République Absurd Récit of the Spring 2016 French Uprising

by Asja Crise

Republique AbsurdThe following account, necessarily incomplete and perhaps also imprecise in places, will attempt to describe the recent struggles in France as they developed over the course of four months, from late February to the middle of June. It is based both on translations of material at the time and first-hand experiences. These struggles understood themselves as challenging not only the “labor law [loi du travail]” handed down by the Socialist government of Manuel Valls and François Hollande, but also—as one key slogan had it—“against its world,” that is, the conditions that have made it possible but that are also left wide open in the slogan. Is this world the capitalist one? The “neoliberal” one? That of E.U.-imposed austerity? Or just that of a routinely treacherous Socialist government? And then there is the more radical, let’s say constructive, slogan that circulated among younger demonstrators, borrowed from the title of the Parisian hip-hop group PNL’s hit the previous summer: le monde ou rien, the world or nothing. While I will proceed more or less chronologically, there are a couple of points to make here at the beginning. I choose to start with a short account of the November 13th attacks aftermath and the context of the state of emergency, leading up to the beginning of mobilizations in late February and March, spearheaded by highschoolers. This account moreover will focus on the Paris metropolitan area, where I was living, with minimal reference to other cities.

Accounts of the different phases of the struggle typically break down like this, as the movement mutates from month to month: March is the month of high school mobilization (picking up from last year’s movement against a different version of the law, this one proposed by Emmanuel Macron, the Economics minister), while April saw the occupation of République by the so-called Nuit Debout movement and May was the month of strikes and blockades, as the key French labor union, the CGT—traditionally aligned with the French Communist Party—found itself forced to enter the fray, in part from pressure from its own restive rank-and-file. Throughout this sequence, we encounter the notorious casseur (“wrecker”) who is an entirely ambiguous figure within the movement (that’s the point). The hooded proletarian—high school student? radicalized union rank-and-file? youth from the suburban housing projects, eager to fight the police? “anarchist” or “autonomist” militants?—is targeted and denounced by all the respectable actors of the movement, from Socialist ministers to the CGT leadership, and even by voices on the “revolutionary” Left. At the same time, the figure operates as a unifying point of identification for the movement itself: “we are all casseurs” was a chant often heard in demonstrations, in particular during pitched battles with police.

November 13th aftermath

After the attacks in Paris on November 13th, Socialist President François Hollande declares war and the entire French political class accepts this statement.1 On November 14th, the “war” takes on a new name: a state of emergency, notably allowing cops to carry guns off-duty and prohibiting protests, which has been repeatedly extended since. War as state of emergency. But against who? Where?

In the months following, the first occupations of République, a central Parisian square north of the Seine, were split: between those assembling against the state of emergency and those assembling in defiance of ISIS, of fear, some sliding into both. French identity and specifically the identity of French youth is at stake. Young mostly white professional citoyens call to “occupy” café terraces immediately after the attacks: “A football stadium, a concert hall, a restaurant terrace…Striking us, they attacked what we wear, what we represent, what we love and what we hold most dear. In other words, they targeted the Republic.” Meanwhile racialized stop and searches in the suburbs and working class neighborhoods increase exponentially.

The last state of emergency was in the winter of 2005. The banlieues burned after the “assassinations” of Zyed and Bouna on October 27th of that year (who now have a street named after them in commemoration), and it is to their geography that the declaration applied. It’s important to note that the last state of emergency applicable to French territories before 2005 was in 1955, during the Algerian war, when the FLN launched their offensive. That state of emergency regularly haunted the civil war until 1963. During the struggle against the loi du travail, another haunting remnant from the Algerian war would be used: the 49.3 decree that bypasses the need for majority support in parliament.2

The only straightforward use of the state of emergency’s prohibition on demonstrations was during these first weeks of November (and, later, the threatened June 23rd protest, but without similar legal measures taken): around 40 people received summons in their homes after a pro-migrant struggle, with fines totalling thousands of euros. Then, after demonstrations in anticipation of the November 29th United Nation Conference on Climate Change (COP21), 317 people were put in custody. This mass arrest has more recent precedents: for example, during the movement around the death of Rémi Fraisse in October 2014, killed by police in a protest against the airport project in Notre-Dame-Des-Landes.

Throughout the entire French territory more than 2200 police raids were carried out and accompanied by 300 house arrests before the COP21. Four mosques were closed for their supposed radicalization. They even reassured us that the state of emergency is effective against petty crime: “an opportunity to clean beyond what we are supposed to do.” Drug dealers and activists are largely the subjects of these raids.

The Struggle Begins

On February 17, 2006, the initial proposal for the law is unveiled in Le Parisien. This version of the law contains the especially controversial change to the 35-hour work week, which will be dropped in the final version. On February 19th, an online petition against the proposed law is launched and signed by over a million people in two weeks. March 9th will be the first union-called nationwide day of action. But highschoolers had been self-organizing since the government announced the reforms, following an initial call by L’Union Nationale des Étudiants de France (UNEF). For the first three weeks of March, highschoolers led constant wild demos and confrontations with police both on the national days of action and outside of them. They picked up a time and place from the demonstrations against Macron’s proposed version of the labor law a year before: meeting at 11am before the afternoon union-called processions. These calls were loosely co-ordinated by MILI, the Mouvement Inter Luttes Indépendant (Independent Joint Struggles Movement), a just-out-of highschool group of kids that came together to block the expulsion of one of their friends in 2013 due to her immigration status (then called Mouvement Inter Lycées Indépendent). Subsequent highschooler assemblies were held, at first from mostly within Paris, but extending quickly to the banlieues, where teachers were also striking (for example, at Lycée Mozart.)

University students soon joined the movement, and there were attempted occupations of universities—such as the attempted March 16th occupation of Tolbiac (Paris 7) after the second national mobilization (described as the most joyous in years, given the strong highschooler presence). It is illegal to be on campus when it is closed for a strike day, even for a “peaceful general assembly.” The university director calls the police in the first half-hour on the 100 who have barricaded themselves inside. Undercovers are everywhere, with 500 riot cops, and twenty vans or so. Many highschoolers show up late but just in time to witness the brutal police response against the occupiers as they escape. Building off of this early momentum, highschoolers joined with the university students and “autonomists” on a demo for the 22nd, one of the first during which the kettling police tactic was most clearly demonstrated.

For the first time, the autonomous section of the union processions go to the head of the demonstrations, la tête, rather than remaining in the rear. Youth unemployment had not been solved by Hollande’s presidency (one of his main platforms), but had increased. The law’s promise of “more jobs,” shit jobs and workfare, was categorically rejected by unionized and non-unionized youth alike. The unions both needed “the youth” to take the head, to be the face of Hollande’s ruin, but to be a “good” quiet youth—not like the students of Lycée Bergson on March 25th.

Highschools, often in solidarity with striking teachers, were blockading their school sites throughout France: fires, trash cans, whatever. These blockades brought out police and riot cops. On March 24th, a video went viral of a cop, later charged, violently striking a young black male student outside of a blockaded Lycée Bergson. The next morning, students rolled up ready, for the most part masked and hooded. Waiting outside the school, speeches were made by students standing on the fence. Teachers looked on both from inside the school and alongside their students. Each new group of kids, both girls and boys, that chose not to go to school was cheered and swarmed when they ran up to the crowd. The initial group of around 100-200 took off down the hill from Buttes Chaumont park at a fast, music thumping, pace. The first stop was a prefecture near the canal that was modestly desecrated. Cops looked on bemused after the trash piled up outside, clearing away barricades, and a city cleaner was already scrubbing away the graffiti. The group stormed back up the hill and attacked a second prefecture nearer to the highschool this time armed with rocks, flares, metal pipes, a shovel. Then a nearby supermarket was looted “for the migrants,” complete with chocolate Easter eggs.

Throughout this month, the university is still a point of meaningful meeting: assemblies form across the different Paris campuses. Universities heat up elsewhere too: for example, there is a failed Bordeaux occupation that escalated too quickly and was not held for long at all. In the assemblies, high school students, militants, college students, more radical unionists are meeting together. There is a lot of discussion about what‘s new about this struggle given the state of emergency and socialist presidency but also what’s familiar—many present in the assemblies were involved in the anti-CPE struggles and come prepared to offer experiences : what is the limit of a movement that organizes itself around the withdrawal of a law? Can it become more generalized?

Nuit Debout: Rêve générale

March 31st was the third major day of union-called protests, 200 across France, and was to be the second largest turnout of the social movement. Earlier in the day, 50 high schools in Paris were blockaded, only 20 of which had closed to respect the strike day. Some tentative rail and métro strikes had also begun, as well as ongoing Air France internal company disputes. During the union-called mobilization, blissfully vengeful despite the rain—with a million in Paris, double the national numbers of March 9th, not matched again until the “battle” of June 14th—flyers were handed out not to go home after, but to go to République instead. The autonomist and highschooler slogan “Paris debout, soulève toi!” (“Paris, get up, rise up”) was appropriated: Nuit Debout. It is called by the editors of a leftist journal, Fakir, whose slogan is “angry with everybody, or almost.” Indeed, the editors maintained informal ties to the Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Parti de Gauche (Left Party).3

So began the extension of the month of March into April. The first night, with a crowd of mostly white middle-class student types responding to the Nuit Debout pseudo-king of the coming community, Spinozist-economist Frédéric Lordon, and a free screening of Merci Patron! (2016) by Fakir founder François Ruffin, a Michael Moore-style agit-documentary focusing on the outsourcing of French jobs and harpooning the luxury magnate Bernard Arnault, that ended up pulling a wider crowd. Lordon and Ruffin had organized a meeting February 23rd at the Bourse du Travail called “How to make them scared” around the latter’s film. This established the juxtaposition between the two different mobilizations, with different forms, different objectives and different actors. Nuit Debout’s beginnings were marked by the desire to swallow these existing currents into its own formless form—“je suis Nuit Debout,” without any demands—a desire ultimately resisted by many of those participating, who each brought very specific demands related to either a specific struggle, experience of immiseration or wingnut platform.

One striking thing about the first days of the still small assemblies in early April was declaring the square from the get-go a cop-free zone. Two or three patrolling cops looked on. Signs were immediately drawn up that police were not welcome there—and indeed, they were eventually rarely directly present on the square during the legally ordained hours of Nuit Debout. Basically, the occupation followed the city ordinance to be out by 1 am, a rule violently enforced many times. At the beginning, the square was still marked as a memorial as well as a stronghold of the state of emergency with patrols and police vans already surrounding the nearby area; the Nuit Debout movement was to wrench it from the state and the memory of most frequenting the area over the next month and a half. The selfies in front of the square’s central statue were much fewer, unless it was to capture those dancing on top. The nearby bars and restaurants that had been attacked re-opened. Police presence around the square did increase however with the beginning of Nuit Debout. They filled up a key road leading into Belleville, posting up outside some of the bars that would be frequented to take a break from the square, and that would be the target of molotov cocktails on more riotous nights (with teargas making its way through the métro line, implicating even those who wished not to be.) For these months no one seemed concerned anymore, not even the media, about the life of the memorial (as compared to the “shocking” illegal COP21 riot wreckage of the square.)

A multiplicity opened up in the square: held down primarily by the springing up of multiple “commissions” (for example, political economy, led mostly by bit-coin types without any “critique“, French-African relations, organizational concerns etc.) that take place simultaneously alongside a “free parole” general assembly with participation by everyone from your garden wingnut to striking railworkers. Many women frequenting the square report instances of harassment; a non-mixte4 commission is set up both on site and a Marxist feminist non-mixte group begins to meet at the nearby Bourse du Travail (who would also form their own bloc and chants during the demos). The tents, that grew in efficiency over the month, sprung up around 6pm, but people began to gather earlier to talk or have a lunch break. Different groups set up tables or take up space, infoshops, the MILI kids, Kurds, Palestinians, passing taxi drivers honked in support, Kangaroo delivery bikers just hung out, ravers had rave-offs etc. It’s important to note that there had been a tent for months before of those who had been evicted from social housing, part of Paris’ general whitewashing and property boom in gear for Olympic bids and the “Greater Paris” expansion project. This tent, and its cause, was integrated into the larger encampment. A cantine was set up with pay what you can to mixed reviews—some nearby Syrian refugee families huddling on the street corner would periodically prefer something else. A radio station that featured all types, even visiting students on rent strike in London. Homeless people (those without fixed domiciles) also started to use Nuit Debout as a resource and set up an “organizing” tent themselves—yet one they were not able to sleep in overnight. Migrants held down nearby encampments the best they could from police evictions where they could actually sleep overnight and some nights joined in the momentum, with marches going back and forth from the square. One early dispute interior to the square is whether merguez sausage stands should be permitted. Periodically an inflatable projector screen was set up, bringing ZAD, Black Panther films etc to the square. But the night that attracted the most people was brought by the symphony, Dvorak, while boxers duked it out for another crowd. All under a full moon.

Meanwhile blockades of highschools continue in Paris and the banlieue, as do the wild demos from Nation with or without a national day of action. On April 5th, another union-called protest, there are seven smaller demos in one day, starting with highschool blockades. The morning starts with burning barricades at Lycée Levallois-Perret. There are around 1500 highschool students in the demo from Nation and then many wild demos after the major union one, ending in République around 4 am where people are trying to decide on a plan of action for the threatened eviction that doesn’t go through. On April 8th, there were 38 arrests across the Île-de-France area of highschool students, 22 of which were in the suburb 93, Seine-Saint-Denis (for throwing shit, “incitation to riot.”) A burned car, trashcans on fire, flashballs and gas used by police—some students are wounded. There are other highschool blockades repressed by police on this day across France, for instance in Montpellier.

Then, a key night of this month and the tension at Nuit Debout is the “apéro chez Valls”—drinks at Prime Minister Vall’s place—the evening of April 9th, after another day of national mobilization of around 100,000 in Paris. It is suggested by someone during the assembly and is the largest wildest wild demo since the anti-CPE movement in 2006, with nearly 2,000 participants in search of the minister’s home (vaguely). Afterwards, traffic around République is blocked off, with cars transformed into bonfires. It’s clear on the square that there will be the old tension between the “citoyen” and “casseur”, but to a lesser degree than in previous movements—with Nuit Debout being the shared terrain of both subjects and a real faith lost in representational politics that finds sympathy in the «emotive» part of émeute, i.e. riot or revolt. The weeks that follow there is a wild demo almost every night from République, chants “Manif Sauvage!” circling the square to pick up those curious, most often to make noise outside a prefect or just fuck with cops in the Marais, Paris’ luxury neighborhood just below République. April 14th, notably, the police really crack down on the high school wild demos preceding union marches. Many are detained that morning, leaving the head of the procession feeling empty until they joined up again. These next days, wild demos continue to be launched from République and different blockades of fast food restaurants kick off, supported too by highschoolers.

April 20th there is a key assembly organized by Fakir, Lordon and Ruffin at the Bourse du Travail.5 Here, the “no demands” character of Nuit Debout—attached to the free space of parole, one without a human mic—was turned into a “how to general strike” with different union members and students present, Lordon as a provocateur of the unionists and Ruffin, a little bit pedantic, specifying that only concrete proposals, no abstract generalizations—to be given in one minute!— would be heard (while talking at length himself.) Anyone who started going on whimsically about Global Debout, for example, was booed and hissed. This was about France. The room, filled to the brim with probably 200 persons, was overwhelmingly white, more so than the square had become—a true “sieving” of those interested in the “concrete” of Nuit Debout’s “abstract” multiplicity? No highschoolers were present, only a college student union leader spoke for “the youth.”

April 21st, there is a RATP bus blockade in Saint-Denis in the morning and a gathering between students, railworkers, near Gare d’Austerlitz and the Salpétrière. On the nights of April 21st and 22nd, a squatted old high school building in the 19th is opened for 400 migrants with the support of Nuit Debout (at least, a sign is posted on the door; but those who helped are not “official” or limited to Nuit Debout.) They will hold the occupation until May 4th where for the first time it is the police prefecture itself, not the city, who command the eviction (perhaps because of Nuit Debout links). Other short-lived occupations “off the square” occur during these days, including that of the Théâtre de l’Odéon and the Comédie Française; led by those working in the arts and receiving threatened state-funding. At this point we can also recall that during these months there are Calais hunger strikes as the main camp near the channel tunnel is decimated by riot cops. Earlier in the year there had been mobilizations there, heavily repressed, with the state eager to set up these new biometric shipping containers that can only house half of the Calais migrant encampment.

