A massive and dramatic day of resistance to the neoliberal Loi Travail was staged in Paris and across France on Tuesday June 14, with scenes in the capital described by witnesses as like a “war zone”.
In Paris’s Place de la République, in the shadow of Marianne – the allegorical symbol of liberté, egalité, fraternité – all the talk is of defiance, despite the many baton-wielding riot police.
After an extraordinary week in which France’s Socialist government in late April resorted to emergency constitutional powers to force through deeply divisive reforms to employment law – avoiding a parliamentary vote it would almost certainly have lost – the youthful movement whose protests have spread across France is debating its response.
“We had had enough before. Now we’ve had enough of enough,” sai participant in the Nuit Debout (Up All Night)
An estimated million people marched in Paris, with the back end of the protest still waiting at the start of the route when the front had arrived at the destination.
1.3 million were on the streets across France.
The Paris march was led by the biggest autonomous bloc that has been seen in the city for several decades, with a strong international anti-capitalist participation.
It was attacked repeatedly and brutally by police using all the militaristic weaponry at their disposal – not just the usual batons, tear gas and grenades but also two water cannon, used in Paris for the first time. Protesters responded to the police attempts to split the march with much determination and hails of stones.
Near the Duroc metro station, scene of some of the fiercest fighting, windows of the France’s overseas territories ministry were broken and its walls covered with graffiti – it was renamed the Ministry of Colonies.
Other buildings, from banks and estate agents’ to Starbucks were also targeted.
There were said to have been 58 arrests. The authorities ridiculously claimed only 40 people were injured, of whom 29 were supposedly cops and only 11 protesters! In reality, hundreds of protesters were hurt, many seriously, according to activist website Paris Luttes.
Levels of police violence and the cops’ utter contempt for the welfare of injured protesters are well illustrated by this shocking video.
After the main march, protesters regrouped in the evening for further unauthorised protests, which were again attacked by cops – notably the fascistic plain-clothed thugs of the “Bac” (“Anti-criminal brigades”).
This was the biggest turn-out yet against the Loi Travail, but still the state refuses to change its neoliberal course (see below). Instead it is now threatening to ban future protests if there is no “guarantee” that property and people will not be threatened.
This is unlikely to deter the resistance and more days of action and strikes are already being planned.
The real agenda behind France’s hotly-contested new labour laws has been helpfully spelled out by the country’s leading right-wing rag.
Le Figaro dedicated its front page and a special inside section on June 1 to the Loi Travail and the massive social struggle against it.
And the coverage makes it quite clear that the hated reforms are being violently imposed on the French people at the behest of the global financial elite.
It quotes the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, as saying the labour laws are the “minimum” that other European states expect of France, pointing out that other states have successfully imposed even harsher neoliberal measures.
It is clear that the massive scale and determination of the rebellion has left France’s capitalists rattled. You can almost see the blue blood boiling between the lines in Le Figaro‘s reports and comment.
It condemns the “violence and absurdity” of the social struggle and “this France where people can attack a police car with a metal bar, where a backward-looking trade union with a Marxist ideology can halt the trains, the metro, the ports, the airports, the oil refineries; where repeated demonstrations can degenerate into pitched battles.”
Nowhere does Le Figaro show any concern for the future of the French people affected by the laws – instead it merely whines about the effect of the protests on the tourist trade and the Euro2016 football, the reputation of the country among the global financial elite and the reaction of the “investors” – the capitalist sharks who are hoping to profit from the increased exploitation of the French workforce.
“France has lost its attractivity,” it moans. “Worse, it is becoming a country that people leave, from which they emigrate. Foreign investors are running away and we have lost count of the number of its children, graduates or not, who have left it. In search of a job, of a less harsh tax system, of lower levels of bureaucracy, of an attractive entrepreneurial freedom. In short, in search of a country which faces towards the future”.
It adds that France has become a “country of the past”, stuck with “archaic” acquired rights for workers, “incapable of modernising itself” and “with neither future nor horizon”.
These repeated mentions of the word “future” illustrate one of the big lies of the capitalist system. Note that Le Figaro doesn’t talk about “a” particular future which it would like to see come about, but “the” future!
This has always been the deception behind the capitalist myth of “progress” – that the increase of industrial exploitation is in some way welded to the passing of time itself, rather than being a specific direction that society happens to have taken.
Taking any other path has always been to attempt to “return to the past” or to “turn the clock back”, rather than moving forward in time to a non-industrial future.
Now the same trick is being used to scrap what few rights the population have managed to accrue for themselves over the last 200 years of industrial capitalism.
By equating “the future” with increased capitalist exploitation, and by dismissing resistance to that exploitation as “absurd”, Le Figaro reveals a totalitarian mindset in which even the possibility of a different vision of tomorrow is denied.
When this totalitarian attitude is enforced with violent policing methods to crush dissent, the resulting society is plainly far from being the “democracy” that it laughably claims to be…
Warning for British holidaymakers
The Foreign Office has updated its travel advice ahead of the half-term school holiday warning travellers to France that fuel-purchasing restrictions have been put in place in some regions and fuel rationing may be imposed.
“The Mon-essence.fr website has produced a map developed from data supplied by users of its mobile app to help motorists identify petrol stations where fuel is not available,” it says.
The RAC has warned that although it helped members in France find fuel last week, this kind of rescue will no longer be possible. “Anyone currently in France is going to struggle to find fuel for their return journey and probably should not even attempt to get home unless they can do so on one tank,” said RAC spokesman Simon Williams. “If you are going to France you should fill up in the UK before your crossing.”
P&O Ferries says that drivers can bring up to five litres of spare fuel on board their vessels with them, provided it is kept in an approved container.