Rebellion exposes deep crisis
Published Nov 10, 2005 12:46 AM
Nov. 7—A wave of youth rebellions against police
harassment and brutality in the mostly immigrant suburbs of major French cities
has created a political and social crisis in France that can be felt throughout
The rebellions put on the front burner the relations
between imperialist governments and the mostly working-class population who have
immigrated from former colonies. These struggles cry out against racism,
xenophobia, high unemployment and a lack of future for the youth, exacerbated in
this case by the rightist government in power in Paris.
Photos from France
show burning cars, schools, buses; not shown by the U.S. media are scenes of
banks, police stations and other state institutions that have been targets of
young people’s anger.
The struggle burst into the open on Oct. 27
after two youths, one of Mauritanian origin, the other Tunisian, were
electrocuted when they tried to hide from police in an electric
At first the protests were concentrated in poor, working-class
suburbs northeast of Paris, where most residents are French-born children of
North African immigrants. By Nov. 6, however, they had spread widely—to
Lille in the north, Rennes in the west, Dijon in the east and Marseille in the
The intensity of the attacks is new and still growing, with 1,300
cars, trucks and buses being burned as of Saturday night, Nov. 5-6, and 1,406
more on Nov. 6-7. The Nov. 3 Le Monde pointed out, however, that 28,000 cars and
trucks have been burned since Jan. 1. Police claim they have had 37 injuries
Youths interviewed on French television also pointed
to factors sustaining the protests. Two days after the rebellions started, some
racist tossed a teargas grenade into a mosque filled with people who had come to
pray at the end of the day’s Ramadan fast.
The youths also blamed
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who on an inspection tour of one of the
suburbs said publicly that the protesters were “scum” who had to be
“pressure-hosed from their communities” before they spread their
One Muslim man, although he brought his family to
a “peace” march sponsored by Sarkozy’s party, told the French
newspaper Libération, “Pressure hoses, isn’t that how they
clean shit off dogs?”
The youth blame Sarkozy for the police
harassment that weighs on them. Police in France can legally demand that people
show their identification cards and hold people at the precinct for four hours
to verify their ID and check for warrants. This ID check is almost always
directed against youths of North African and African origin, who say that it
shows the police and the French state do not respect their rights.
government campaign against head scarves worn by Muslim women in public places
and the roundup and massive deportations of West African immigrants this year
also left a deep residue of bitterness among these youths and their
Most North African communities in France, where much housing is
public, contain a substantial number of immigrants who are established citizens
and a much smaller number born in France. Whether from North or sub-Saharan
Africa, they are generally Muslim. Islam has as many practicing members as
Catholicism in France.
At an official rate
of 10 percent, unemployment is high in France, and much higher still among
youths in these immigrant working-class suburbs. The right-wing government has
cut funds for social services, education—which is financed on a national
level—public transportation, and grants to community centers and special
programs for the youth.
As the youths pointed out over and over in their
interviews, no matter how well educated they are or how high their school marks,
if they have a Muslim name the only job they can get is to be a porter at the
While services and public expenses devoted to the needs of poor
and working people have been cut, taxes on the rich and on dividends have been
slashed. Pensions and wages are under attack.
For example, the public
transportation workers in Marseille, a city where the working class is
thoroughly multinational, were out on strike for 33 days. Rather than settling,
the national government passed a law making the strike illegal and forcing the
workers back. This is a big step to the right for France.
On Nov. 6
President Jacques Chirac finally spoke out after a meeting of his domestic
Security Council. With Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin at his side, Chirac
said that the “absolute priority of his government was to reestablish law
and order.” Solving the problems of the suburbs can wait, he
De Villepin announced a few minutes later that he was going to make
some proposals for equal opportunity but, more importantly, he wanted people
arrested and tried immediately. Already 160 of those arrested during the last 10
days have been tried and 20 have been imprisoned.
Most left and
workers’ parties have criticized the rightist government, and especially
Sarkozy, for provoking the rebellions. They have demanded more funds for social
services and more respect for people’s rights in the affected
According to the Nov. 5 daily L’Humanité, the
French Communist Party (PCF) held a demonstration in front of the Hotel Matignon
Nov. 4 to blame the government for not responding to the people’s need for
justice and respect.
As of Nov. 8, however, there have been no actions
reported by unions or other mass organizations in open solidarity with the
youths from the immigrant communities.
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