Hello! I have recently moved to Paris, and every month I will be writing a “Letter from Paris” to keep Solidarity readers up to date about France and its far left. Hopefully this will be an interesting year in which the far left can have serious conversations about our political ideas in light of the passing of the Labour Law with essentially no vote, the upcoming presidential election, and the continuing “state of emergency”.
In February 2016, a large scale mobilisation against the proposed Loi Travail (Labour Law) began where students and workers mobilised in the streets, workplaces, and universities to begin agitation against this law. As previous Solidarity articles have stated, this law would reverse decades of workers’ rights to favour employers over workers. Since the last national demonstration against the law on 14 June, the Hollande government has forced the law through government by using article 49.3, of the constitution. This changes a vote on laws into a vote of confidence for the government.
For Assembly members to stop the law from passing they must have 10% of them signing a motion to censure the government. This didn’t occur because the document was missing two signatures. All has a debilitating effect on mobilisations, since it seems almost impossible to stop proposed law at this point. As in most cases where a 49.3 was used against public opposition (and also due to summer break), the desire to mobilise seems to have decreased. As a final hurrah, seven unions (CGT, FO, FSU, Solidaire, UNEF, UNL, and FIDL) called for the fourteenth day of mobilisations, and unfortunately the last, on the 15 September.
With student militants from the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) I participated in a general assembly at Nanterre University in the west of Paris right before the mobilisation. The general assembly was called for by self-organised students, in what is called a mobilisation committee, to prepare for the demonstration and to talk about the future of the fight against the Labour Law. The meetings are not run by political parties or unions; people to choose their own methods of fighting and getting past the union bureaucracy if necessary to achieve success. 70-90 students participated in the discussion, which centred around issues of repression and how to combat the police state, perspectives on how to keep the fight going within the coming months, and how to develop political ideas within the student body in order to collectively elaborate demands.
The first main theme at the general assembly was how to ensure the fight against the Labour Law was not divided. The union bureaucracy has been doing just this — taking up fights within specific workplaces or specific industries, and using the court system to bit-by-bit tear the law apart.
Students were clear that the law needed to be fought collectively at universities and throughout the workforce. The second main theme was that the Labour Law mainly concerns the private sector, but the public sector is having similar laws forced onto them. Therefore, it was essential to collaborate with workers in the education and rail sectors. The demonstration, about 40,000 strong, was one of the least repressive ones I have experienced because the self-organised students decided to not be at the front of the demonstration. Usually students like to be at the front (actually technically not the front, but right behind the “casseurs” or people who are generally more violent and think revolution will occur by beginning riots; they are the people who the police most violently repress and combat during the demonstrations).
Being at the front is seen as the most advantageous spot in a demo because people who are unorganised come to the front to participate and trying to recruit these people to the self-organised committees is seen as essential. But this time around the mobilisation committees decided that they wanted to be close to union-organised demo security. There was a strong police force with everyone being searched before coming into the demo. Many people were stuck in kettles at train stations so they couldn’t get to the demo. Police told people to not bring scarves or they would be taken away, that all manner of protection against tear gar would be considered illegal, and that identity checks would be heavily used.
Although this is the last demonstration that has been called for by unions, students and workers must not give up. They must work together to develop demands, and to ensure they are not divided by the bosses, the government or the union bureaucracy. It will be necessary to continue pushing unions to develop the movement and remain combative against the government’s actions. The fact that the general assembly and the demonstration were very well attended (even with very bad weather and the beginning of school) shows that the desire to fight is not gone. The fight will be more difficult now because a government will need to pass a new law to repeal the old one, but it is not impossible. Workers and students uniting together is the only way to ensure this happens.