by Joan Trevor
The French ambassador to the US summed up the French government’s stance on the November riots in a speech: “What France experienced was social unrest, not riots.” He compared events in France to the Los Angeles riots of 1992, in which 54 people died. A little complacent? The “social unrest”, after all, still amounted to:
• 10,000 vehicles damaged or destroyed.
• 200 public buildings damaged or destroyed.
• 130 policemen injured. (No figures for civilians injured by the police.)
• Overall cost of £144 million, including £11 million damage to cars.
“This unrest was not related to the role of Islam in France,” the ambassador was able to inform the Islamophobic US public. “It had nothing to do with a ‘clash of religions’ or civilisations or cultures.”
The ambassador, it seems, was right on that. What was the unrest related to?
“Where did the unrest take place? In poor neighbourhoods…”
Not that he was saying that there was something wrong with poverty, or a system of haves and have nots. It’s just that, in a poor neighbourhood, you get more of the following:
“Many of these teenagers feel alienated and discriminated against socially and economically… Some of these teenagers live in broken homes… parents often exert little authority over their children, who spend their time in the streets. They organise themselves and invent their own subculture…
“Mistakes made during past decades helped set the stage. The biggest was probably the construction of hundreds of high-rise buildings in response to the housing crisis of the 1960s and 1970s, when France experienced a big wave of immigration …”
Completely missing from the ambassador’s analysis was the factor that was at the start of the riots and which played a huge role in their continuation: the routinely racist police harassment, of poor, young people.
The technocratically minded ambassador also talked about new patterns of house building; about extra money for regeneration — sometimes restoring funding to areas that it had been taken away from, like community policing; about education.
“The government is tripling the number of scholarships available to students from these troubled neighbourhoods... Apprenticeship programmes will be made available for failing students beginning at age 14, to help them to get jobs more quickly.”
A catalogue of desperately creative measures, in short, that proposes little more than taking some of the children out of the ghetto, rather than getting rid of the ghetto altogether.
The ambassador talked about jobs.
“This is the best way to integrate the disenfranchised. If a person has a job, he or she has a future.
“The young people from these troubled urban areas will all be interviewed by representatives of the National Employment Agency... Within three months, they will be offered a job, job training or an internship…”
The impression conveyed is that what the government wants is jobs, any old jobs. There is no sense that what is wanted are useful jobs, to meet unfulfilled need, such as more jobs in public services, more jobs building decent homes for the poorly housed to live in.
If jobs are created, they will most likely be McJobs: low pay jobs, with few rights. This is at just the time when the organised labour force in France is resisting creeping casualisation, when campaigners are demanding that the unorganised be organised.
On 24 November, a campaign called Génération Précaire organised a token strike and demonstrations for work “trainees”, who are often just poorly paid workers. “The trainees are coming out of the shadows… and demanding their rights!”
From what I read, however, it is not even as though, up until now, the youth of the suburbs even fitted into this scheme: what has been envisaged is the casualisation of the existing workforce.
Until now, when the youth have reared their ugly head, it seemed that the capitalist establishment was content simply to ignore the suburbs. They were certainly indifferent to the racism that meant the “pool of reserve labour” was mainly the children of immigrants, left to rot.
* Summary of French ambassador’s speech http://www.info-france-usa.org/news/statmnts/2005/FactsheetFrenchunrest…