One Million Demonstrate in the Streets of Paris

The massive demonstration, with its fighting, combative atmosphere, was easily the largest mobilization against the government’s labor reform to take place in the last three months.
  • Révolution Permanente | 
  • June 17, 2016

Photo: Révolution Permanente

The ninth day of action against the labor reform of French President François Hollande was a total success. The march was made up of different autonomous sectors of students and organized workers who oppose the current labor reform, including enormous contingents from two of the country’s five main union federations – the Confédération générale du travail (CGT – General Confederation of Labour) and Force Ouvrière (FO – Workers’ Force). The demonstration was obstructed by a heavy police presence which included trucks carrying water cannons.

Before the rising repression

The march stretched out for kilometers and contained hundreds of thousands of people. Among them were striking cheminots (rail workers), postal workers, students, those from the autonomous sectors, teachers and education workers, social workers, various collectives of striking workers and the precariously employed, along with demonstrators from other combative contingents.

The demonstration moved slowly–in fact very slowly–held up by the heavy police presence. The first incidents occurred at the head of the march, which had only arrived at Vavin metro station when police started firing tear gas and French-designed rubber bullets known as “flash-balls.” Among the injured, two demonstrators fell to the ground and needed medical attention. Just minutes later near Duroc metro station, not far from the march’s final destination, the police started deploying water cannons against the demonstrators.

Until that point the police had not attacked demonstrations in Paris in this fashion since the start of the current movement against labor reform. However, water cannons, tear gas and flash-balls have been used in other cities such as Nantes and Rennes as part of the customary arsenal of war against demonstrators. By the afternoon, the headlines of the major newspapers screamed“disorder and confrontations,” but the saturation coverage of the deaths of two police officers in Magnanville by someone claiming to be linked to Islamic State left little room for reporting on the social protests.

Gigantic contingents of the union federations

The demonstration was so large that while the first demonstrators had reached the endpoint, others were still leaving the march’s starting point at the Place d’Italie over five kilometers away. The rowdy, combative contingents from the CGT and FO union federations continued on the demonstration despite the injuries, tear gas and water cannons.

The volume and high density of the demonstration were impressive. Among the enormous red strip of CGT and FO members were separate sections of marching rail workers, drivers, cleaning workers, hospital staff, metalworkers and autoworkers from Renault.

One of the things that stood out most was the contingent of dock workers, who had traveled from all over France to take part in the demonstration. Amidst the raucous atmosphere, they all marched en masse. “F,” a CGT docker from Burdeos, assured us that “in Burdeos, 99 percent of the dockers are on strike” and that there were thousands–according to him “around 8000 dock workers” on the streets in Paris who had come from Marseille, Le Havre, Lille and other ports.

“If the movement was collapsing, we would not be here”

For many, the slogan has not changed: continue mobilizing until the labor reform package is withdrawn. “[CGT leader] Martínez can go and negotiate, but we will continue to mobilize,” a CGT affiliated civil service worker told us. “If the movement was collapsing, we would not be here,” said retired metalworker “L” who, even with his 85 years of age, was in no way afraid of the demonstration: “I know why I am demonstrating. It’s because of the sackings, which I have experienced myself”.

Translation from [Spanish version] in La Izquierda Diario by Sean Robertson

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