April 28th, the 59th of March, there is an attempted blockade of Porte de Gennevilliers in the morning, with many arrests, before another national demo, the fourth so far, that ends in Paris’ Nation where the tear-gas stone-fights with cops are best. During the main protest, we see the police tactic developing of splitting the non-unionized head of procession from the unions, leaving it up to them whether to continue on the same path or not (like the following demo on May 1st where mass kettling was most clearly utilized, although permeable despite Hausmann›s best efforts.) The unions every time decided to go with the head, even if the Service d’Ordre of the CGT keep fleeing protesters from moving up by linking arms.6 All the stones, gathered at Gare d’Austerlitz, are used up at Nation before the attempted all-night occupation at République that is flyered and planned for later: #RamèneTaPlanche, bring your plank of wood, #OnOccupeMieuxQueÇa, We Occupy Better Than That, #OnReste, we stay. There’s little generalized support of the occupation, perhaps due to the lack of a convincing proposal at the general assembly. Or as one commenter remarked, people are not socially desperate enough yet to stay the night, unlike in Spain. The square, along with its beautiful constructed Situ hacienda, is violently evicted by the police. Those huddled inside the hacienda or fortress are gassed out with nerve gas, one notch up from teargas. Once the hacienda is destroyed, those who haven’t escaped are directly beat up by the cops with many severely wounded. The extensive violence was reportedly attributed to one cop falling into a coma from earlier in the day.

An “occupation reconductible”, at least with Nuit Debout as a base, making a fortified little city in the militarized city, proves harder than that of the rolling, general strike and economic blockade, which comes full force in May (with its own limited temporality.) Some observe that the General Confederation of Labor (CGT) leader Philippe Martinez must have felt compelled to assume a radical line after the April 28 CGT congress in order to close the gap between the union’s leadership and its radicalized base, some of which can be seen joining the autonomous groups in demos (like rail and postal workers.)

Grève, blocage...

The very beginning of May in Paris was marked by a kettled May Day demo, children and elderly gassed with the rest of the non-unionized protesters celebrating. The state also began its repression against the first key actors of the movement: 42 highschoolers were summoned May 2nd, with 13 arrests from Lycée Léonard de Vinci (in the suburban 92). Some of their parents’ homes were even raided. One highschooler from Lycée Voltaire (Paris) risks 15 years in prison; similar charges for one in Nantes (attempted homicide of police.) It appears that mostly kids from the banlieue got summoned—not so much those participating within Paris. In Paris, small blockades again at fast food restaurants continue. But the biggest news at this point is that the police will organize their own demonstration against “anti-cop hatred” the 18th of May in République. A call appears on May 9th to “kettle” the police inside. Fascist groups like the Ligue de Défense Juive call to join the demonstration as well.

A decisive date was May 10th, and not only because of an attempt to block an expressway by 150 activists near the Seine in solidarity with those striking in Mayotte. This day the government pushes the law through to another stage, despite splits in the Parti Socialiste, using the aforementioned article 49.3—again, an emergency decree that doesn’t require majority vote, with its precedent in the Algerian war. People congregate in the rain outside of the National Assembly, with wild demos springing up throughout Paris calling for Hollande and Valls to step down.

May 12th is the fifth national demo. It should be noted that the 11am highschool demos have died down since the Easter vacation and repression. The new wrinkle in the State’s attempt to break the movement are the prohibitions against demonstrating received the day before by some targeted activists. The Defense Collective, comprised of volunteer legal defense, manages to overturn a few interdictions but this tactic continues to haunt future mobilizations. The demo itself this day is pretty dismal, as it’s going near Invalides and the parliament, without much mobility and is very easily kettled—an attempted wild break off of the main march is preemptively stopped. Once at the parliament people—notably also men in suits—try to sneak into the gated area, taunting the armed guards with rocks. This is also a day where the Services d’Ordre of the CGT and FO confront the autonomous head of the demo. But the police can be seen harassing unionists just as much, for example, not allowing them out of kettles if they happen to get caught.

There’s an attempted occupation of a municipal building during this union-called protest, overlapping with Nuit Deboutists, and the Beaux-Arts stage witnesses a short-lived occupation as well: here, the hacienda is rebuilt (for a time). May 15th, marking the Indignados 5-year anniversary, a global call for Nuit Debout across Europe attracts little support, even in other cities in France. Faced with its own speculative “convergence of struggles” falling flat, at least unconsciously, the Nuit Debout reduces its main cohering platform to an internet campaign “NOlist” geared towards denouncing “socially irresponsible” global brands. Writing now in early July, we are well past 120 days of March and Nuit Debout is reported to continue, at least online.

