On February 8, students in Rennes — the capital city of Brittany, France — voted to occupy the City Hall. where the electoral alliance known as the New Ecological and Social People’s Union (NUPES) was holding a meeting. Member organizations in attendance included the Socialist Party (PS), Europe Ecology — the Greens (EELV, an environmentalist political party), the French Communist Party (PCF), La France Insoumise (LFI), their youth organizations, Générations, and the Parti de Gauche. Also present was the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA), even though it has formally refused to ally itself with NUPES, in keeping with its claim to merely support NUPES’ more radical candidates.
According to Ouest-France, 200 students of the Rennes 2 General Assembly (AGR2) entered the hall, and their representatives explained, “As in 2016, we want to occupy City Hall after the meeting is held.” Despite the proposal to continue the meeting, the NUPES chose to end early and leave the hall, as evidenced by a video circulated by the AGR2 on Twitter:
Nathalie Appéré, mayor of Rennes and member of the PS, called for the immediate evacuation of the hall and called in the Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité (CRS), the general reserve of the officer corps known for their brutal crowd control tactics. About 20 CRS riot vans arrived and forcibly removed the occupiers. Taking refuge on the roof, the students were arrested by the police, who cordoned off the neighborhood while people gathered around the City Hall in solidarity. The mayor later released a statement thanking “the gendarmes, police, and firemen, whose intervention made it possible for the occupiers to leave.”
After the evacuation, 26 were arrested, including six minors, some of whom were high school students who had come to support the student mobilization. According to 20 Minutes, three people were taken into custody for refusing to be fingerprinted. One of the high schoolers who was questioned later posted on Instagram about the violent repression: “strangulation, attempted suffocation of a comrade by a CRS officer who put his gloved hand over his mouth and nose while pulling his collar back super hard, punches, insults, etc.” He continues, “One comrade had his wrist broken, another had his leg injured by being dragged along the ground.”
In a press release published on February 10, NUPES failed to mention the violent repression. Instead, NUPES declared, “We condemn the occupation, and the damage done at City Hall,” adding that NUPES regrets “this mode of action, which will not convince more people to expand the mobilization against the pension reform.”
This condemnation epitomizes NUPES’s proclivity for directing people off the streets and away from direct action, encouraging them to instead put their faith in candidates. The NUPES coalition of political organizations — together with the NPA, which, while claiming to be a “radical” and unallied wing, continually adapts itself to the collective neoreformist line — signals its rightward shift in the already-insufficient neoreformist project of Melanchon’s LFI. For the NUPES, the problem lies with the students who are mobilizing against the pension reform, not the police who violently targeted them. This line is all the more problematic because, at the beginning of the week, a public meeting was held at the University of Rennes 2, by the LFI deputy Louis Boyard, who prompted the students to blockade the university. For NUPES, does the legitimacy of the youth movement merely depend on who calls for it?
Rather than the hindering stipulations of union bureaucracy or the complicit candidates and demoralizing statements put forth by NUPES, it will take blockades, strikes, and masses in the streets to bring Macron and his Bonapartist administration to their knees. Democratic organization in general assemblies and the movement’s continued expansion truly opposes these stifling systems. We have seen, time and time again, the failure of other neoreformist projects — from SYRIZA in Greece and Podemos in Spain to the Sanders campaign in the United States. At best, NUPES offers nothing more than a new face for this tired and long-disproved approach.
The repression in Rennes is far from insignificant. Since the beginning of the movement, student mobilizations have been severely repressed by the police or university presidents, as in the universities of Strasbourg, Lille, and the EHESS, or in high schools such as the Lycée Racine in Paris. In the context of struggle, unity in the fight against the pension reform cannot be achieved without denouncing the repression suffered by all those who mobilize.
Originally published in French on February 10, 2023 in Revolution Permanente
Translated by Isla Bristol, adapted for clarity by Antoine Ramboz