ‘Who sows poverty – harvests anger!’
All around the talk was of the youth ‘en colere’ (in anger).
They carried placards saying: ‘Villepin, Sarkozy – your “trial period’’ is over’, ‘CPE non, CDI oui’ and ‘Clean up Sarkozy, not the banlieue’.
Marie Georges Buffet, leader of the Stalinist French Communist Party, was asked what should be done if the government refused to withdraw the CPE.
She said: ‘This Saturday the workers will be with the students.’
Did she want to replace the capitalist Fifth Republic with a socialist republic?
‘We want a Sixth Republic, a socialist republic,’ she said. ‘We are not saying it will happen.
‘If the government doesn’t listen, the movement will get bigger and bigger.
‘The Fifth Republic will not fall unless the Sixth Republic is made.’
Members of the Force Ouvriere trade union federation led the young demonstrators as they headed in the direction of the education ministry.
As the march arrived at Sevres Babylone it was confronted by the forces of the CRS and a confrontation developed in which the police surrounded the demonstrators and serious clashes developed.
Tear gas was fired on the crowds.
Michael, a 19-year-old from Poissy, said: ‘They are stopping this demonstration with tear gas.
‘We were angry with the police when they evicted people from the Sorbonne. Now it is just pity, because they can only stop the people by using violence.
‘They can’t talk normally with the people.’
The next day, Friday March 17, meetings took place at universities to discuss further actions and Saturday’s mass demonstrations in Paris and other cities.
At Jussieu, an ‘AG’ was held in the amphitheatre, attended by hundreds of students.
The atmosphere was animated, with a handful of right-wing students arguing against the blockade of the university.
Outside, other students were being interviewed by TV and radio stations and maintaining a disciplined picket of the university building.
On Saturday morning, at Censier (Paris III – La Nouvelle Sorbonne), students gathered to pick up banners and placards for the march of youth and trade unionists through Paris.
One of their banners called for a general strike of the public and private sectors.
Filipa Cunha Vilaca, 18, said: ‘The movement should represent the diversity of the people.
‘The movement is not just about the CPE, it is about the whole system and politics in France.
‘It is just a start. It is the first step on the ladder.
‘We have to involve a lot more people and the movement must spread outside France.’
The march itself was a mix of all ages and was gigantic in proportions, swelling to all the boulevards around Denfert Rochereau, where it assembled.
Manu, a march steward, agreed to give a short interview, as youth danced and raised their fists along the road to Nation.
‘We are the Young Communists,’ he said, ‘and we are for revolution.
‘We are against Chirac, de Villepin and the CPE.
‘When you go to work, you will work for two years and your boss can do anything to you.’
The end of the march did not reach Nation until after 6.00pm.
At around this time a tense stand-off with lines of riot police was developing on one side of Nation and the police began firing tear gas to force the crowd back.
As the light dimmed, police appeared in all the boulevards and then prepared to charge the crowds who defiantly remained.
There were fierce clashes and CRS forces with tear gas masks were brought in, as the squads of police in riot gear began to attack the crowds of people, who were now becoming sandwiched between police lines.
‘I am in rage,’ said Fabien, a young worker. ‘They surround us and attack us.
‘This is a fascist regime in France. the only way to stop them is a revolution, like May 1968.
‘They threw tear gas on us and we have done nothing.
‘We were peaceful at the end of the demo.’
• Continued tomorrow