Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Paris on the Brink?

It seems all sides are gearing up for today, as students continue to sit out of school and the trade unions are calling for a nationwide general strike. Demonstrations are planned for cities across the country to protest the enactment of the First Employment Contract (CPE, in French) law, which allows employers to hire workers below the age of twenty-six under the terms of a special temporary labor contract, bypassing current restrictions on firings and layoffs.

The police in Paris, after dealing with a whole month of rioting and general insanity last fall and with the memory of the latest labor riots still fresh in their memory, have already called up four thousand policemen to prepare for whatever today's demonstrations might bring (BBC). Considering that troublemakers have already attacked policemen, burned cars and damaged local businesses, the possibility for violence to break out is very, very real. While the majority of protesters and striking workers obviously do not wish to inflict significant damage upon local businesses and attack policemen, even a small miniority of idiots have the potential to wreak havoc.

French university students, meanwhile, have continued their general strike against attending courses and have apparently taken over the grounds of many universities and schools:

The movement has taken the form of huge rallies joined by trade unions, with another day of marches and strikes due on Tuesday.

But students have also taken vigorous, direct action by blockading hundreds of universities and schools across France. It is in these revolutionary microcosms that the uprising is being hatched.

At Jussieu University in Paris - the focus of many past student revolts - insurrectional excitement is palpable.

"We are in our fifth week of blockade," Marie Gombeaud, a 19-year-old biology student, says proudly.

She has put aside laboratory work for the time being, and is mobilising students, administrating an internet forum on the protests and staffing checkpoints around the Jussieu campus.

Ah, such pride. Remember, kids, the point of attending post-secondary schools isn't to learn a trade or expand educational horizons; you go to college in order to protest laws and seize educational institutions and prevent any sort of learning from taking place.

The main entrance is chained and barricaded by a clutter of overturned chairs, rubbish bins and desks. At side entrances, Ms Gombeaud and other students are restricting access to a few chosen activists.

Lelio Stettin, 23, the local leader, currently exerts more authority over the campus than the vice-chancellor, who has so far refrained from calling in the security forces.

Seriously, though, how the hell could university administrators just sit back and let students take control of the campus grounds and let the insurrection continue, unabated, for five whole weeks?! The students most certainly do not own the university grounds, nor do they have the right to choose who is allowed to access the grounds. Lelio Stettin, however, might have his mind on educational priorities:

"So many things need to be done: we have to prepare for another general assembly, leaflets have to be written and printed, we need placards for Tuesday's marches.

"Megaphones, sound systems and vans also have to be arranged. Excuse me, I must take this call."

Well, maybe not.

As I finish this entry, the first wave of workers has begun to walk off the job. Rail service across the country has been affected, as over half the long-distance trains stand idle. Other transport industries have also been hit, as the Paris underground system grinds to a halt and the air traffic controllers take an extended coffee break. Looks like today will be an interesting day.

Previous Posts:
French First Employment Contract and Econ 101
France and the CPE, Continued


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