For weeks now, riots, barricades, and blockades of institutions have swept across France. The impetus for this wave of struggle is a new series of proposed neo-liberal labor reforms that would slacken restrictions on mass firings of workers, introduce more short-term contracts, lengthen the working day, circumvent industry-wide labor protections by introducing case-by-case agreements, and make it easier to cut wages, among other things. Being the hardest hit by such a rollback, students and other youths have engaged in fierce revolt, burning cars, blockading hundreds of high schools and university campuses and spilling into the streets, where their demonstrations have turned into wild, confrontational battles with police. Paris saw major days of action on the 17th and the 24th, with intense unrest in dozens of other cities, including Rennes, Toulouse, Nantes, Lyon, Marseilles, and elsewhere. Videos of the brutal police eviction of the occupied Tolbiac high school in Paris on the 24th, as well as the gratuitous beating of a student from Bergson high school, both went viral online. Students took swift revenge a day later, with high school students rioting in front of police stations.
The banners, communiqués, and slogans that have issued from this wave of actions give indications of a rupture whose potential consequences are far more serious than a single labor law. In a particularly inspiring communiqué (translated here in English), entitled “The World or Nothing,” the young insurgents remind us that buried within the question of “work” was always a more fundamental form of submission, that of a “life” reduced to nothing but pure survival:
“Ultimately, if we take to the streets against the labor law, it’s […] because the question of work is the question of how we use our lives; and as we see it work is the negation of life, life made into shit.”
This helps explain the clear unwillingness of these rebels to let themselves be routed and pacified by socialist, trade union, and other leftist forces of recuperation:
“We are no longer in the 60s…No one among us believes we will reach ‘self-realization’ at some job. That which we defend ourselves against is the that the bit of life we have after work, outside of work, does not get reduced to nothing. The little games of the unions and parties to limit the terrain of conflict to a question of the labor law, or negotiation with the government, is just a way to contain our desire to live, to lock up all that escapes their stifling sphere of scheming”
On the heels of this rolling insurgency of proletarians and youth, a callout has been made for a total blockade of French society this Thursday, March 31. We have translated it below. The tactic of autonomously organized and decentralized blockades has obvious resonance with North American struggles against oil pipelines, fracking, and Indigenous land expropriations. On the other hand, the link made by this callout between attacking neo-liberal austerity and the indefinite blockage of the economy has important implications for struggles in North America. What will it take to transform the instinct of indignation and protest into a habit of blockade and obstruction?
— Ill Will
3.31: a Call to Blockade Everything – Against the El Khomri Labor Law and Its World
Three weeks of blockades. For the past three weeks the number of mobilized schools has continually grown, in Paris, in the suburbs, and across the whole of France. Universities have been occupied, blocked and put to new forms of use by students and workers. The youth have understood that there is more than simply a law that at stake here, as labor laws like this affect the daily life of the majority of people in France. That’s why we are not just against this law, we’re against everything that has led to the current situation. To us, victory would no longer mean simply the withdrawal of the law, but a change of society, a change in the conditions of our lives.
Cops prevent us from manifesting and don’t hesitate to beat us in front of our schools and within our demonstrations. To take to the street means to organize ourselves to hold the street. That’s why we blockade.
We are calling for a total blockade of all institutions on Thursday 31 March. We hope that everyone can make use of this date to think up actions, and launch a strike able to prolong itself and hold out, since a single day of blockades is far from sufficient. Let’s organize ourselves into autonomous committees wherever we can. Let’s fight the union bureaucracies, let’s remain truly independent of structures of classical politics, let’s critique this law for what it is: a historical regression of our social rights and an affront to the dignity of all the people it intends to subject to increased pressure and new forms of suffering.
What does this new law hold in store for us?
Increased work hours for apprentices (10 hours per day and 40 hours per week)
Overtime pay can be decreased by 5 times through a simple agreement.
New possibilities for arbitrary dismissals.
10 to 12 hour workdays are now possible provided there is a contract for it.
No more paid leave in cases of a death in the family (mother, father, sister, etc.)
An increase in the number of weeks where we can be made to work 44 or 46 hours, provided there is an agreement.
No more minimum claims for unjustified dismissals.
If we do not want our lives to be reduced to nothing but waking, working and sleeping, condemned to nothing but survival, it is urgent we spread this mobilization. We are the first to be hit by this law, so it’s up to us to respond to it, and to reclaim the conditions of our lives.
We call again on the youth to rally from now until Thursday, March 31 in every way imaginable. Let’s block the factories, roads, schools, universities, let’s block the economy, and demand the withdrawal of this regressive legislation.
Meet at 11 am at Place de la Nation (Paris) for a joyful and determined demonstration!