It all was very predictable, from the start. It felt like I could foresee how things would unfold on the first big demonstration I went to in Paris, on Saturday the 18th of March. I was joined by two friends from Finland living in Berlin, and also by my brother and sister who were spending a week in Paris, and we decided to all go on the demonstration together. The purpose of the demonstration was, of course, to bring down the CPE, the contrat première embauche, the proposed French law that would bring increased insecurity on the job market, specifically to those under 26, but by side effects bring more precarity for most of society.
There were a lot of people, that is certain. The very visible labour unions, groups from occupied universities and secondary schools and political organizations were all lined up, everybody had joined, and I guess almost a hundred thousand people participated. And still… It was clear, that when the march ended, the labour unions would remove themselves, and the kids would have a fight with the police.
These things don’t need agreements, they just happen, and everybody knows it from the start. The unions had accepted that the fight would happen, and that they would do nothing to stop their members from participating, but they would withdraw their structural support when this happened. The kids would be on their own. The movement was split from the start, and everybody knew it. The unions were not participating because they especially wanted to, they just didn’t have a choice. And everybody knew that once the government pulled back the current version of the proposed law, the unions would back out, and leave those who have issues with the wider phenomenon of precarity on their own.
So the movement that had its short life really resembled that one demonstration. It walked a predictable course, reached a first obstacle, pretended to challenge it, and then collapsed. Some people were hurt, others imprisoned, but in the end the protesters could go back with a feeling of “yeah, we for sure showed them”.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a victory.
The demonstration was massive, and fun, and in the end there was a wide variety of people challenging the existing power in many different ways. And we, totally peaceful but “in the wrong place at the wrong time”, got tear-gassed, my brother and sister for the first time. It was a victory.
The movement managed to push back the CPE. It was massive, and fun, and a wide variety of people participated in different ways. It was a victory.
But the big challenge still remains unchanged. How do we transform the energy from a basically defensive struggle that has won a victory that threatens to finish it, into a movement that can take a step forward? This is a challenge that FYEG tries to answer.