France CPE protests - the story so far

A detailed account by of the movement of workers and students up to this date, 22 March, 2006

Submitted by libcom on March 22, 2006

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin unveiled his labour law liberalisation package CPE on the 16th of January. He said that "urgent" action was needed to "bring the French labour market into the modern era". The law would see employers hire 18-26 year olds on two year contract that would allow them to fire the youths without notice, and without explanation.

In responce, student union bodies called for a week of meetings and mobilisation from 30th January including a call for a national day of protest for the 7th February. Between February 4th to March 6th, staggered two week holidays occured which the governmant hoped to exploit by passing the legislation during. Come the 7th of February between 200,000 and 400,000 youths and trade unionists took part in 187 demonstrations across France.

Unions had hoped for a larger turnout and faced with a month of student holidays, momentum could have stuttered. Nevertheless, a second day of action was called for the Tuesday 7th of March.

From early February a grassroots movement of students began to occupy campuses, strike and blockade their univsitiy buildings.

Students at Tolbiac vote in meetings to discuss the CPE
students at Tolbiac university in Paris

By the 7th of March, roughly half of France’s universities had been occupied. On this second day of national protest up to a million high school students, higher education students and young workers took part in dozens of demonstrations throughout France.

trouble flares in Toulouse, March 7th

Campus occupations have since continued, sporadic incidents of direct action, blockades and protests have been taking place all over France including the symbolic occupation of Sorbonne University. The university was occupied by an initial group of 70, who were joined by several hundred more on the afternoon of Thursday March 9th as students piled in through a back window before the CRS riot police were aware.
The building was subsequently evicted by 1000 riot police. Video of Sorbonne occupation.

The next day, the Minister for Higher Education Francois Goulard visited the Sorbonne is an attempt to discredit those who had occupied it, demonstrating damage he said they had inflicted. These claim have since been called into question by a German journalist, and a student who took part in the occupation, who spoke to the Unrest In France blog about the occupation, and is now reporting from Paris on our behalf.

That evening, French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepine conducted an interview on French television which was watched by 10million. He insisted he would be standing firm, but also gave three new conditions with which he would impliment his reform. Trade Unions responded by insisting that the repeal of the CPE was simply non-negociable.

The stage was now set for a week of both planned and sporadic protest, with Tuesday 14th and Thursday 16th having been called by high school and university students as nationwide days of action.
The next day, Monday 13th, various protests took place throughout the country, as half of French universities remained on strike. In Marseille, a free toll way set up on the citys subway, whilst a spontaneous demonstration of 3000 briefly occupied the College de Paris:

students occupy the College de France

Tuesday 14th of March was the first of the students days of action. Students in Nantes occupied the central train station:

youths blockade Nantes train station

and tens of thousands demonstrated across France. At the Sorbonne, a riot took place as CRS prevented the demonstrators from gaining access to the University buildings. More universities were continuing to join those on strike and blockaded:

students and youths class with riot police in Paris, March 14th

Further riots were to take place later in the week, after 600,000 youths marched on the 16th.

demonstrator beaten on Thursday 16th of March, Paris

riot near the Sorbonne, the evening of thursday march 16th

On the 18th, unions joined demonstrators and 1.5 million protested across France,

7,000 demonstrated in Tulle, Saturday 18th March

Paris, Saturday 18th March

Later in the evening of the 18th, rioting flared once again at the Place de la Nation in Paris. Disturbances were also reported in Rennes, Lille and Tours.

On Monday the 20th, shortly before unions called for strike action for the 28th of March, news was released that a demonstrator was lying in a coma after Saturdays demonstration. A 39 year old man later named as Cyril Ferez had been trampled on by CRS riot police.

Further evidence has since been uncovered that questions the actions of the CRS on that night.