France's lost youth?

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on 24 September, 2004 - 12:00

The latest issue of Critique communiste, magazine of the French Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, has an interview in which researcher Michel Pialoux discusses his findings on the “disorganisation of the working class” being generated by long-term mass unemployment and casualisation in France.

“60 years ago, the bac [the French equivalent of A levels] was the passport to the bourgeoisie. Today it still has a symbolic significance even though 80% of an age group get it.”

Those who don’t get it suffer worse than working-class kids who left school without qualifications in past decades: “Getting promotion is impossible. The horizon shows nothing but casual work and no future. Before, you always had a chance of becoming a foreman. Now only the educational system gives you qualifications.”

And young people from the poorest, mostly-immigrant, working-class suburbs who get the bac and go to university do not always do better.

“They are no longer workers like the rest, but neither are they bourgeois students. Most attend only every other lecture, don’t take notes, copy from their mates or find some other way to scrape by. They do not enter completely into the role of students.”

Studying one group of such young people, Pialoux and his colleagues found that only 0.5% to 1% succeeded at university: “Of necessity, they go back to the manual working-class world… They have typically manual working-class jobs, but do not see themselves as manual workers any more, and hope to get out one day.

“It is not a sub-proletarianisation identical to what you have in the Third World, but rather a pauperisation similar to that in the black ghettoes of the USA. It generates the extension of drugs, the rise of Islamism, an ultra-violent culture.”

The core fact is that “the left parties and the unions have largely shut their eyes to all this”.

“The French Communist Party [for decades the mass party of the French working class, especially in immigrant areas] almost never uses the word worker any more, and the CP no longer presents itself as a working-class party but as a party of the middle classes.”

Pialoux finds some hopeful signs in some sections of the trade union movement. But a vast amount remains to be done on the unions’ essential task, of reaching out from their bastions among ageing workers in the relatively-protected public sector to the new masses of working-class youth.

l Abdel Mabrouki, author of the book Génération Précaire, will talk at the European Social Forum about his experience organising young workers in fast food restaurants in France. For details contact: 07719 283132.

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