French students mobilize: "Sarkozy, you're screwed, the youth are in the streets!"

From our correspondent in Paris --

Something New – High School and College Students Protest the Pension “Reform” – Why?

French Students Mobilize: “Sarkozy, You’re Screwed, The Youth Are In the Streets!”

PARIS, October 26 – After several weeks of union marches against the bill (soon to be law) dismantling workers’ pension rights, beginning this month the youth have come into the streets in large numbers to join the fight. This frightened the conservative government of President Nicolas Sarkozy, which has responded by stepping up repression. Now, as the bourgeois media are trumpeting that the movement has run out of steam, as they have repeated every day for the last two weeks, the students have taken the initiative “to give the protests a second wind.”

We have reported on the large numbers of lycées (college prep high schools) on strike over the last two weeks. After first arguing that the pensions law was of no concern to the students, then pretending it was being passed for their benefit, and subsequently claiming the students were being manipulated, the government and the bourgeois press settled on their main line of attack: that many youth demonstrators were violent casseurs (smashers), breaking store windows and overturning cars. This propaganda reached a crescendo at the end of last week after a number of incidents in the Paris suburbs and in the center of Lyon.

Government ministers piously intone that they distinguish between the “good youth” who peacefully demonstrate and dance, and the casseurs, the bad youth who “invade” protests in order to engage in vandalism. The bourgeoisie is cynically exploiting class and racial tensions, which it has consciously and deliberately created. The sociologist Olivier Galland, remarked in an interview in Libération (21 October):

“The French education system was conceived with an obsession about choosing elites…. The problem is … whether the 700,000 youth in the professional [vocational] track – as opposed to the 70,000 on the college preparatory track – succeed in passing their exams or getting a vocational high school degree (bac pro). The system is one big machine of scholastic selection on academic criteria that correspond to social selection and the jobs hierarchy. The idea is to skim the cream to keep the best. The others are thrown into the second-rate tracks. Students are eliminated, and this generates fear of being eliminated among the youth.”

If numbers of youth from the impoverished public housing (cités) in the working-class and heavily immigrant suburbs surrounding Paris, Lyon and other major French cities lash out in rage by setting fire to trash cans, it is because they have been discarded by a racist ruling class which deprives them of jobs and keeps them cooped up in ghettoized projects which are periodically locked down by the police just like a prison.

In addition to playing off the “proper” French middle-class, overwhelmingly white students of the college prep lycées against the North African, black African and white working-class students of the vocational high schools, the French state has responded with blatant repression and outright police provocation. During the recent protests there have been a number of incidents in which cops have used their flash-ball riot guns on student demonstrators. In fact, it appears that these weapons are used only against youth “rioters.”

There have also been several documented cases of disguised police engaging in provoking violence. In one instance the perpetrator was wearing a CGT union badge. But when union marshals went after him and cornered him in a hallway, the CRS riot cops came to rescue their man. In another case, L’Humanité Dimanche (21 October) published a series of photos showing a well-built white man wearing a hoodie as he was smashing an automatic teller machine at a bank near the demonstration on October 12 with two professional photographers recording the scene. When a passer-by tries to stop the “smasher,” he is attacked by two other pseudo-casseurs of identical physique and similar clothes, one wielding a black riot club. (The thing about French riot cops is you can spot them from a distance, even without uniforms, as they almost all have the same build.)

Then during the October 21 national high school student demonstrations, police in both Paris and Lyon used unprecedented tactics of corralling hundreds of demonstrating students and youth in what amounted to giant holding pens, turning Place République in Paris and Place Bellcours in Lyon into open air prisons and keeping them there for hours to prevent them from demonstrating against the pension law. Those who tried to escape were are bombarded with tear gas. And when they were finally released, they were individually searched and those without proper papers were taken police stations for identification. This was presented as a successful action against casseurs, even though none of the corralled youth broke anything. At most some threw stones at the cops who were persecuting them. The scene was so surreal that one paper put an audio file on its web site of sounds inside the police pen so readers could have the you-are-there vicarious experience of being treated as a casseur without getting beaten up.

An obvious purpose of this blatant repression, aside from preventing the demonstration, was to intimidate youth. It’s part of the government’s “security” campaign over the summer against immigrants generally and in particular against Romany and French “travelers” (referred to in the bourgeois press as “gypsies”) whose camps have been broken up and several hundred of whom have been deported to East Europe. In addition, the government has engaged in massive arrests of student and youth demonstrators, detaining 2,257 and arresting 1,677 since October 12. The League for the Fourth International has called in our article/leaflet distributed in Paris for full citizenship rights for all immigrants, for an end to the deportation and persecution of Romany and travelers, and for everyone arrested in connection with the protests to be released and all charges against them dropped (see box below, translated from the L’Internationaliste leaflet).

For Unconditional Release of All Those Arrested in the Demonstrations – Drop the Charges!

Over the last several weeks, police have responded to high school demonstrations against the pension law with ferocious repression. Some thousands of youth have been detained and hundreds arrested on the accusation of being “casseurs” (smashers). Many of those detained are youth of immigrant origin from the suburbs, who are always the target of racist attacks by the cops, and who are referred to in the bourgeois press as the “other youth.” The real casseurs are the police, the armed fist of capital and professional anti-worker repressors. We say: police out of the unions! The workers movement must demand immediate and unconditional release of all the detained and dropping all charges. Down with the “Republican” racist repression!