Despite the colder weather, and the increasing lack of petrol, the social movement is hotting up, fueled by fun, fire and fury. "Operation Snails' Pace", strikes, mini-riots, schools blockades, General Assemblies, occupations, and today the 4th 24 hour "General" Strike since 7th September ...but where is it all going? What contradictions aren't being confronted? Read on...
Lorry drivers yesterday joined the movement, with the explicit aim of "blocking the economy". They have been launching "Operation Snails' Pace" (going slow on major roads and motorways) around Lille, Toulouse, Lyon, Bordeaux, south of Paris, Tours, Frontignan, Arras, various parts of Normandy and lots of other places - officially there were 30 "go-slows" around 15 different towns yesterday. This, on the day before the Union-called "General" Strike called for today, Tuesday October 19th: "General" is in inverted commas because clearly there've been loads of people who have continued working in those sectors which have officially come out on strike. Some of these 'go-slows' lasted only 20 minutes, but others for several hours. Ordinary cars go-slow in the fast lane, because big lorries aren't allowed there.
Various petrol depots have been blockaded. Despite the government claiming on Sunday that only 200 petrol stations have closed down, the organisation responsible for producing petrol station statistics said yesterday - Monday - that 1500 have closed; and the amount of petrol stations that have run out of Unleaded 95 or Unleaded 98 must be a great deal more than that. This shortage is as much to do with the refineries' strikes and blockades as with the dockers strike which has left at least 60 tankers stuck in the Mediterranean, unable to embark.
Lycees continue to be blocked (officially - ie Ministry of Miseducation figures - 260, but 600 according to UNL - the Union Nationale de Lyceens).
There have been mini-riots and stand-offs with the CRS in at least 5 towns - Nanterre just outside Paris, Lyon, Lille, Mulhouse and Borges. So-called "casseurs" (literally "breakers": see this text from 1994 in English "Nous sommes tous des casseurs") have been attacking this and that all over the country, sometimes intelligently, sometimes indifferently, sometimes stupidly and sometimes really nastily.
In Marseille the binmen have been on strike for over a week (joining the dockers and the refinery workers). The rubbish is upsetting the tourists, who are anxious to consume the new gentrified areas, brought in by artists and the construction of a modern tramway, free from the stench of revolting proles. The mayor is also upset. Marseille is already preparing for the year it becomes the Cultural Capital of Europe in 2013. With Ryanair withdrawing from its airport base there, giving the term 'capital flight' an almost literal meaning, the project of bringing in the punters from the four corners of the globe could well be grounded. All that glorious regeneration of a nice cleaned up surface, designed to reduce all sense of a past into a souvenir photo, could be destroyed by radical subversion. A binman said, "We're the proletariat, we can't just sit and twiddle our thumbs." Though this possibly comes from an old-style CP-influenced guy, in the atmosphere of Republican ideology where everyone is encouraged to describe themselves as a "citizen", this is a refreshing reminder of a basic socially antagonistic truth. A 16 year old from Marseille, Sarah Jlassi, added "This has gone beyond pensions, it's about our unjust, divided society." (The Guardian today). Though this is certainly at the centre of the movement, youths in the media and on the street, from whatever background, are constantly saying how stressed their parents are after work, how consequently they can't communicate with them.
A few years back, the mayor brought in the army to clear the rubbish. Whether he does so again, in the current more generalised climate of class war remains to be seen, but he could encounter more frustration than merely Ryanair's O'Leary playing hard to get. Certainly in the longer term - the overtly 'radical milieu' there has long been organising against gentrification and the cultural rubbish that's going to fill the streets in a bit over 2 years time (a translation of this text on art and gentrification has become very popular there over the last 18 months).
In Languedoc-Roussillon, where I live:
Nimes (Gard county), all the lycees closed, and there were sit-ins at the prefecture.
Ales (also the Gard) - a blockade of the railway lines, with fires to keep warm.
Firemen were on strike throughout the Gard, only answering the most urgent calls.
