3 May 1968: the rector of the Sorbonne (in Paris) demands the intervention of the police to clear the courtyard where left-wing activists are holding a meeting. The police round up everyone. Students in the surrounding area react and demonstrate. The police charge and make more than 600 arrests. All further demonstrations are banned, but the student union UNEF calls a campus strike for 6 May. The Communist Party declares that “these false revolutionaries are behaving objectively as allies of the Gaullist regime”.
6 May: demonstrations bring out 20,000 people. UNEF raises three demands: withdrawal of the police from the Latin Quarter (the district round the Sorbonne), amnesty for those sentenced after 3 May, and the reopening of faculties shut by the authorities. Day after day, the movement broadens. On 10 May, a demonstration in Paris brings out more than 50,000. The police surround the Latin Quarter. The demonstrators put up about 60 barricades. At about 2am, the riot police are ordered to charge. Unprecedented brutality. Local residents open their doors to students who are injured or pursued by the police. Battles last until 7am. The trade unions call for a 24 hour protest strike.
13 May: the whole country is paralysed. A demonstration in Paris has almost a million people. The next day there is no call for strike action by the unions. But at Nantes, the workers of Sud-Aviation stay out and occupy the factory. On the 15th, the Renault Cleon car factory, near Rouen, strikes and occupies. On the 16th, the strike spreads to the other Renault factories. Within a few days, ten million workers are on strike.
26 May: the trade union federations and the employers’ organisations negotiate at the Ministry of Labour, in the rue de Grenelle. The CGT, the main union federation, led by the CP, signs a “protocol”. The trade union leaders go to present the Grenelle agreements to the workers. CGT secretary Seguy gets booed at the CP’s stronghold, Renault Billancourt. On the evening of the 27th, a meeting of the far left at Charlety draws 50,000 people, including many workers.
29 May: De Gaulle leaves France to consult with General Massu, commander of the French forces in Germany.
30 May: De Gaulle declares that he will not resign. He dissolves the National Assembly and calls new elections. A demonstration of support for De Gaulle draws between 200,000 and 800,000 people, depending on different estimates.
1 June: the CP presents the elections as the way to get what the strike cannot force from the bosses. The political bureau of the CP declares: “The CP did not wait for De Gaulle’s speech to demand that the people be consulted as quickly as possible. The CP will present itself to this consultation with its programme of social progress and peace, and its policy of unity”. UNEF and the left groups call a demonstration which draws 40,000 people chanting: “It is only a beginning; let us continue the battle!”
7 June: riot police occupy Renault Flins. Violent confrontations. Students come to help the workers. They are denounced by the CP press. A young far-left activist, Gilles Tautin, is drowned while trying to escape the riot police.
11 June: riot police confront the workers of Peugeot. Two workers are killed.
13 June: the government dissolves 11 left-wing organisations. The CP, far from protesting, rejoices, at the same time as it pushes for a return to work through the CGT and in the election it presents itself, in its own words, as a “party of order”.
15 June: most workers have returned to work. The elections at the end of the month will be conducted in relative calm, and yield a right-wing landslide.
Adapted from Voix des Travailleurs no.42, 14 May 1998