Fifty years after the 1968 uprisings, social struggles are flaring up in France once again, following simultaneous attacks on transport workers, universities, and the ecological movement by the Macron government. Yesterday, an extraordinary general assembly took place at the University of Paris X Nanterre, where the events of 1968 first began.
There was an incredible general assembly at the University of Nanterre yesterday (12 April 2018). Over 1500 students, lecturers and university workers came together after a week where the riot cops brutally evicted a student occupation.
A lecturer reports on an assembly yesterday of 150 colleagues where they voted for a total strike over exams, with a refusal to mark scripts, teach class, and give grades. (He gains a huge applause.)
Then, out of what seemed like nowhere, loud chants emerge from the back of the auditorium. Many turn their heads. Some, myself included, imagine for a split second a counter protest or an intervention by the student far-right, which is quite active in France and has attacked a number of student occupations over the past months.
The chants grow louder and people rush towards the exit. Then suddenly out of the door appears a flag of the cheminots (rail workers) of the SUD Rail union. A hundred rail workers stream into the assembly to an explosion of chants. One of the cheminots takes the mic. He says he had been sacked for organising a strike and that the only reason he is here is because his comrades struck to have him reinstated.
He draws connections between the university and college students struggling against Macron’s new law on university selection and the struggle of the rail workers against cuts and privatisation: on both counts the British system is the ultimate aim. There’s applause as he calls for a “convergence des luttes” (“convergence of struggles”) bringing together workers, students, and all those in struggle against the system. This has been a common refrain in the past few weeks.
An MP from Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s left-wing France Insoumise party takes the floor. He remembers Nanterre from 1968 and mocks the official “commemoration” (including repainting a whole building) by university authorities – the same authorities who called in the CRS (riot cops) to break the occupation. He denounces the police and the eviction of the ZAD, and calls again for the “convergence des luttes”. He will use his platform in parliament to help build the struggles.
Macron must be stupid, he says, to take on the cheminots, the college and university students all at the same time. Change comes when the mass of the youth move, he says. They can change everything. He ends with a phrase from Pablo Neruda: “they can cut all the flowers but they can never stop the spring”.
Something is happening in France and all those in Europe should take note, especially those establishment luminaries who wish to bury 1968 in revisionist platitudes. Students and workers in France today are showing that the past is never really dead.
It’s not even past.