France: “A lot of youth and workers hope that the mobilisation will have a new upturn”

Interview with Alex Lecoq, Gauche Revolutionnaire (CWI in France), a student in Rouen

Below is an interview with Alex Lecoq, a student in Rouen, and member of ‘Gauche Revolutionnaire’(CWI in France). Alex has been actively involved in the organisation of youth mobilisations in Rouen for a few years. Here he analyses the present movement against the pension reform, and the perspectives for the coming battles in schools and universities. See also below, video footage of the demonstration in Rouen on 23 October

Following the entering of the youth in the movement, some representatives of the government declared that the pensions’ reform “doesn’t concern them”, implying that they take strike action just to avoid classes, etc. What’s your opinion on that?

Nobody can believe this today. The fact that the government dares to pretend such a thing shows really that it doesn’t hesitate in distorting every aspect of this movement, in a desperate attempt to undermine the massive support this movement has in society. Obviously this reform does concern young people! Young people of today are – if they have the chance to find a job – the workers of tomorrow, and the pensioners of the day after. First of all, this reform aims at lowering the level of their future pensions and to make them leave work later. In that way, it is already clear that we are talking about their future. But it is not only their distant future, because the immediate effect of this reform will be a sharp rise in youth unemployment, which stands already at 24.5%. If elderly people stay at work longer, this leaves less jobs for the youth. Some official estimations are that there will be 1 million jobs less as a direct consequence of the implementation of the reform. I don’t know who the government will manage to convince of such a lie, but definitely not a lot of people. The fact that subsequently, seeing even more young people joining the movement because of such declarations, the government decided to change its tone and begin to say that “this reform is in the interests of the youth” is an example of its total inconsistency.

Following some declarations from Segolene Royal (PS – Socialist Party) claiming that “young people should go out in the streets peacefully”, the right-wing has accused the PS of being “irresponsible”. Do you think that the PS really has an influence on the mobilisations of the youth? Why does the government seem to be so scared about the entering of the youth into such a struggle?

“It is clear that the PS leads some youth organisations and unions, but which have a very limited influence. Those organisations have very little presence in the schools, they are not in any way at the centre of the youth mobilisation. The only impact they have is the importance given to them by the media, which provides them with a national audience and a certain capacity to call for mobilisations. However, in concrete terms, it is the youth themselves who, with the help of general assemblies, are building and organising their struggles. If the PS makes such appeals and declarations, it is not to allow the mobilisation to take a wider dimension; it is to distance themselves from young people who go out in the streets with the will to fight against the police, etc.

“In the first instance, we can ask ourselves the question, why the mobilisation of young people is scaring the government. It doesn’t involve direct losses of money for the bosses, etc. So where is the impact? The mobilisation of young people can give a dynamic, and radicalise the struggle of the working class, give them a new impetus and courage to continue their own struggles. Moreover, the struggle of the youth is less directly controllable by the government. Administrative and police repression in the schools and universities doesn’t stop the youth mobilisation; on the contrary it tends to radicalise it. The youth mobilisation lasts as long as the youth themselves decide to continue it. The youth have more liberty to go on strike, and no organisation has a sufficient grip on them to have the possibility of stopping them. In fact, the youth can bring a significant support, in terms of energy and radicalism, for the struggle. Also, the struggle against the CPE in 2006 created a precedent, during which the youth’s determination brought the workers into the movement, which forced the government to retreat. Finally, the government fears an accident or blunder by the police that could set the whole country on fire, as happened in 2005 with the mass revolt of the youth of the banlieues (suburbs) following the killing of two of them by the police.

We have seen attempts by the mass media and the government to label young people on demonstrations to “casseurs” (thugs who go into the streets just to smash everything) who don’t know anything about these protests or the reform. What is your opinion on this?

Those who are claiming this are the ones who really fear that the struggle of workers and youth can defeat the government. Their aim is to divide the struggle of the youth from the struggle of the working class. At the moment, such claims are made every evening on the TV and radio, with propaganda and lies, etc.

We see exactly the opposite everyday in the streets. What is dominating the struggle of the youth is a rage against Sarkozy’s policies, against his racist speeches, against the numerous anti-social measures, against the cops who harass young people in the neighbourhoods on a daily basis, especially the ones who are not “white enough”. The youth are there to fight for their future, conscious that the attacks on the pensions are putting them in danger. The youth, and especially the school-students, are organised through general assemblies where they widely discuss about their demands and about the means to build their struggle. But for the government, we – all the young people who expect a decent future and have decided to fight for it – are just scum and thugs.

For some parts of the youth, the system is so oppressive that they want an ‘immediate’ solution. So how to make people hear their voices? Some think that the only way is to burn and destroy things. This idea is reinforced by the fact that the only time the media gives coverage to them or to their neighbourhoods is when that kind of thing happens. Some parties on the left are try to isolate those young people from the rest of the movement. For us it is clear that we need to fight all together, and even if those actions can be counter-productive for the struggle, to isolate these youths will reinforce their sentiment of alienation from the rest of the movement, and bring new problems that the government will not miss the opportunity to exploit and use against the movement as a whole. In reality, the real ‘casseurs’, the real thugs, are the capitalists and their politicians, who are ‘breaking’ our society and our future. Even if there is not a general clarity, understanding and agreement on the methods of action, all young people are in the streets with the same objective: to impose a defeat to Sarkozy and all that he represents.

Do you think that a new explosion of the banlieues, like in November 2005, could happen again in the next period?

The situation in those areas has not changed since 2005, it has even worsened with the crisis of capitalism and the consistent attacks from the government. The unemployment rate is even stronger, the cops are still present and even more aggressive, and Sarkozy is multiplying provocations against the youth. Moreover, no political organisation is proposing, on a mass scale, a perspective and a strategy to defeat the government and to assure us a future.

school blockade

The present struggle is full of potential. The workers and the youth, bit by bit, are re-gaining confidence in their own power and in their capacity to fight. But the trade union leadership is refusing to put forward a strategy for such a struggle to be victorious. We feel that we have the potential strength to do it, but yet the struggle is not going forward at the moment. This situation is really frustrating. The anger is expressed clearly in the streets, but no perspective is emerging. In such a situation, the anger, associated with frustration, can lead to disorganised explosions of anger similar to what happened in 2005, or of an even bigger scale. However, these explosions cannot have any other result than harsh and bitter repression. But this anger, if it is channelled in the framework of a clear political strategy, and associated with a mass and general strike by the working class, can be decisive.

What do you think are the strong as well as the weak points of the mobilisation in the schools and in the universities? How is it structured and coordinated? Are there initiatives being taken to link up the youth struggle with the workers’ movement?

First of all, in the schools; the strong points are the capacity to enter rapidly and en masse into the struggle, and the dynamism. The school students’ delegations on demos are the most dynamic ones in each city and town, with often the most political slogans, along with the delegations from car or metal industrial workers. Obviously the school students’ mobilisation has not the same weight as that of the workers, in the sense that it doesn’t affect the economy in the same way. It is structured on the basis of general assemblies in numerous schools, and most of the time consists of blockades in the mornings in front of the schools, which allows students to counter the pressure from the administration on the question of absence from lessons.

In some areas, like in Rouen, these general assemblies are linked up, thanks to a “school-student coordination”, which is composed of representatives from the schools, and provides a city-wide structure, to think and discuss about the methods to use in order to enlarge the strike, but also for other things, like for example, to write leaflets and organise their distribution etc. We argue that this structuring should be built upon, along with general assemblies everywhere.

In the universities, it is a bit more complicated. A tradition of general assemblies remains in the universities: it is not difficult in itself to have half of a faculty present in a general assembly, in a period when the struggle has a certain importance. But that doesn’t mean necessarily a large mobilisation from the students. The will to engage in the struggle, which is clear in the schools, is not on the same scale in the universities, and more work is needed to develop a significant struggle at the moment. In addition, the official students’ organisations often act as a brake. The leadership of the UNEF, the main students’ union, is clearly discredited in the universities, because they have betrayed previous mobilisations repeatedly.

It is difficult to have a general view of the initiatives already having taken place nationally to build links with the working class. But in my university, we took common action with the closest school, the workers of postal service, the railway workers, some workers from the energy sector and other workers in struggle, to block a major road and go and discuss with the truck drivers and other car drivers about the necessity of extending the strike. This clearly strengthened the mobilisation in my own university, but also gave the possibility of establishing connections with other sectors, for other struggles to come. Moreover, in a number of cities, inter-professional assemblies, in which school and university students were involved, have planned common actions with workers.

Do you think that the movement will re-start after the holiday period?

It is difficult to answer definitively. The tension is so great that the movement can re-start, even if in the working class the movement is in decline. If it does not immediately re-start the first day after the holidays, it is almost inevitable that it will re-start at some stage in a near future. The strikes in the schools that have already taken place for more than a week without interruption in hundreds of schools, have allowed the structuring and confidence of the movement be strengthened. No organisation is proposing a clear plan of action for the youth for the after-holiday period, but still a lot of youth, as well as workers, have the hope that the mobilisation will have new upturn. The struggle will certainly re-start in some cities, but it is impossible to say if it is going to be generalised, and be able to counter the exhaustion of the movement that the government and the media are expecting.

For a strong struggle after the holidays, we need to reinforce our structures, and get organised!

How is the youth mobilisation in Rouen going? What role is Gauche Revolutionaire playing there?

In the last period, the youth of Rouen, and especially the school students, have been en masse in the streets. For more than a week, thousands of school students have blocked almost all of Rouen’s schools and the surrounding area, and participated in the demonstrations. School student members of Gauche Révolutionnaire are totally committed to this struggle, organising the general assemblies in their schools, and participating in the coordination of the struggle, which gathers about ten schools involved in the struggle. They put forward political slogans on the schools students’ delegations during the demos, and are pushing for a greater structuring of the struggle. They also propose initiatives in their own schools to avoid the police breaking their strike and their participation in the movement. This involves the building of a “Service d’Ordre” (security staff), in which our comrades participate. This SO has the aim of proposing to the youth to take the struggle into their own hands, to get as organised as possible, and to avoid police approaching their groups on the demos to try and provoke chaos and excite tensions to justify repression.

Do you feel a radicalisation, hence a politicisation, and a more openness to socialist ideas among the mobilised youth?

Undoubtedly. In this period, the question of putting into question the system as a whole, and not only Sarkozy, is posed. The school student group of Gauche Révolutionnaire has grown significantly in the recent period, not only in quantitative terms, but also qualitatively. The present struggle poses a number of crucial political questions. What’s the use of struggling endlessly, when we know that the government and the capitalists will never stop to attack our conditions? Even if we manage to limit their attacks temporarily, what’s the solution? The youth of Gauche Révolutionnaire are saying that we need to struggle for a socialist society, a society where the economy can be planned to satisfy the needs and interests of the majority. The fact that we are the only ones defending such an outcome, combined with the important role played by our comrades in the mobilisation itself, give us a wider audience, and what we have already achieved and built in the last period will offer us new important opportunities in the period to come.

Video: Demonstration on 23 October – Rouen

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