03:38:31 amCategories: Places, Spaces, Politics, Peculiarities

Contrat premiere embauche - Protesting à la français

Initially, I hadn’t planned to go to the major demonstration against the CPE ("contract 'first employment'") as it only tangentially touches the focus of my fieldwork (tangentially, as the CPE – Contrat Première Embauche – is part of Prime minister Villepin’s plan for égalité des chances: youth unemployment is high in France and even higher in the Zones sensible which is in need of the equal opportunities). But as the echoes of the chanted slogans reached all the way to my flat – situated at least 20 minutes away from the standard demo route Place de la République/Bastille/Place de la Nation – and I saw the diverted traffic as I leaned out of the window, I realised that the scale of the event made it worth defying the heavy rain and head for Nation.

The ten minutes walk down Avenue Philippe Auguste, I was thinking about how different French politics are from what I’m used to. The implementation of the CPE is a good example. In L'Assemblée Nationale the politicians can speak loudly, clap, make noise and sometimes shout, and – most exotically – even express themselves with eloquence. In this, France is similar to Britain. The importance they give to demonstrations is however different.

One month ago, there was a discussion in the National Assembly on the government plan of implementing the CPE and other “equal opportunity” measures, which went something like this: A socialist politician shouted to prime minister Villepin (the architect of the CPE): - You should listen to the streets! (alluding to the first demonstration against the CPE taking place at the time). Villepin, Monsieur l'éloquence personally, replied, with oratorical pathos: I am listening to the streets… - but I also hear the ones who are not down at the streets (pointing to the rather feeble support for the demo). Demonstrations have thus an important political role to play in this country. (I’d like to give some other examples, but as this is meant to be a quick post, I’ll leave it for another time).

As I arrived at Nation, I noticed that 7 of the 8 boulevard and avenues running into the square were lined with the CRS – riot police – standing around, looking after their helmets, shields, batons and other riot gear… (The 8th street was of course the one where the protesters entered). I don’t think such demonstrations, full of healthy (though leftwing) pupils and students and more or less bourgeois labour unionists often turn violent, but the Republic obviously wants to put her measures at display. – So also with her boulevards and avenues, constructed broad and straight as they were in order to easily suppress popular rebellion…

I think about the republic and her broad boulevards, full of politics, as I linger for a while in Place the la Nation: I once participated in a tiny little demonstration in London (I think there were 16 000, which would hardly count as a demo in a country where hundreds of thousands take to the streets many times a year) making City a drum’n’bass dance party and consequently a no-go area for the police for hours… as the narrow and winding streets of City is not made for riot police.

After taking some blurred, grey and rainy photos of the last part of the demo down Rue du Faubourg Saint Antoine from Bastille, I hurried home in order to change shoes, socks, trousers and umbrella (ready for the dustbin) before I went to a neighbourhood democracy meeting in a nearby school, which of course turned out to be full of people discussing, objecting and protesting and talking about art and the importance of preserving small-scale artisan affairs for hours…


Comment from: alibi [Visitor]

A blog covering the CPE and protest as they upfold is now available at:

24 hour coverage of rapidly moving events.


13/03/06 @ 19:01
Comment from: [Member]

Thanks for alerting me (and my readers) to your blog! You seem to be doing a good job covering the events.


13/03/06 @ 19:21

Form is loading...

« The strange nature of politics in France - Protesting, part 2Métro Charonne, 8 février 1962 »