A brief introduction to the current social unrest in France

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Loi travail 2 compléments

As many foreigners will be heading to France on summer holiday or to attend the Euro tournament, here is a quick synthesis about the protest movement happening since March and still going on these days. Exceptionnellement, Rebellyon publie un article en anglais à destination des anglophones, notamment celles et ceux en visite en France qui s’étonneraient de se retrouver bloqué·es.

Who would have thought François Hollande’s presidency would look like the second term of his right-wing predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy ? The endless betrayals of his so-called socialist cabinet have turned the few hopes of the French left into explosive anger.

A few weeks ago, a right-wing British magazine [1] called François Hollande “Captain Calamity”. It may sound bizarre but for once, the French left may agree. And one can only imagine his disgruntled electors nodding in agreement with an article that mocks the President’s delusional attempt to stand for reelection next year. Hollande was elected in 2012 by 51.6% of the votes after 17 years of conservative presidencies. His popularity now stands at 14%, making him the least popular president in the history of the Fifth Republic. “Captain calamity” hasn’t only damaged his own chances of staying in power, he wrecked people’s trust in his party.

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June, 9th : Lyon’s port blocked

Back in early 2012, a few months before winning over Nicolas Sarkozy, François Hollande kicked off his presidential campaign with a well-remembered speech. “In the battle about to begin, I will tell you who my real enemy is. [It] has no name, it has no face and does not belong to a political party. This adversary is the world of finance.” After the most brutal financial crash in generations, Hollande promised to reform the fiscal and banking systems, to straighten up the economy and to rescue the “sacrificed youth.” Even the left-wing Green leader Cécile Duflot celebrated his victory as a “deep change in politics” and a “chance for social justice and democracy.”

The presidency of betrayals

Four years later, Hollande’s renunciations are so numerous it’s hard to count them all. It only took him a few months to forget about his “real enemy” and make new allies : businesses. As the unemployment rate has kept growing (currently at 10%), one of his main solutions has consisted in giving away 40 billion euros in tax credits to companies in exchange for jobs. It has ridiculously failed. His Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, has appointed a younger generation of top ministers to “modernize” the country as his former cabinet members started to abandon ship. Emmanuel Macron, a former banker appointed Minister of the Economy in 2014, introduced a controversial law aimed at “liberalizing” the economy and favoring employers over workers rights. Facing fierce opposition, the government bypassed parliament and forced through the reform without a vote last year. But that was just the beginning.

Growing anger reached a peak with the introduction of a labour reform by the newly appointed Minister Myriam El Khomri in February 2016. The aim is to increase the flexibility of the labour market and to reverse a century of social progress. Inspired by the dying ideology of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, Hollande hopes that making it easier for companies to get rid of their workers would reduce unemployment. Who would dare to take him seriously when he repeats that “things are getting better” after his Prime minister bypassed parliament a second time to force through the labour reform, narrowly surviving a no-confidence vote ?

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At least ten official demonstrations with thousands of people took place in Lyon since March, and many other non-officials protests

Initially launched on social networks, the protest movement started in March and was greatly amplified by early student protests and blockades. Then it was followed by main trade unions organising strikes across the country, with some of them growing quickly among truck drivers, railway workers and in oil refineries. The movement is now multifaceted and reaches a very diverse minority of people.

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Students blocking their high school
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Feyzin’s oil refinerie (20 km south of Lyon) stopped working on May 17th against the « Loi travail »

Renewal in revolt

France may boast its proud heritage of revolutions and social progress, but Hollande is keen on denying democracy. The movement called Nuit Debout (or “Night on our feet”) reclaims it. It started on the 31st of March in Place de la République, Paris, and quickly expanded to other French towns. While social democracy appears futureless and ritualistic demonstrations helpless, Nuit Debout emerged as a horizontal agora inspired by Occupy and the Spanish Indignados. Hundreds of people have been gathering in public squares every night to debate whatever is deemed worthy of debating (a new constitution, work, politics etc.), in hope of finding a “convergence of struggles”. For many of them, the labour reform and security crackdowns (in response to last year’s terrorist attacks) were the final straw.

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Hundreds of people have been gathering at Nuit debout each evening

If Nuit Debout grew from anger, some crucial elements conveyed a sense of hope and a vision for a progressive future. The documentary “Merci Patron !” was one of them. Produced by Fakir, a left-wing newspaper, the story of a working class couple from the struggling North taking on France’s richest man, Bernard Arnault, was a rallying cry for collective organisation. “People realized ; ‘we can win. We are stronger than we thought, [the elites] are more fragile than we imagined’”, explained the film’s producer. The intellectual Frédéric Lordon, contributor to the newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique, also had a crucial role as he urged for a renewal in revolt. If Nuit Debout is said to have lost momentum over the past few weeks, failing to attract disenfranchised working classes, it has clearly operated as a platform across struggles and remains unique as a democratic space.

