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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 Western Europe.

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 substation.

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 south.

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 throughout France.

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 “gangrene.”

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.

The 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 parents.

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.

High unemployment

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 airport.

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 said.

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 communities.

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.