LEADERS of France’s main trade union federations have refused to talk to the government until it withdraws the CPE (first job contract) that removes the employment rights of young people under 26, which has sparked a general uprising across the country.

More than three million youth and workers took to the streets of France during Tuesday’s general strike, the biggest show of strength so far against the hire and fire contract.

In Paris, five hundred mainly young people were arrested at the end of a 700,000-strong demonstration from Place d’Italie to Place de la Republique, when the marchers were confronted by walls of CRS riot police, who used tear gas, batons, shields and water cannon against them.

Across France, more than 2,000 people have been arrested in recent weeks and in the northern city of Lille, workers have submitted a dossier of allegations of police brutality on previous demonstrations, including demonstrators being thrown down steps.

There is even a struggle between the authorities and the demonstrators over the numbers of people on the streets.

Organisers said over 700,000 people took part in the Paris demonstration – police said 92,000!

In Marseille, the southern port city, it is estimated 250,000 anti-CPE demonstrators took to the streets – the police figure was just 28,000.

In Lille, 80,000 people took part (police figure 25,000); Toulouse 80,000 (36,000); Pau 40,000 (19,500); Montpellier 50,000 (23,000); Grenoble 60,000 (26,000); Bordeaux 100,000 (45,000); Nantes 80,000 (42,000); Poitiers 25,000 (10,000); Clermont-Ferrand 50,000 (15,000); Lyon 35,000 (17,000); Limoges 35,000 (17,000); Rennes 50,000 (30,000); Caen 30,000 (18,000); Brest 30,000 (16,000); Le Havre 25,000 (11,000); Strasbourg 15,000 (8,000); Nancy 50,000 (23,000).

Tens of thousands more people took to the streets of Nice, Toulon, Perpignan, Tarbes, Bayonne, Albi, Nimes, Avignon, Valence, Le Puy, Saint-Etienne, Angouleme, Chalon-sur-Saone, Roanne, La Rochelle, Saint-Nazaire, Angers, Tours, Dijon, Besancon, Metz, Arras, Amiens, Rouen, Cherbourg, Saint-Brieuc, Quimper, Lorient, Le Mans, and Orleans.

There was heavy rain in Paris at the start of Tuesday’s massive march – which was an even bigger march than the huge demonstration to Place de la Nation on Saturday March 18.

But that certainly didn’t dampen the spirits of the French high school and unemployed youth and university students.

All along the route there were banners and placards, telling the French government of Chirac, de Villepin and Sarkozy: ‘Your trial period is over’.

The crowds kept up shouts of:

• ‘Qu’est ce qu’on veut. .

Le retrait. .

De quot. .


Quand ca: tout de suite!’

(What do we want? Withdrawal! Of what? Of the CPE! When do we want it? Now!)


• ‘Solidaires. . allez, allez

Unitaire. . . allez, allez

Pour nos droits allez allez

Pour nos salaires allez allez’

(Solidarity! Forwards, forwards! Unity! Forwards, forwards! For our rights! Forwards, forwards! For our jobs! Forwards, forwards!)

• ‘Contre le chomage et les emplois precaires: 32 heures sans perte de salaire!’

(No to unemployment and casual labour: a 32-hour week without any cut in wages!)

• ‘C’est pas la jeunesse,

c’est pas les chomeurs,

C’est pas les immigres

Qu’il faut precariser

C’est le gouvernement qu’il faut


(It’s not the youth, it’s not the unemployed, it’s not the immigrants who are to blame for the insecurity – it’s the government that is to blame. Clean them out!)

• ‘Sarko, Villepin: memes racailles

Une seule solution: qu’ils s’en aillent’

(Sarkozy, de Villepin – the same rubbish! One solution: throw them out!)

• ‘On veut pas du CPE, on veut le CEP

Chirac En Prison’

(We don’t want the CPE, we want the ‘CEP’ – ‘Chirac In Prison’!)

Three young students, Solene, Aude and Carole, all aged 20, told News Line at the start of the Paris march: ‘We are against Sarkozy and Villepin and the CPE.

‘If they don’t withdraw the CPE today there will be more general strikes.’

Cedric Cheniaux, a young worker, said: ‘It’s the biggest demonstration so far.

‘Three million are on the streets across France – in Paris, Rennes, Marseille.

‘I think there will be an even bigger general strike if the CPE is not withdrawn.

‘The government have an autocratic attitude, they are being completely undemocratic.

‘If they don’t start listening, then the movement will be enormous – enormous!’