Last Thursday, around 1 million people in France took part in nationwide demonstrations against the government’s plans to “reform” the pension system, i.e. raising the age of entry and cut pensions. (1) Only members of the police are to be excluded, as the government stated just before the 5th of December, after trade union representatives of the cops had declared that they also wanted to take part in the protests. Work stoppages occurred mainly in the public sector, train cancellations of the state railways were high, metros were rare in the Paris metropolitan area and many bus lines were also cancelled. Flight operations were also disrupted. There were also extensive work stoppages among teachers and health workers, who have been fighting for months for better working conditions and better pay. In the private sector, there were hardly any strike actions, but since Thursday, work has been suspended in the majority of the major oil refineries, here the majority of the workers are organized in the CGT and the workforces are one of the last bastions of the classic, militant working class. At the same time, roads and roundabouts have been blocked nationwide, although to a much lesser extent compared to the beginnings of the Gilets Jaunes movement.
A review of the first big day of action and the attack on the new “pension reform” from the point of view of a participant.
This is a translation of the German version which was translated by Sebastian Lotzer. The original report was published by Paris-Luttes.
The picket line
I started my day like many of us did: With the distribution of leaflets. With the work colleagues with whom we are organized, in a picket line in the middle of the neighborhood. It was a great time. The people were very open-minded. Some asked about the timetable for the demonstration, others explained why they had to work. Tea and coffee warmed our little bodies and the discussions went well. Among the most popular topics:
When will the cops attack the protest? Everybody thinks: At the Republic Square.
How much will you lose if you apply the government project to your case? (Everybody had calculated it on a test basis and everybody had to complain about losses)
How can the government be slowed down and the private sector mobilized?
In short, it was enjoyable and a day full of enthusiasm, which means that a strike day with several colleagues is always better than seeing BFM (2) alone before going to the demonstration.
We’re approaching the parade
I decided to go to Belleville with a group of workers from the Adoma House from the neighborhood. There we met the people of the Cantine des Pyrénées (3) who came down from the hill of Belleville. There was a very warm atmosphere. We arrived with a few hundred behind a banner “Belleville Counterattack” and went down the Rue du Faubourg du Temple. When we arrived at Republic Square, we saw that our predictions were correct: The place was besieged by counterinsurgency troops, which left no doubt that the state had decided to strike hard. We have therefore made a long side-trip to the east station (4).
We arrived at the square and had the feeling that it would be a very, very big demonstration. It’s 01:30 pm (13:30), the demonstration didn’t start for half an hour and there were already more people than at the biggest demonstration we saw this year. The boulevard was very full. People of all ages and sex. Old and young. We met in the Solidaires Block (5) and the demonstration was already very, very, very massive, the people were standing very close to each other. So much that we were a little worried. If the police attack, it would make it quite difficult for the crowd to move. There we were standing for a long time on the spot. Time to read all our collected leaflets and meet a lot of people. The firefighters are present – we will talk about it again – and climb on a scaffold while they spur on the crowd. The response was obviously positive.
Almost an hour and a half has passed since the first clashes started elsewhere. Even though we still haven’t moved.
It’s getting hot in front of the union building
We are getting closer to the front of the demo, and what we notice is the diversity of people, but above all the mass of people. The “cortège de tête” (6) covers almost the entire Magenta Boulevard. It should be noted that, in my humble opinion, it no longer makes sense to speak of a “cortège de tête”. The “cortège de tête” was a useful name when there were several separate demonstration blocks. Here and now, however, the differences in the demonstration are no longer really very obvious, since the demonstration has become a single collection of angry people who mix and mingle. Even trade union rallies shot with tear gas for years do not look as they did 3 or 4 years ago.
Anyway, we came back to the entrance of the boulevard near the intersection with the Rue du Château d’Eau. We have fallen a little behind when to our right a Shiva shop (a shop for household goods known among other things for its particularly sexist ads) was smashed. Almost immediately there was a rain of tear gas and at the same time large black clouds of smoke came in our direction from a fire in front of the union building. Many of us wonder what’s going on. We’ll see that it’s a big precast construction site that’s on fire right in front of the bourse du travail.
We cannot stress enough how careful we must be with the use of fire, the consequences can be catastrophic. Well, the police are using it to push everyone back with a lot of tear gas. They are fogging Magenta Boulevard, all escape routes on the side are occupied by cops, we can only return to Jaques Bonsergent Metro station while coughing our lungs out. It is still very crowded and thousands of people have come with protective equipment. At this point we do not know how big the demo really is. Many people who did not want to fight move backwards. We will learn later that several thousand people have bypassed the Valmy Kai where there have been a few clashes. (7) Good for them, good for the others.
Positional combat and fatigue on the Boulevard Magenta
We decided to stay on the boulevard, but it wasn’t really going anywhere. Obviously banks are very popular today. Some people think it is wise to set fire in one of the banks even though it is located in a residential building. Some comrades rush to put out the fire.
After that we had to stay on the same spot for a very long time. We went back to the boulevard and saw that some people were already on Republic Square, where things were going really rough.