May 17th is the sixth national demo and this time the union stewards (the “SO”) are armed with baseball bats and chains, “SO Collabo” is chanted by the autonomes at the head of the procession. But apparently even this was a compromise: the police prefecture had wanted them to perform stop and searches which the unions refused (as noted on the CGT website). Other CGT members yell shit at the SO too. It’s no coincidence that this crackdown on the notorious casseurs coincides with the strikes that begin around the 17th: cleaning companies in Paris, Air France, staggered SNCF and RATP, national education, garbage collectors, the national library, the postal sector in the 92 block offices in Asnières, IBM, 460 workers block the refinery in Grandpuits. And then May 18th, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen from the Front National poses inside République with the cops (50% of whom are said to vote FN) during their staged counter-demonstration. The square is completely blocked off and was rumored to be sniper protected. Autonomists and highschoolers gather in the periphery—some attack and burn a cop car with the cops getting out very easily—before heading out on a wild demo. Media sensationalization follows and four in a so called “anti-fascist” gang are accused—the Defense Collective notes in a communiqué that “anti-fascist” takes the same tone as “casseur,” becoming an a priori crime.

Things certainly speed up after the 49.3 is used (May 3rd)—“democracy failed us”—not only with the national mobilizations and sector specific strikes, but with different “interprofessional”7 blockades. May 19th, another national demo is called. The morning starts off with an interpro blockade at the Dubrac enterprises in Saint-Denis to highlight the role of MEDEF (Mouvement des Enterprises in France, the “bosses” union) in passing the law. The highschoolers have not disappeared either: for example, Lycée Mozart is blocked on the 20th of May not only against the state of emergency and the loi du travail, but also against the 49.3.8 Nuit Debout is still a meeting point despite its notable decline as assemblies continue. But its real life depends primarily on the square’s location since its own content has thinned out—its function as a “general dream” placeholder for the “general strike” is overturned; union-led blockage trumps the legal occupation tactic (at least for the moment). Notably, “militants” from Nuit Debout are reported by unionists to be supporting blockades outside of Paris, such as that of the mail sorting hub at Colombes the 24th of May.

By May 23rd, out of 100 depots 5 are blocked according to the energy minister, 2 for wage disputes and 3 for so-called “external” reasons. This affects 1500 out of 12000 service stations. An app is even created for where to find a pump—“fuel sentimentale” as one tag goes. The government makes a point that they can still get fuel through ports—something that will be taken into consideration the next few weeks by the 3600 striking dockworkers in Le Havre. The political blockades are nearly all evicted by the CRS (riot cops commanded by the Socialist Interior Minister) and anti-police sentiment runs high during them, as songs chanted show. The la serveuse blog cites one such song: “the police are paid for by our mothers, to kill our brothers, the police are paid for by our… we will never be police.”9 Anti-police but not giving anything to the work of mothers". By May 24th, the CGT reports the country‘s eight refineries are either idle or stopped. One several day blockade in Northern France is broken up with riot-police and water canons. Again, in the mainstream media a slip between the “workplace struggles” limited to the CGT and the more interpro organizing of blockades for “exterior” reasons is evident—which ideologically works to keep the two mutually exclusive, normalizing this intensification of class struggle at this point around the loi du travail with the idea that the French are always striking, etc.

One exemplary blockade, in terms of telling us “who” was at them, was the blockade at a petrol depot at Coignières west of Paris on the 25th of May—specifically against the loi du travail. It was not only called by the CGT but was intersyndical. Around the fifty or more that gathered there in the early hours of the morning were railworkers, postal workers, people who work for chemical enterprises—in short, no one working at the depot itself. The blockade works for 5 hours before it is evicted by the CRS. A depot worker reports that there won’t be any major effect for the delivery delay: these days the depot has been working overtime until later in the night to compensate. The decisive blockade, according to the depot worker, however, seems to have been that of the pipeline between Le Havre and Paris, affecting greatly the number of days in reserve for this specific depot. Also on this day, the Nogent-Sur-Seine nuclear plant starts a CGT-called 24-hour strike, with it taking about 3 to 5 days for the reactors to recover from the black out.

