Tuesday, March 14, 2006

French Students

French students revive spirit of 68
by Angelique Chrisafis
March 13, 2006
Guardian (UK)

From behind the makeshift barricade of tables, desks and chairs that sealed off the amphitheatre of the Sorbonne, a 21-year-old philosophy student crawled out and made his way down to the wall of riot police that kept watch outside one of France's most prestigious faculties yesterday.

Florian had been up all night leading angry philosophical debates among the 150 students holding the first "occupation" of the Sorbonne since student protesters took over the building in Paris's Latin Quarter in 1968. On that occasion, it was Vietnam, Algeria and the antiquated rules of their superiors that spurred students to action. These days, it is something far closer to home: unemployment and a hugely controversial government measure to try to combat it.

The prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, wants to force a measure through France's parliament designed to alleviate unemployment, paradoxically by making it easier to fire workers aged under 26 years. The measure would introduce a new form of work contract, le contrat de première embauche (first employment contract), which gives employers the right to let employees go after two years. The hope is it will spur employers to hire young people safe in the knowledge they are not obliged to retain them.

But the move has provoked a vigorous backlash. More than 400,000 people joined street demonstrations across France earlier this week, and by early yesterday about half of the country's 88 universities had been shut down by student sit-ins. Mr de Villepin's popularity has plummeted, and his refusal to back down could dent his ambitions for next year's presidential elections.

On Wednesday night, the cobbled streets around the Place de la Sorbonne rang out with muffled cries from the university's main lecture theatre as students, enraged that the government was ignoring their street protests, overran the faculty and barricaded themselves in. By midnight, the street was filling up with students shouting their support from outside and police riot vans. Sheets painted with slogans against the "CPE" were unfurled from the windows.

"Everyone should have the basic human right to work,"said Florian, who would not give his surname. "But there is no hope for young people in France. The contract is a joke, it protects no one. People are desperate. We feel we have the support of the people in the street but that the government just doesn't care."

Read the full Zmag story.

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