French rulers tell youth: ‘Act your age and shut up!’

Paris, France

After government employees, joined by railway workers and students, demonstrated here on May 22, police arrested nearly 100 young people, including minors as young as 14. The protesting youths were occupying the Arago High School (lycée) in Paris.

Before being taken into custody, some 60 of them were packed like cattle in a police van for more than four hours. They were not allowed to notify their relatives, drink or use the toilet. These arrests, which lasted for two days, were traumatic for the adolescents and distressing for their families.

After that ordeal, several of these young people, handcuffed as if they were dire threats to society, went before a judge.

What crime had these young rebels committed? They had decided — and had the courage — to oppose the neoliberal “reform” of the education sector that French President Emmanuel Macron wants to impose. They had done no damage other than break one window.

One of them said: “I was shocked by the brutality of the police and the conditions of detention. They wanted to make us an example to stop young people from mobilizing, but I will continue to organize even more.”

For months, left-wing student unions have been asserting their refusal to see education turned into a commodity. While the French educational system has been predominantly public and higher education courses have been almost free of charge until recently, tuition fees have been increasing. Until a recent change in the law, university admission was guaranteed to everyone who passed the baccalaureate [a test given at the end of high school].

The students say no to the fact that more and more young people from poor families are barred by lack of money from studying and are condemned to unemployment. Many teachers are also mobilizing. All are calling for more resources for education, which the government-imposed austerity is suffocating.

Whatever you think of President Macron, whatever adjective you apply to a government that acts like this, a regime that attacks its youth by acting so badly is obviously losing control of itself as well as of the situation. Not a day goes by in France without the government’s repression of social anger.

Should we get used to seeing the CRS [specialized police units for suppressing crowds] invade university campuses, which are boiling with indignation, and bludgeon resisting students? Must we passively sit by as an authoritarian hierarchy at the ministerial level overturns the decisions of teacher assemblies and administrative personnel in struggle? If we do that, we might as well give up the little democratic space that capitalist society concedes!

Again and again, the only thing tolerated is the comedy of bourgeois democracy — with its own limitations however. In the Odeon Theater in Paris (famous for having been occupied by students during the May 1968 general strike), a show took place on May 7 to commemorate the events of 50 years ago.

Everything went according to plan … until the true (today’s!) students suddenly burst into the auditorium and took the initiative to speak up and explain to the audience the reasons for their ongoing protests. The theater management panicked and called the police, who, in an unpopular move, used force to make the young “troublemakers” leave the theater.

Something is going wrong in the kingdom of Macron. Perhaps that something is a people that refuses the fate he plans for them. A people who are slowly becoming aware that the dismantling of public utilities is not progress, that the “reforms” promoted by the media on behalf of big finance are entirely destructive. A people who are painfully learning how to get back on their feet to walk again.

All this will take time. But it is clear that many of us will no longer go along with his plans.

Minister of the Interior Gérard Collomb has no doubt understood this. He announced on May 27: “If we want to keep the right to demonstrate tomorrow, which is a fundamental right, people who wish to express their opinion must also oppose the ‘breakers.’ They cannot by their passivity allow themselves to become accomplices to what is happening [the resulting harm].”

He must consider it a beautiful social project to make the right to demonstrate in France conditional on transforming all the “ordinary demonstrators,” as he calls them, into police officers!

Herrera is a Marxist economist, a researcher at the Centre National Recherche Scientifique, who works at the Centre d’Économie de la Sorbonne, Paris. WW staff translated this article.

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