The last days of May in the Paris-banlieue area are full of blockades and occupations: the 26th is a national mobilization day with an ever-increasing police brutality, blocking off of roads and an attempt to prevent the autonomous bloc from taking the head. A beautiful flaming phoenix is constructed with Marx’s “storming heaven” quoted on it. As la serveuse reports, present is a “watchful gaze of a high definition camera operated by an RG (French intelligence service) pretending to be a journalist, on a balcony” and, she goes on, regarding the “casseur” split, “a few members of the railworkers pass, saying casseurs, collabos (breakers, rioters, you collaborate with the state)” while many other unionists, railworkers included, clap when things are broken. The same day there are more blockades: an interpro blocking of the port de Gennevilliers in the 92 for 3 hours and a CGT construction site occupation.

Then, on May 30th, a waste treatment plant (94) is newly blocked as the garbage strikes continue and a sorting plant in the 93 is blocked at dawn, CGT called. Present are both those on strike working for the city and drivers for TIRU/SYCTOM (subsidiaries of the Electricité de France (EDF). The sorting plant’s focus is to turn waste into electricity, so here the garbage and electricity blockades meet up. The blockade is shut down by the CRS and undercover BAC, invented initially for the suburbs, before the end of the day. But the main occupation that this blockade is supporting was by some 100 garbage collectors and sewage workers at Ivry since the Monday before. The tactical stench is clear in Paris: the CGT invites “everybody” to join in on the blockade. The redirection of the garbage to other incinerators in Paris prompts attempted blockades of these in turn in early June. Across France, CGT-ordered top-down cuts in electricity sectors start May 26th, then a second strike including 19 nuclear plants was announced for June 1st. These cuts particularly targeted, according to a CGT communiqué, state and MEDEF locations but affected hundreds of thousands otherwise. The SNCF (national rail CGT and SUD-rail) calls a rolling strike starting from May 31st: only 6/10 TGV lines, 4/6 RER are rendered inoperative. And as la serveuse notes, “the pickets had casualties too, in Cherbourg a unionist was killed on his motorbike on the way to a picket, whilst on another blockade a protester was injured being run over by a truck driver.”

“France is getting better” (Hollande)

The beginning of June, amidst encroaching national floods, the CGT-backed/interpro pressure continues, building up to the June 14th national date which would be decisive for the movement’s continuation (the ceiling of the strikes without the government backing down, at least in so far as it is organized around the demand to repeal the law completely, regardless of any amendments.) Those striking in some art and education sectors are essentially paid off by the government. An open-ended (Paris commuter) strike starts June 2nd, kicked off by an interpro protest with railworkers at the head and an attempted blockade of Porte de Versailles—over the next days, we see blockades of post-offices (in the 91 and 92 suburbs), waste-plants, train tracks (Paris), garbage truck garages (June 6th), roads around the CDG airport, attempted occupation of MEDEF (June 7th).10 Meanwhile, Nuit Debout (#97mars) marches throughout the “popular quarters,” setting up “free parole” there, with a “convergence des luttes” banner—and indeed, some struggles, like those of cleaning women and housing evictions converging there. Nuit Debout had already expanded to the suburb/outer Paris squares, but this was more symbolic, unifying, of those tendencies (that were reportedly usually taken over by local politicians.) This is all against the backdrop of 2 million visitors for the Euro Cup 2016 and where Hollande announces that despite the protests “terrorism” remains the state’s greatest enemy—clinging desperately to his November declaration of war that has since been most clearly waged against proletarians and gained him little respect.

The “battle” of June 14th is huge, with 1 million marching in Paris alone. The CGT truck in workers from all over, notably from Le Havre. Thousands upon thousands are in the autonomous tête, with those who march with banners, those who don’t, wild, everywhere, no longer a “highschool” face because most faces are hidden. The police up their violence: many are wounded, street medics running everywhere, some with Nuit Debout badges, the police charge at whim, kettle off the more joyous part of the head at the front line, stagger the speed more and, halfway through, bring in a water canon (new for Paris during this struggle, but it had already been used in other cities like Rennes). Adjacent roads are by this point firmly blocked off and shielded, with little room for the wild break-offs that heretofore had become common. The canon takes the place of the union stewards between the autonomous and unionized sectors, but indeed there is huge permeability between the two, with postal workers, railworkers, not just from the more radical union SUD but also the CGT, joining the head. The canon moreover points at both the unions and autonomists. At the end of the march protesters find themselves in clouds of teargas mixed with the water canon at Invalides ; the procession is not allowed even to congregate.

