the Disillusioned kid: Smash precarity
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Monday, March 20, 2006

Smash precarity

While I and a few thousand others were sauntering around London in protest against the occupation of Iraq on Saturday, in France more than one million people took to the streets in protest against the CPE (Contrat Première Embauche, or First Employment Contract) law which is to come into effect in April. Actions against this piece of legislation have exploded over the last six weeks or so. Railways have been blockaded, airports disrupted, roads blocked and universities occupied. In Paris, the Sorbonne university was occupied by students, drawing comparisons with the events of May 1968 which brought France to the brink of revolution.

The CPE was ostensibly introduced to tackle youth unemployment, but proposes to do this by making it easier for employers to sack young employees. Under the new law, any worker under 26 will be subject to a two year probationary period during which they can be fired without reason. A similar law (Contrat Nouvelle Embauche or CNE) was passed last August which applied only to firms with less than 20 paid employees. Apparently this has already been subject to all the kinds of abuses you'd expect. The anger felt towards the CPE can't have been helped by the fact that that it was introduced with minimal democratic debate or discussion.

The indignation which the CPE has generated should hardly be surprising and appears to be wide spread. According to one poll by the right-leaning Le Express, 69% of French people say that the demonstrations are justified, while another published in Libération suggests that some 80% of 15-24 year olds oppose the law. Even Sharon Stone has come out against the new law. Critics within the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire or UMP) have reportedly dubbed the CPE the Comment Perdre une Election, "How To Lose an Election". In several instances the anger engendered by the legislation has boiled over into violence, as happened after Saturday's demo, although eyewitnesses and even this report, from that bastion of radical journalism the Sunday Times, suggest that the clashes were largely a consequence of police provocation.

The big question, of course, is what happens next. If this were the UK, things would now die down until the next national demonstration. Indeed, the Times asserts that French PM Dominique de Villepin "is calculating that the protests will run out of steam and hopeful that the 'silent majority' are behind his plan." However, this being France and all, the burdgeoning anti-CPE movement still has a few tricks up its sleeve. High school students are organising a day of action against the law next Thursday, while union leaders have called a general strike for Tuesday March 28. It goes without saying this isn't just about a new law. It's about the arrogance of government, the exigencies of capitalism, the increasing precarity of daily life and resistance to all of the above. Which is why, this ain't over yet. Not by a long shot.

You can follow developing events at the Libcom.org blog which is helpfully translating material into English.

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