Student Protests

The French student uprisings — now also involving many highschools — warm the cockles of my old ’68ish heart. Though I wonder if what drives today’s uprising is the same desire to find the beach under the paving stones… There is also the question of what links or divides the present student unrest and the car-burning demonstrations by the underpriviled, unemployed youth of a few months ago. In today’s Die Zeit, Alain Touraine speculates on some of these matters. Here is an extract of that interview, with thanks to signandsight:

In an interview with Michael Mönniger, French sociologist Alain Touraine explains why the protests in France are not a sign of political hope but rather of fear and distrust (and therefore not “a new social movement”), and what distinguishes them from the revolts in the suburbs. “Immigrants are completely disoriented socially. They set cars on fire because they can’t articulate themselves and have no spokesmen. The students on the other hand are much more privileged and are getting enormous support form the unions. At the same time, the immigrants and the students share a feeling of discrimination and exclusion. The youth of the suburbs have stood for a long time outside of society, while the students are afraid that their future has been ruined, and that that will make them outsiders as well.”

And it does seem to be true that what the students demand — the abrogation of the CPE (First Employment Contract) — can be read as simply wanting an easier and safer integration into the bourgeois-capitalist workplace. And is thus very far from the various utopian/ revolutionary demands of the year 68. Is the present movement thus just a sort of “new realism,” or will the right-wing French government’s obdurate refusal to respond to the students’ (and labor unions’) demands to abrogate or at leat soften the CPE, eventually frustrate the students so much that they will begin to think beyond the “first job contract” and, as Touraine suggests, make them realize that they too, albeit priviled, are finally outsiders — and thus provoke a desire to ally themselves with the other outsiders, the immigrants? But that would alreday entail a revolutionary crossing of class- and race-strictures. But maybe, just maybe, the Chirac geriatric oligarchy (despite the Prime Minister’s looks of a youthful intellectual Tarzan, and his book of critical essays on French poetry) is so rigid and self-righteous that it will provide the necessary spark that will lead to just this transformation.

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