The day is marked as a “success” by unions but after already 15 days of rolling strikes, with some CGT sectors pulling back, the outcome for the “withdrawal” demand remains unclear. Some autonomes announce reaching “the limit” of the riot—insurrection is next—and Valls blames the casseurs almost wholly on the CGT at this point, despite their clear collaboration over the last month with the police. A petition, signed by over 55,000, addresses Hollande with the theory that it was undercover cops who were the ones really breaking the windows of the Necker children’s hospital. That day even union members are protesting outside of the prefects later in the rain for the release of their comrades. Lots of fast wild demos follow into the night and smoke billows up over République after a RATP car is burned. But Nuit Debout feels really dead and football has officially arrived across France. Even the CGT respond to Valls with the metaphor of football supporters on their communiqué—just like its not the job of supporters to ensure safety/security within stadium, neither is it their job to ensure safety/security on a legal demo (despite their efforts!)

Then on June 23rd, for the first time since 1958, during the Algerian war and under Police chief Maurice Papon (the only Vichy France official to be convicted in his role of deporting Jews and responsible for the 1961 massacre of Algerians in Paris), a Socialist government declared it would forbid a union-called demo. June 23rd, 2016, one of the most repressed days of action, was a day of walking in circles from Bastille and back to Bastille; temporary cameras installed; bag checks, better not have a gas-mask on you (it is illegal to effectively protect yourself from teargas); many arrests, including unionists, e.g. a SUD postal worker from the 92 suburb in jail, striking since early May; the police union Unité SGP (Force Ouvrière) evoke that the police are “tired” and “tense.” This can be seen as a government attempt to cut-down CGT bargaining and striking power specifically, even though the day is called by the other unions as well.

More repression followed as the legal charges pile up. June 28th, in an unprecedented pre-targeting, the police are waiting for a group of one hundred occupiers of the Bourse du Travail to join one of the last national union demos. They perform a stop and search and kettle them for 9 hours. Now post-Brexit, the movement‘s own momentum on the square, at the picket and on the streets can be seen in a clear downturn for the summer as philosophers appear on the scene pushing an online petition for a referendum.11 So let’s see what happens in September…


Since first writing this down at the end of June and beginning of July, where the account humbly cuts short, the 49.3 was used a third time to definitively pass the law on July 20th, with a total of 7000 amendments made to the law. Now it is a matter of “what you have to know” as a worker of the palimpsestic law going forward and it has been suggested to make a “digestible” format for dummies of France’s notoriously thick, red book labor code. The political crisis has meanwhile deepened for the least popular government to date, leveled equally at the “failed” French security forces post-Nice attacks. Valls is booed before and after a moment of silence in Nice. The state of emergency has officially been extended until January of 2017. Hollande continues to hold a hard line with Theresa May in Brexit negotiations as Marine LePen sharpens her knives for the upcoming election, praising Britain‘s vote to leave. And now riots are erupting in the banlieue of Beaumont-sur-Oise over the murder of Adama Traoré in police custody with more protests and fires blooming into the summer.

  1. This section is in part a translation of a text that appeared after the attacks. Other information has been translated from the autonome Paris Debout pamphlet that featured récits as well as from different left-wing and mainstream news outlets.
  2. Article 49.3, called “commitment of responsibility”, allows the government to put through a bill without a vote under the cover of a rejection of the vote of no confidence which the opposition must put forward for form, with little hope of success.
  3. The first meeting organized by Lordon and Ruffin around his film was on February 23rd, at the municipal building Bourse du Travail near République. What came to be called «Nuit Debout” was responding to the proposed law with its own logic and attempted to merge with the highschooler driven momentum at this point.
  4. Excluding cis-men, trans- inclusive.
  5. A public administrative building nearby République that was used for organizing throughout these months as well (aforementioned non-mixte feminist meetings, autonome meetings—June 28th it is occupied and police kettle people outside of it for nine hours, preventing them from joining the larger protest.)
  6. In place to counter rioters since the 19th-Century.
  7. Workplace blockades not only blocked by those who work at them.
  8. Later in the month, they’ll be protesting at proposed mandatory saliva tests on “biopolitical” grounds.
  9. See excellent detailed notes on the movement here, by a waitress.
  10. The compilation of key dates on Paris-Luttes and the autonome journal Paris Debout have been crucial here.
  11. Balibar et al. "La loi El Khomri mérite un référendum", Le Monde June 28, 2016.