From time to time we also experience tear gas bombardments, but not with comparable intensity. We made some progress, but the flow of the demo seemed to be interrupted by the BRAV (8), who were very present at the intersection with Boulevard Magenta. We hardly realized this when we were cut off behind us by another BRAV unit at the metro station Jacques Bonsergent. We were sitting in a kind of sneaky trap. The cops didn’t push us, they just splitted the march. Behind them the rest of the demo is burning. Then the firemen, who were very present the whole afternoon, went to the front to break up the encirclement. We were behind them. But we still had no access to Republic Square. And there was a new kettle behind us. And the demo was bubbling, raging, so that we could be one again and the cops could piss off. Yelling, stuff flying, firefighters building up in front of the cops, putting pressure on them and the cops giving up their positions. We will see this three times this afternoon.
But it’s usually really annoying. We get stressed out by the cops, eventually we manage to get to Republic Square, where the BRAVs are standing in the middle of the square to provoke the crowd. Successful provocation: They are insulted in the worst way, attacked by the crowd in an impressive way.
Finally there was a demonstration
It eases a bit and a CGT demo block arrives, a sound system at the top, and takes the demo with it in a very dynamic way. Many of us have been stuck in tear gas since 02:30 pm (14:30), we are a little tired of it. We would like to be able to demonstrate in peace, but obviously the police prefecture doesn’t want that and increases the number of provocations. It gets dark around 17:00 when we are on Voltaire Boulevard. I have never seen such a powerful demonstration after standing around for more than two hours. And above all, there is a very good atmosphere. Many slogans, songs, the cops are booed and insulted every time they appear. They react almost systematically with tear gas (without having been attacked). Anyway, 10 years ago it would have been the most violent demonstration of the year, but now that is all an old hat. We are motivated and see that the Gilets Jaunes are very, very present. Nevertheless no Marseillaise or other “patriotic” songs, because the trade union forces are very present. Basically, the chants are becoming a little more radical and that’s not bad. However, we can only regret the use of the slogan “Macron’s hookers” against the CRS. Whores really do not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the CRS.
Arrival at Nation Square and attack by the cops
After a rather quiet demo from Republic Square we reach our goal, but on Nation Square the situation is very tense. The BRAVs are back on the square, clearly visible, there are so many cops that it’s pretty impressive. Of course they attack directly. They send offensive grenades at head level. Beating people like crazy. I have to admit, when I saw that, I didn’t like being here too much. Being in the cold since 10am doesn’t really help and the risk of getting injured was very high. And we also saw several injured people. There were still people there when I left. I walked towards the rest of the demo and saw the arrival of the unions that had just been fooled by the police. By the way, the security guards of the CGT were very well equipped.
But the most impressive thing of the day was the crowds that gathered in the streets of Paris. This is only the beginning and it will not be enough to stop this infamous law, but it is a good beginning. And above all, the turnout for the strike was very, very high. And that is the most important thing.
(1) For details of the “pension reform” see B. Schmid’s report on Telepolis (German) https://www.heise.de/tp/features/Immense-Proteste-gegen-Macrons-Renten-Kuerzungsplaene-4607
(2) BFM TV (Acronym of Business FM) is a private French 24-hour news channel based in Paris.
(3) Self-organized place of class struggle, here meetings take place and there are cheap dishes based on solidarity for all. http://www.zones-subversives.com/2019/02/l-experience-de-la-cantine-des-pyrenees.html
(4) The Gare de l’Est is the starting point of the trade union demonstration in Paris on December 5.
(5) Union of independent trade unions, left undogmatic, forms alliances with autonomous and anarchist unions.
(6) The cortège de tête has been the forefront of the demo since the movement against the loi travail in 2016. In the past, the CGT or left-wing dogmatic groups led the corresponding demos in Paris. Since 2016, autonomous people, antifascists and anyone else who likes to dance with the cops or smash the windows of banks and real estate agencies in the demos are here. Sometimes there are only a few hundred people, sometimes a few thousand. In the beginning, the security service, especially the CGT, tried to take action against this cortège de tête by force. This, however, met with strong resistance and caused massive discontent on the part of their own base. Since then, this front block has actually been part of every important demo in Paris, even if for tactical or political reasons it sometimes doesn’t appear at the front of the demo or is spread over several blocs.
(7) In the run-up to the demo there was a call to avoid controls and the expected attacks by the cops by deviating from the given route. Thousands followed this call and were the first to reach the end of the demo at Nation’s Square in big groups without any major problems.
(8) Feared special unit of cops on motorcycles, dissolved in 1987 after two cops of the unit had beaten to death Malik Oussekine in a house entrance on the 6th of December 1986 after a student demo. They were reassembled at the end of 2018, after heavy riots broke out during the first Gilets Jaunes demos.
Paris Luttes Info, the German translation was done free and analogously by Sebastian Lotzer. In 2017 Sebastian Lotzer published ‘Winter Is Coming’, a commented collection of texts about the movement against the “reform of labour legislation” (loi travail), as well as about the struggles and revolts in the French suburbs at the Viennese publishing house bahoe books. His novels ‘Begrabt mein Herz am Heinrichplatz’ (Bury my heart at Heinrichplatz) and ‘Die schönste Jugend ist gefangen’ (The most beautiful youth is imprisoned) were published by the same publisher.
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