The tear gas Republic

Trade unions have organized dozens of strikes and protests over the past few months. Massive crowds have been welcomed by tear gas, truncheons and extreme police brutality across the country. In April, a student lost one eye after being shot in the face by a flash ball. In May, a young passerby was severely injured (he spent 11 days in a coma) by a police grenade in Paris. In early June, a group of journalists were attacked for no legitimate reason by riot police in Rennes (North West). The same day, 11 children were injured due to an unnecessarily brutal attempt by the police to break up a picket in front of their school. The list could go on and on. While the mainstream press endlessly moans about a minority of violent rioters, the French NGO ACAT (in defence of human rights) recently condemned “police forces enjoying relative impunity while committing violent interventions”. While dozens of demonstrators have been jailed since March, hundreds of them have been injured. The police watchdog has launched inquiries regarding 48 major cases of police violence.

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There has never been so many people injured in a social movement in France for decades

Although only 13% of the French agree with the labour reform, Hollande refuses to let it go and hopes he can stop protests by offering small concessions. As the Euro tournament nears, trade unions have organized the picketing of power stations and fuel depots while a nationwide demonstration is planned on the 14th of June. Workers are also on strike in the main railway company SNCF and at Air France this week. If “Captain Calamity” won’t be missed, he will be remembered as the President who both the opposition and his own voters hated.

Everywhere in Europe, we fight austerity. If you see demonstrations, blockades in the streets or around football stadiums in France, don’t listen to the mainstream media and join us !

Emmanuel Sanséau


This text has been written on the basic idea that too few articles about these events were written in English for foreign readers. Other synthesis in English or other languages are welcome !

Si vous avez d’autres synthèses du mouvement en anglais ou d’autres langues, elles sont bienvenues !


[1“François Hollande has found a shameful saviour” ; The Spectator, May 28th.

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  • Le 14 juin 2016 à 22:28, par

    Appel en français, anglais, espagnol, ελληνικά et italiano à se joindre à la manifestation unitaire à Paris contre la loi Travail ce mardi 14 juin.

    Tous et toutes à Paris le 14 juin !

    Depuis le 9 mars un mouvement social d’une ampleur inédite secoue la France contre la « loi travail ». La loi travail c’est la cure d’austérité qui devrait permettre aux travailleurs d’être plus compétitifs sur le marché international, c’est à dire de devenir une force de travail meilleur marché, encore plus facilement exploitable et interchangeable.

    Cela fait donc maintenant trois mois que se succèdent dans toute la France des manifestations offensives, des grèves, des blocages économiques, des sabotages, et ce malgré une répression sévère, des centaines de blessés, des personnes mutilées, dont éborgnées, sans oublier les centaines d’arrestations, inculpations, incarcérations, etc.

    Face à l’ampleur des mobilisations, manifestations géantes et nombreux blocages devant les centres de production, les universités ou les lycées, une multitude de grèves dans divers secteurs d’activité tels que les transports ferroviaires, l’aviation, l’automobile, les raffineries de pétrole, les centrales nucléaires, la distribution d’électricité, de courrier, etc., le gouvernement socialiste ne répond que par une répression de plus en plus violente, espérant faire plier la mobilisation à coups de matraque, avec la complicité silencieuse des médias européens.

    Cette « loi travail » entre dans un plan de paupérisation généralisée, le but étant de nous faire travailler toujours plus pour des salaires toujours plus bas. De nous obliger à accepter n’importe quel travail payé une misère, de nous plonger dans une précarité toujours grandissante. Ce qui se joue ici concerne évidemment tous les travailleurs d’Europe et si nous arrivons ici à faire plier le gouvernement, ce sera un signal fort envoyé à tous les travailleurs ainsi qu’au patronat d’Europe.

    Le 14 juin une manifestation est prévue à Paris. Des bus arriveront de toutes les villes de province pour défiler sur la capitale.

    Nous appelons toutes celles et ceux qui le peuvent à nous rejoindre à Paris le mardi 14 juin, pour crier, dans une manifestation qui sera offensive, notre rage face à ces plans d’austérité qui se succèdent en Europe.

    Face au capital nos intérêts n’ont pas de frontières !

    English :

    Let’s all go to Paris on June 14 !

    Since March 9, France has been shaken up by unprecedently huge social unrest in reaction to the labour law (“loi travail”). This law is supposed to be the austerity cure for workers in order be more competitive on the global labour market, namely becoming a cheaper, easily exploitable and interchangeable labor force.