In Perpignan, 150 strikers blocked a petrol depot for 4 hours, with tyres burning all over the roads. A train driver supporting the blockade said on telly, "This is not just about retirement but about the whole future of this society", though the different ways of understanding the implications of that are about as many as there are people who feel the same way. 200 teachers occupied a local state institution (didn't catch what it was). A firetruck was attacked with stones.
In Frontignan, near Sete, 300 train drivers and truck drivers, plus others, blocked an oil depot, beginning very early in the dark morning - stopping distribution in 3 counties. A train driver said, "We're doing this for the future - for our grandchildren", though they were also clearly doing it for themselves.The cops, preceded by a nicey nicey reasonably-toned Prefet (head of administration for the area) asking for a calm dispersal, unblocked the depot in mid-afternoon without resistance - 300, in a fairly isolated spot, not being enough against cops armed with tear gas and flash balls. However, the expulsion was immediately followed by a mini-General Strike in the Frontignan area.
Aude also had a blockade of an oil depot up till mid-afternoon.
In Montpellier the "concierge" (security/surveillance office) of a lycee was completely wrecked by fire. And many of the windows of this lycee were "broken" (they're very thick top security windows, so none of them shattered) by 50 or so hooded youths. A teacher, who quite possibly objected to this reasonable attack, had a molotov thrown towards her, without touching or injuring her at all. She called them terrorists. The school was evacuated.
On Friday 15th October, 60 or so youths attacked the blockade of a the top notch lycee in Montpellier ("Joffre") - the BAC (anti-criminal brigade) and suspected RG (equivalent of Special Branch) cops had been seen in their cars outside, leaving just a minute before the crowd of youths arrived. The youths also attacked "college" (12 - 15 yr olds) students, and went on to attack another school nearby, this time going through the dormitories robbing what they could. A car with a couple in it was overturned outside this school, and apparently a tram driver was stabbed in the hand. A radio journalist told a teenage girl he was interviewing that he had inside information that they'd been manipulated by the police, though he never actually broadcasted any of that (probably for fear of losing his job). Clearly, however, the degradations of life on the estates and the gang mentality that survival engenders, means that some youths don't really need to be manipulated - they see everything in terms of a dog eat dog world, and it will take some considerable risk of a dialogue between those who identify with and participate in a more general social movement and these more nihilistic but utterly directionless youths to shift this to the advantage of both. Certainly moralistic finger-wagging is the last thing that will influence any change in this area: it's part of the world they rightly hold in contempt, but cannot see or struggle or really want to find any way out of. This is not helped by the catch-all condemnations of anything that involves violence as "casseurs who've got nothing to do with the movement". The local press was full of condemnation of these acts (though some of the worst, surprisingly, weren't reported) but when the headmaster of Lycee Joffre pushed the gate onto the hand of a blockading school student and broke his wrist, this was played down as an 'accident'. At another school in town, an anti-blockade teacher on the inside of a gate blockaded on the outside pushed a large barrier (that had been placed on top of the dustbins that are the main structure of lycee barricades) back onto the pavement, narrowly missing seriously damaging the faces of a couple of students. A parent who politely warned the teacher of the dangers of what he was doing was later punched in the face by this teacher. But blanket criticism of "casseurs" is a convenient way of ignoring these contradictions, and of not looking at what is fine and justifiable and what is sick in "casseurs" actions.
Lycee youth chant of the week: "In Parliament the MPs jerk off all day" (it rhymes in French and they sing it).
A lot more could be said, and I haven't even been to develop the answers to the questions posed in the introduction, but I've got to go now. Apologies for the lateness, and insufficiency, of this: internet, computer and personal problems have caused the delay............
For the moment, check out these brilliant (well, half of them were written by me, so that almost goes without saying) texts on some of the past history of social movements in France:
France Goes Off The Rails (on the movement of 1986-7)
French strikes - 1995-6
Notes on the French movements 2003
Culture in danger - if only! (on the movement of casualised cultural workers, 2003-4)
[url= http://libcom.org/library/2005-movement-secondary-school-students-france]Notes on the lycee movement, 2005[/url]
Brief notes on the riots of November 2005
All quiet on the French front (on aspects of the anti-CPE movement, written during the movement)