Financial Times: This is no middle class revolt

Anti-CPE demonstrators
Anti-CPE demonstrators

In an article which shatters every accusation of a privileged revolt, the Financial Times has become the first UK newspaper to point out the growing class angle of this rebellion against labour casualisation.

Submitted by alibi on March 18, 2006

They say Villepin faces crisis as "as criticism of his labour market reforms spreads from increasingly violent student protesters to immigrant youth in poor riot-hit suburbs, undermining his claims to be helping the most disadvantaged."

Whilst the article ignores the mixed race nature of the French suburbs, preferring to racialise events, the article nevertheless rejects the belied of a middle class revolt of students "wishing to have their own '68" as some have implied. Instead they suggest an uprising of mixed-class youths united in opposition to labour liberalisation.

Taken from

Residents in these run-down areas would like to see the students marching down the street between Clichy-sous-Bois and Montfermeil, the decrepit Paris suburbs where riots first broke out last year among the disaffected youth of France's poor immigrants.

Sema, a 26-year-old unemployed mother of two in Clichy-sous-Bois, said: "If those students came up here and saw what it was like, they might still be protesting, but at least they would have a better idea of why."

Sema says: "It is unfair. Two years is too long. That would be too big a risk for people like me to take, with two babies at home, I could be left with nothing after two years. The bosses would take advantage of it to sack people after a few months."

Hostility to the contract from the poor suburbs is a blow to Mr de Villepin. He had seemed to be telling the student protesters in central Paris not to worry. As graduates of prestigious universities, such as the Sorbonne, they are not the intended recipients of the new contract. Instead, it is meant for the poorly educated immigrant children in les banlieues, who set fire to thousands of cars and buildings across France last year.

But this argument is being undermined by an increasing number in the suburbs repeating the criticisms of the student demonstrators. The important difference is that the poor of theouter-city ghettos have the added worry of racial discrimination.

Edilson Monteiro, an 18-year-old school drop-out from Montfermeil, says: "Before the 'first job contract' there were enough difficulties for people from the banlieues, with the difference in our clothes, our language and our culture, but now they are making things even more insecure.

"Young people are very worried about entering the world of work. Now if I make a mistake or upset the boss, he can just get rid of me without any reason," says Edilson, whose mother brought him to the local job centre after he quit as a construction sales agent.

He plans to retrain as a cook's assistant in a six-month paid training scheme, which, if he passes, will lead to a full-time contract. He would refuse a "first job contract" if offered one. "Two years is too long. I'm with the demonstrators on that."

Many people have a deep distrust of company bosses, and suspect they are looking for any excuse to fire black or Arab workers - fears fuelled by recent surveys, which showed that job applicants with Arab or African-sounding names, or with addresses in poor suburbs, are much less likely to be offered interviews than people with more "traditional" French names.

"If a young black person, like me, finds a job then it will be the same problem," says Dapton, an accountancy graduate, queuing at the job centre in neighbouring Aulnay-sous-Bois

A small minority of people in the area support the new contract, such as Alexandra, aged 19, who has been unemployed since leaving school last year. "I think it could be a plus for young people as it gives them a chance to get experience, even if they could be sacked at any time." But she supports the student demonstrators. "It is their right," she says.

Most people seem to agree with Marie-Ange Bernard,a 30-year-old unemployed social worker from Aulnay-sous-Bois, who says thecontract is "a nonsense" as it would not be accepted by banks or landlords as a sufficiently secure source of income to get a flat or a bank loan. "Without a full-time contract in France you cannot get an apartment, a loan, or anything."