Writers and Intellectuals Support ‘The Street Action’ Against the Labour Bill in France

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An appeal by Pierre Alferi (writer), Jérome Baschet (historian), Daniel Colson (sociologist), Daniel Denevert (artisan), Stéphanie Eligert (writer), Jacques Fradin (philosopher), Eric Hazan (publisher), Nicolas Klotz (filmmaker), Frédéric Lordon (economist), Pierre Marcelle (journalist), Karine Parrot (jurist), Elisabeth Perceval (screenwriter), Serge Quadruppani (writer).

The media tell us that the Labour Bill [1] is under threat from a movement among the youth. They speculate on what state this movement is in: is it on the rise, or is it already starting to peter out? They are getting stuck in impassioned arguments over how to interpret the police’s figures. But that isn’t how we see things. We are not students or high-school kids any more — that’s long in the past, and some of us have already reached a venerable old age. We think that while the Labour Bill was certainly the trigger for what is now simmering in France, fundamentally the bill only accounts for a small part of this. And insisting that this is a ‘youth’ movement is part of a strategy for suffocating it – to be concluded, at the key moment, with the holidays and the usual retreats by the unions.

‘We can’t make omelettes without breaking the banks’, the high-schoolers pluckily write on the smashed-in windows of the bank branches. What is now being expressed in slogans, marches, tags, occupations, and clashes with the police, is something that concerns the general situation in the country. What is being expressed, here, is a diffuse sense of being fed up, a shared anger, a revolt that crosses generational divides. Never in our lives have we lived under such a discredited, cynical government, so unable to deal with the challenges of the present. Never has it seemed so crazy to think that a change of ruling party could do anything to change our lot. Never has the prospect of a presidential election ever seemed so absurd, grotesque and, to be frank, revolting. Never has the struggle between the pretenders to electoral victory offered a more ridiculous spectacle.

The social, economic, ecological disaster — in a word, the crisis of civilisation — we are going through will not find any solution in classic politics. So the question posed to the movement now underway is not that of the El Khomri bill [i.e. the Labour Bill, named after Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri] but rather the question of a revolt. The government and the prevalent regime will only be brought down by the combination of the youth movement and a union movement of workers and public sector employees. And that can only be the deed of a vast popular movement. This will not be without violence, and our movement must have a strategy. The ferocity of the police deployment to shut down an open movement assembly at Tolbiac [Faculty in Paris] on Thursday 17 March tells us enough already about how the government is losing its cool faced with unexpected combinations — the very combinations that we must therefore work for.

In order to break out of the limits imposed by the various different bureaucracies, the important coming dates are 24 and above all the 31 March. The proposal for this latter date must be to remain in the streets and occupy the public squares. But we have learned, these last few years, that square occupations do not alone suffice to block the institutions’ functioning. The risk with such occupations is that they might settle for continuing to exist, waiting either to be cleared out or to become exhausted. In our view, therefore, they should instead serve as a base from which to take over the places from which the ‘representatives of the people’ claim to be able to govern — or, on occasion, bludgeon — the people. Town halls, councils, so-called assemblies at the regional or national scale; all of them deserve to be invaded, taken over, besieged or blockaded. We have to aim at the organised blockade of political power. So it is crucial, in these moments, that we publically insist that it is indeed well-justified to take recourse to street action. We have written this short text, therefore, to tell the youth that we are with them, that we will be with them — in the streets or in spirit — and that no manoeuvre seeking to isolate them will succeed in splitting us from them. The youth must feel free to do anything they think needs trying. We will support them. In no time at all, we’ll see you in the streets.

by Pierre Alferi (writer), Jérome Baschet (historian), Daniel Colson (sociologist), Daniel Denevert (artisan), Stéphanie Eligert (writer), Jacques Fradin (philosopher), Eric Hazan (publisher), Nicolas Klotz (filmmaker), Frédéric Lordon (economist), Pierre Marcelle (journalist), Karine Parrot (jurist), Elisabeth Perceval (screenwriter), Serge Quadruppani (writer).

This text was published in French at lundi.am and translated by David Broder.

[1] The Labour Bill currently being introduced by the Socialist Party government seeks to undermine the 35-hour working week, make it easier to lay off workers, and weaken collective bargaining agreements. This has led to widespread youth and union protests, also as a response to the police brutalisation of demonstrators.

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