When Streets Are Burning

Submitted by admin on Fri, 2006-06-23 09:07.

This topic will be treated in the decentralised gathering in Dijon.

Call for Meetings about recent popular uprisings in France and elsewhere...

After massive outbreaks of rioting and rebellion in the suburbs last automn following the death of two young boys chased by the police, this spring in France there was a long and widespread social and radical movement with mass support.

In January 2006, Dominique de Villepin presented a bill called the 'Equal Opportunities Act' in particular as a response to the autumn riots : this involved removing family allowances for the families of truant children, the possibility to fire workers without any justification, bringing back apprenticeships from the age of 14 etc.

After several months of across-the-board university occupation, street riots, direct action and economic disruption, the French government withdrew its plans, for the first time in years, in a context like this (remember 1995)

Apart from the withdrawal of planned lgislation aimed at making employment even more insecure, which unfortunately makes very little difference to capitalist oppression, the movement strenghthened peoples' determination, and opened a major breach through its collective modes of action and living.

One of the most encouraging and stimulating sides of the anti-CPE 'movement' was the echo of widely shared radical criticism of the structures of the State and the economy, of salaried employment as the norm, of patterns of consumption, of economic growth and liberal individualism.

Most universities and a large number of upper secondary schools were shut down for two months or longer. Protest action spread like wildfire from one town to another, with roads, postal sorting offices, airports, railway stations, building sites blocked; occupations took place in town halls, regional council headquarters, employment offices; there were acts of sabotage, with temporary employment agencies and political party offices taken to the movers, organised rioting and action by affinity groups , to redecorate and demolish during demonstrations, there were self-applied price cuts in shops; railway lines were cut, buildings damaged, political rallies were disrupted, and politicians' suits were a target....It was a long time since we witnessed so much support from the population; bonds of solidarity were tied with other groups, like undocumented foreigners, people on welfare, unemployed women and men, workers in the entertainment industry (les intermittents), and employees who went beyond the grudging support of the main trade unions. In many town, each day there were spontaneous demonstrations, nighttime demonstrations, some of which regularly ended in riots.

While the prime minister ranted on like a scratched LP repeating daily on television his refusal to withdraw the bill, people became angrier and angrier, and thousands of people in general meetings decided to call for the destruction of capitalism, an amnesty for the November rioters, abolition of borders, making stewards at demonstrations into direct action groups, and planting vegetable gardens in the grounds of universities. The French police were at a loss, and one of the main police trade unions even begged the government to give way and announced in public that it was afraid that ' massive hatred of the police could spread amongst young people ' and that the situation could become uncontrollable.

As the facts show, in comparison with other protests over the past few years, what is striking is just how far there was widespread agreement that struggles will only succeed through a diversity of direct actions, and to feel to what extent people recognised the need for a kind of 'illegalism'. It was unthinkable just to carry on going to classes and to express quietly and 'democratically' our mass disagreement on the streets, in authorised marches, and other occasions where we were kindly allowed to display the freedom to disagree. Inspite of pressure from all quarters, it was clear that, for the movement to continue, daily life had to stop, universities and high schools had to be blocaded, redecorated, and turned upside down. Its precisely this stoppage of daily life which brought about genuine change for a few months in our lives and which overturned many of the ways in which we relate to each other; it was the spice of the struggle; it made space and time for other alternatives to dismal enrolment in exploitation as wage-earners and consumers.

This has all left behind many tracks and new energies....

To see what to do next, we would like to invite to Dijon committed people and collectives to share experiences and to think about how to follow up the alliances and practices that have sprung up. We would also like to share with other European activist, specially from Germany and Greece, who have in recent months been at the heart of the same kind up social upheavals.

There will be talks, films, debates and exhibitions, and in addition, here are some topics we would like input on for debates and workshops:

  • the legacy of the movements of the unemployed at the end of the 90's, of the undocumented foreigners, the way in which the high school movement in 2005 triggered an uncompromising approach, or how people were struck by November's riots and their direct assault against the State.
  • inventiveness in the choice of actions, and how the decision to block the economy focused energies and made us stronger. For the future, we must think about how we can maintain, pass on and multiply these types of action.
  • the long-term struggles borne by part of the movement refusing not only the CPE but also salaried employment, and the logic of economic growth and education-consumption.
  • the way in which several months of occupation of universities gave the opportunity to develop self-organised collective living experiences. The importance of reclaiming spaces for the struggle....and the special kind of experiences and what happened in those spaces.
  • the tools for organisation, assembly, and decision making that people in struggle in different towns created... national coordinations, messy or very formalistic meetings, affinity groups, assemblies in struggle, the importance of the myth of majority voting to legitimise the struggle....
  • the strength and autonomy of the movement, as well as its persistent fragility in the face of trade union manipulation, media propaganda, or the 'end' decreed with some success by the government by the withdrawal of part of the bill.
  • relations with the media and how the movement acted without them, boycotted them or even targeted them, by being strong enough to avoid relying on them for visibility, and by showing up the media's role as a guardian of the social order and the liberal discourse.
  • by contrast, how important it was to massively use tools like Indymedia to arrange meetings, communicate about actions, and debate....
  • analysis of the links between the movement in the spring and the 'suburbs'; the very low level of involvement of activist circles in the November riots and the links of solidarity which did, however, manage to emerge sometimes. Alliances and conflicts during the movement between 'suburb youth' and 'students'; facing the reality of these divisions and how they are seldom overcome in the course of the struggle.
  • how this kind of social movement can break down the walls around the 'radicals'. Many activists were amazed to see how very marginal practices and ideas can suddenly find mass acceptance in a context of social crisis and struggle.
  • how some established activist groups either made a decisive contribution to the whirlwind or found themselves sidelined.
  • prospects for the time after the movement; how to create a lasting struggle and continue to coordinate, exchange practices and either prepare for or fan the flames of the next revolt.
  • support for the victims of repression.

Those are some ideas, and it's up to you to bring in new ones, and proposals for workshops.....in advance, if possible, so we can prepare and start drawing up a programme.

Some links towards texts resulting from the fights against the CPE and its world: