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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Un million pour le retrait du CPE

by Paule Massons

France: One Million Demonstrate Against “First Job Contracts” for Youths

Translated by Patrick Bolland and Ann Drummond

Translated Friday 10 March 2006, by Patrick Bolland

Out on the streets: On 8 March, 160 demonstrations filled streets across the whole of France - twice as many as in similar protests on 7 February (1). High-school and university students were much more active this time, and workers are already warning of the next stage in the protests over prime minister Dominique de Villepin’s “contrats de première embauche” (CPEs) (2)

High-school students in Marseilles chanted “CPE equals slave contract”, in the first demonstration that erupted yesterday. The “cité phocéenne”, as Marseilles is often known, set the pace of this second day of mobilization against the project of “first job contracts”: 100,000 demonstrators, according to the unions, compared to 30,000 on 7 February. The route of the march had to be changed to make way for the crowds, which didn’t stop the police from saying there were only 12,000 taking part.

They were nearly 9000 at Limoges, marching to the slogan “Enough of this clowning around!”, 30,000 in Nantes attacking “this deadly job virus for youths”, 50,000 in Bordeaux marching to the sound of “Those who sew misery will reap anger”. The 160 different marches, organized by student organizations, the unions and a united Left brought out, according to the CGT union federation, more than a million demonstrators. Students had returned to school following the mid-term break. The number of high-school and university students coming to support the struggle against the lack of any kind of security - even for limited duration - in job contracts exceeded all expectations.

Convergences: Students and workers united in a single struggle

In Paris, there was a massive demonstration. They joined voices in a fine chant with a catchy rhythm: “CPE, C comme Chômeur! P comme Précaire! E comme Exploités? Assez de précarité!” [The CPE : C as in losing your job! P as in having no job security! E as in exploited? Enough of this marginality!] Workers got directly involved in the movement, to the extent of forming the majority in some of the marches. “Today, we are witnessing a convergence between the world of students and the world of workers”, according to Bruno Julliard, president of the National Union of Students of France (UNEF).

In the streets, reactions were loud and clear: “I’ve been to all the demonstrations and I will keep going as long as they continue”, says Benoît, a 2nd-year high-school student in Rennes. Bernard Thibault, secretary-general of the CGT, hammers home: “With the mid-term breaks, the government thought they’d be able to push this over without protest - they failed! The unions and students reject the idea of firing workers at the whim of employers. We are not going to let them win this battle!” This was at the demonstration in Paris. Meanwhile, Gérard Aschieri of the FSU teachers’ federation announced that the organizers are already “thinking about the next stage”. Student organizations will be meeting tomorrow. Unions have already decided to hold a meeting at the end of this week or beginning of next week uniting all the major federations. Karl Stoeckel, of the UNL high-school students’ organization is insistent: “We are ready to keep fighting until the CPEs are withdrawn”.

Government provocation

As if the participants hadn’t wised up to the new government tactic to try to defuse the anger. Taking advantage of a new calendar of mid term-breaks (which vary between different regions of France), the government had advanced the date of the final vote to adopt the so-called “Law of equal opportunities”, within which the CPEs would be created, to this evening! Another forced passage of legislation, it would just be “another case of manipulation”, according to Jean-Marc Ayrault, president of the Socialist group in the National Assembly, adding that this haste reflects the government’s “feeling of panic”. Without flinching at the prospect of a “permanent assault”, Alain Bocquet, head of the Communist group says: “It’s not by using the method of a forced march that the government is going to lend the CPE any credibility”.

In fact, the organization of the marches, the banners, the slogans have shown just how vacuous are the various arguments about “the advantages of the CPEs” that the government has been putting forward, for the youth who are supposed to benefit from them. “The prime minister lost the battle of public opinion, now he’s losing the battle of the streets”, says François Chérèque, secretary-general of the CFDT union federation, just when the figure of how many were there in the Paris demonstration is being announced: 200,000. Paris which announced proudly in one of its banners: “It is the youth that ensures the ambient temperature of the world, when the youth become cold, the world ‘s teeth start chattering”

[Translator’s notes]

(1) For more information on the February demonstration see http://www.wsws.org/articles/2006/feb2006/fran-f10.shtml

(2) The CPE (contrat de première embauche) has been presented as an incitement to employers to hire young people, supposedly encouraging job creation, by creating more “flexibility”, making it easier to hire and fire young workers. Employers will no longer be obliged to offer any form of job security to the youths they employ - a major set-back in hiring contracts that until now have either been for a specified short duration or provide substantial security. Under the CPEs, there is simply no assurance of how long a job would last. The bosses can arbitrarily decide lay-offs.

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