    It has now been three months of aggressive demonstrations, strikes, economic blockings and sabotage in all regions of France in spite of a ruthless repression, hundreds of injured and wounded people, some us even blinded in one eye, in addition to the hundreds of arrests, imprisonments, accusations, etc.

    Faced with the mobilization magnitude, the huge demonstrations and numerous blockings in front of production centers, universities and high schools, the multiple strikes in various economic sectors such as railroads, aviation and automobile, oil refinery plants, nuclear power stations, electricity suppliers, postal delivery, etc…, the socialist party replies with an even greater violent repression and expects to bend the mobilization with tonfa blows and the silent complicity of the European mass media.

    This labour law takes us into a pauperization project whose aim is to make us work more while being paid less, to force us to accept any job paid for next to nothing, to throw us into an evergrowing precariousness. What is now at stake naturally concerns all European workers. If we manage to make the government give way here, all workers and employers in Europe will get a strong warning signal.

    A demonstration will take place in Paris on June 14. Buses are arriving from all provinces in order to march on the capital city.

    We thus call everyone who can to join us in Paris in an offensive demo in order to shout out our fury against austerity measures succeeding one another in Europe.

    No border to our interests against Capital !


    El 14 junio en Paris !

    Desde el 9 de marzo, un movimiento social de una amplitud ine ?dita sacude Francia contra la “ley del trabajo”. La “ley del trabajo” es la cura de austeridad que deberi ?a permitir a lxs trabajadorxs ser ma ?s competitivxs en el mercado internacional, es decir, hacerse una fuerza de trabajo ma ?s barato, explotable y ma ?s fa ?cilmente intercambiable.

    Asi ?, desde hace ahora tres meses, se suceden por toda Francia manifestaciones ofensivas, huelgas, bloqueos econo ?micos, sabotajes. Y eso a pesar de una dura represio ?n, de centenares de heridos, de personas mutiladas (algunas tuertas) ; a pesar de cientos de detenciones, encarcelamientos, acusaciones, etc.

    Frente a la amplitud de las movilizaciones, las manifestaciones gigantes y los numerosos bloqueos delante de los centros de produccio ?n, las universidades o los institutos, una multitud de huelgas en sectores diversos de actividad, tales como los transportes ferroviarios, la aviacio ?n, el automo ?vil, las refineri ?as de petro ?leo, las centrales nucleares, la distribucio ?n de electricidad, de correo, etc., el gobierno socialista no responde ma ?s que con una represio ?n cada vez ma ?s violenta, esperando hacer ceder/replegarse la movilizacio ?n a golpes de porra, con la complicidad silenciosa de los medios de comunicacio ?n europeos.

    Esta “ley del trabajo” entra dentro de un plan de pauperizacio ?n generalizada, cuyo objetivo es hacernos trabajar siempre ma ?s, por salarios cada vez ma ?s bajos. De obligarnos a aceptar cualquier trabajo por un sueldo mi ?sero, de sumirnos en una precariedad siempre creciente. Lo que se juega aqui ? concierne, evidentemente, a todxs lxs trabajadorxs europexs ; y si aqui ? conseguimos hacer ceder/replegarse al gobierno, sera ? una fuerte sen ?al tanto hacia todxs lxs trabajadorxs como tambie ?n hacia la patronal de Europa.

    El 14 de junio esta ? prevista una manifestacio ?n en Pari ?s. Llegara ?n autobuses de todas las localidades de provincia para desfilar por la capital.
    Llamamos a todas aquellas y aquellos que puedan a acudir a Pari ?s el martes 14 de junio, a gritar en una manifestacio ?n, que sera ? ofensiva, nuestra rabia frente a los planes de austeridad que se suceden en Europa.

    ¡Frente al capital, nuestros intereses no tienen fronteras !


    Ραντεβού στο Παρίσι στις 14 Ιουνίου

    Από τις 9 Μαρτίου, η Γαλλία έχει ταρακουνηθεί από ένα τεράστιο κοινωνικό ξέσπασμα αντιδρώντας στο εργασιακό νομοσχέδιο (“loi travail”). Αυτό το νομοσχέδιο είναι υποτίθεται η θεραπεία λιτότητας για τους/τις εργαζομένους/ες ούτως ώστε να γίνουν πιο ανταγωνιστικοί/ες στην παγκόσμια αγορά εργασίας, ή αλλιώς να γίνουν ένα πιο φτηνό, εύκολα εκμεταλλεύσιμο και εναλλάξιμο εργατικό δυναμικό.

    Βρισκόμαστε πλέον στον τρίτο μήνα επιθετικών διαδηλώσεων, απεργιών, οικονομικών μπλόκων και σαμποτάζ σε όλες τις περιοχές τις Γαλλίας παρόλη την ανελέητη καταστολή, τους/τις εκατοντάδες τραυματίες, εκ των οποίων και μερικοί που έχασαν μάτια, και τις εκατοντάδες συλλήψεις, φυλακίσεις και κατηγορίες.

