Youth mobilize against Macron’s scorn

27 March 2023 by Maxime Perriot

One week after the French government used article 49,3 of the Constitution to impose its reform of the retirement age thus short-circuiting the parliament, popular mobilization has intensified and seen an important increase in the number of younger people joining the movement. The situation is tense and demands go well beyond the context of retirement pensions.

 Since the application of article 49,3, the movement has become harder more determined and has grown in spite of police violence

After two months of exceptionally intense social agitation against a reform of the pension system rejected by 70% of the French people and 90% of working population, Emmanuel Macron and his government scornfully decided to use article 49,3 of the Constitution, which permits the foregoing of a vote at the National Assembly, thus committing the government’s responsibility. The following a motion of censure tabled by the opposition, the minority government was defeated by only nine votes, thanks to the votes of a majority of deputies from the deeply divided right-wing party Les Républicains (19 deputies from Les Républicains voted in favour and 42 voted against), which allowed the reform bill to pass. The text must now be examined by the Constitutional Council, which could censure it ruling that the “sincerity of the debates” had not been respected.

A Constitutional Council that is deeply politized and right-wing oriented cannot be counted upon. The voice of the streets must make itself heard, and this is what is occurring. Faced with the scornful application of 49,3 the social movement has hardened. It has evolved. Since Thursday 16 March, blockades have appeared throughout France (roads, incinerators, refineries) and several high schools and universities have also been blocked, notably the Assas law faculty, which is remarkable since this institution has a right-wing reputation and has little experience of blockades and mobilization. Paris has seen spontaneous demos every night of the week resulting in unacceptable police violence that recalls the police violence used against the Yellow Jacket movement. Several hundred people have been taken into custody, including uninvolved passers by, joggers, people on their way home from work, who were not participating in the rallies. Clearly, the government and Macron are scared and have decided to scare the demonstrators in order to convince as many people as possible to stay home rather than exercise their democratic rights as citizens to demonstrate. Many journalists have been brutalized by the police. Such violence and arbitrary arrests have been exposed by Amnesty International and by the defendant of Rights. Macron also reckons that increased deterioration of private and public property will tarnish the image of protesters.

 On Thursday 23 March exceptional mobilization with massive youth participation

The first day of mobilization at the call by the unions since the use of 49,3 was held this Thursday 23 March. It was the most massive yet, also the most determined and included the biggest youth participation since the beginning of the movement.

According to the CGT (France’s biggest trade union and active organizer of the social movement) estimation, some 3.5 million people mobilized in France, as many as on 7 March, which had been the most massive rally against the pension scheme reform. The Ministry for the Interior claimed that no more than 1.03 million demonstrators marched in the whole of France.

In Paris mobilization was remarkable, by far the strongest participation since 19 January with 800,000 people according to the CGT and 119,000 according to the Ministry of the Interior. Mobilization were also important, in Lyon (55,000 protesters according to CGT), Brest (40,000), Montpellier (40,000) or Rouen (14,800).

In Paris, the number of young protesters was much higher than in previous mobilizations. Student unions said some 500,000 students took part. The new impetus given by youth could be felt in the Parisian march, where the atmosphere was more intense than on previous occasions. Many high school and university students were noisily present, with their determination and festive spirit. Thus youth mobilization has increased the momentum to the social movement. The anger generated by Emmanuel Macron’s scornful dismissal of democracy and his people gives it insurrectional colours that may be reminiscent of the Yellow Jackets’ movement (though they are obviously different).The situation is escaping Macron, his government and police forces, that respond with an unheard-of level of violence.

The next day of mobilization at the call of the unions is to be Tuesday 28 March, one more step towards the government’s stepping back and the construction of a popular political movement that goes well beyond the context of pension reform.

Meanwhile on Saturday 25 March a large-scale demo against retention basins took place in Charente Maritime. Demonstrators protested against a project of big water reservoirs that favour high intensity agriculture to the detriment of the environment. Police violence was rife. Their intention was to warn the population of what is to come if they have the audacity to demonstrate.
Macron and his government no longer set the agendas.

The author is thankful to Christine Pagnoulle, Pablo Laixhay and Éric Toussaint for their comments.

Translation : Christine Pagnoulle et Mike Krolikowski.

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