    Μπροστά στις κινητοποιήσεις, τις μεγάλες πορείες και τα πολλά μπλόκα σε διάφορα κέντρα παραγωγής, πανεπιστήμια και λύκεια, τις πολλαπλές απεργίες σε διάφορους τομέις όπως τα τρένα, αεροπλάνα, διυλιστήρια πετρελαίου, σταθμοί πυρηνικής ενέργειας, παρόχους ηλεκτρικής ενέργειας, ταχυδρομέια κλπ..., το σοσιαλιστικό κόμα απαντά με πιο βίαιη καταστολή και προσπαθεί να κάμψει την κινητοποίηση με τα πτυσσόμενα γκλόμπ και την σιωπηλή συνενοχή των Ευρωπαϊκών μέσων μαζικής ενημέρωσης.

    Το νομοσχέδιο μας φέρνει σε ένα σχέδιο εξαθλίωσης του οποίου στόχος είναι να δουλεύουμε περισσότερο για λιγότερα χρήματα, να μας αναγκάσει να δεχομάστε οποιαδήποτε δουλειά για ψίχουλα, και να μας ρίξει σε μια διαρκώς αυξανόμενη ανασφάλεια. Αυτό που διακυβεύεται εδώ αφορά φυσικά όλους τους/τις εργαζόμενους/ες. Αν καταφέρουμε να κάνουμε την κυβέρνηση να υποχωρήσει εδώ, όλοι οι εργαζόμενοι και οι εργοδότες στην Ευρώπη θα πάρουν ένα ισχυρό μήνυμα προειδοποίησης.

    Στο Παρίσι στις 14 Ιουνίου προετοιμάζεται μια πορεία στην οποία λεωφορεία από όλες τις επαρχίες αναμένονται να καταφθάσουν.

    Καλούμε όσους/ες μπορούν να έρθουν μαζί μας στο Παρίσι, για μια επιθετική πορεία με σκοπό να προβάλουμε την οργή μας ενάντια στα μέτρα λιτότητας τα οποία διαδίδονται τό ένα μετά το άλλο στην Ευρώπη.

    Ενάντια στο κεφάλαιο τα ενδιαφέροντα μας δεν γνωρίζουν σύνορα !

    Tutti e tutte a Parigi il 14 giugno !

    E’ ormai dal 9 marzo che il movimento sociale contro la “loi-travail” scuote la Francia. La loi-travail è la nuova forma di austerity che dovrebbe permettere ai lavoratori di essere più competitivi sui mercati internazionali, cioè diventare forza-lavoro a buon mercato, ancor più sfruttabile e flessibile.

    E’ da tre mesi che in tutta la Francia che si moltiplicano le manifestazioni offensive, gli scioperi, i blocchi, i sabotaggi che hanno conosciuto fin da subito una repressione molto severa, centinaia di compagni feriti e/o mutilati (anche accecati), senza scordarsi degli arresti a migliaia, i processi, le incarcerazioni, etc.

    All’immensità della mobilitazione, alle manifestazioni enormi, ai blocchi dei centri di produzione, dei licei e delle università, agli scioperi di vari settori di lavoro come le ferrovie, l’aviazione, le fabbriche di automobili, le raffinerie, le centrali nucleari, i servizi energetici, la posta, la nettezza urbana, etc., il governo socialista risponde con una repressione sempre più violenta, sperando di far piegare la mobilitazione a colpi di manganello, con il silenzio complice dei media europei.

    Questa loi-travail rientra in un piano di impoverimento generale in cui siamo costretti a lavorare sempre di più per salari sempre più bassi, ad accettare un qualsiasi lavoro per uno stipendio da miseria e annegarci in una precarità sempre più diffusa.
    Ciò che oggi si sta giocando in Francia riguarda tutti i lavoratori d’Europa e se tutti insieme riusciremo a far piegare il governo, avremo lanciato un segnale molto forte a tutti i lavoratori e ai padroni di tutta Europa.

    Il 14 giugno è prevista una manifestazione nazionale a Parigi. Dei bus arriveranno da tutta la Francia per sfilare nella capitale.

    Tutti coloro che hanno la possibilità e la voglia ci raggiungano a Parigi martedì prossimo, per urlare la nostra rabbia contro i piani di austerity che si susseguono in tutta Europa, per partecipare a questa manifestazione offensiva.

    La lotta al capitale non ha frontiere !

  • Le 10 juin 2016 à 18:48, par Thelma

    Pour des infos en allemand / für deutschsprachige Info / other articles in german :


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