Nuit Debout – French youth take to the streets!

By Winter Oak / the Acorn (w/ Slingshot edits)

The spirit of resistance has captured the imagination of a new generation in France, as youth-led opposition to neoliberal labor “reforms” has spiraled into full-on rejection of the whole capitalist system on the street and in the squares. While in the US the 99%, faced with decades of declining wages and economic stratification are either rallying around “great hopes” offered by electoral politics or degenerating into racism, immigrant bashing and fear — in France seizing the fucking streets offers a better alternative.

After a general strike and day of action on March 31 there was a call for people not to go home afterwards but to stay on the streets, beginning a wave of overnight “Nuit Debout” (night stand) occupations that have spread from Paris across France, Spain, Belgium and Germany. The March 31 “moment” has been symbolically extended by the renaming of the days following the day of action: March 32, March 33 and so on. “According to the nuitdeboutistes, time froze when their meetings began on March 31.”

Similar to Occupy Wall Street and the Indignados in Spain, Nuit Debout has no leaders and no demands. Rather, people have formed general assemblies to discuss issues and decide policies. The occupations have set up kitchens, medical services, gardens and libraries. On the morning of April 11, police moved in and cleared the camp at the Place de la République in central Paris, but thousands of people returned and re-established the occupation that night. As Slingshot goes to press there are actions in 60 French cities with plans for another general strike on April 28.

On Tuesday March 36 (April 5 in the old pre-revolutionary calendar) there was a massive turn-out on the streets all over France, with increased police violence and defiant resistance. In Paris police fired tear gas and charged the crowds of youngsters who countered with stones, glass bottles and eggs, chanting “police everywhere, justice nowhere!” and “everybody hates the police!” Police arrested 130 students, leading to an evening protest outside a police station involving hundreds of people and more clashes.

In Marseilles people blocked a freeway throwing traffic into chaos and the offices of the ruling Socialist Party were redecorated. In Brittany, the main railway line was blocked in Rennes city center, while banks, chain stores and the Socialist Party offices were targeted in Nantes. Another hotspot was in Toulouse, where a wildcat protest and invasion of the city’s railway station was followed by an overnight Nuit Debout occupation of between 500 and 1,000 people.

When an authentic wave of revolt surges up from the collective heart of a population, there is little that can stand in its way. Like the waters of a mighty flood, it either sweeps away everything in its path or finds a different course that takes it past all obstacles. This is what is happening in France — a rejection of the capitalist system has emerged from deep within society, most notably amongst the youth.

The French state, frightened of a serious threat to its power, probably imagined it had found the solution in the wake of the November 13 terror attacks in Paris. The draconian “state of emergency” has been combined with increased police brutality and the usual “anti-terrorist” media paranoia to try to create a climate in which revolt is impossible. It worked to some extent with the COP21 protests in Paris, where the anticipated atmosphere of rebellion was significantly dampened.

But when the state started making noises about evicting the ZAD protest camp (“Zone a Defendre” meaning “Zone to Defend”, a play on the government term “Zone d’Aménage-ment Différé,” or “Urban Development Zone”) to make way for a new Nantes airport, the huge response of solidarity and defiance showed that the rebel spirit remained intact.

And with the planned El Khomri labour laws, the Socialist French government certainly overestimated its power over the people. Named after minister of Labor Myriam El Khomri, the law would expand a ‘normal’ working week to 46 hours, limit penalties for illegal termination; and limit unions. While obedient trade unions failed to make much of a fuss about this serious attack on workers’ rights, others were outraged and a youthful grassroots campaign emerged out of nowhere to oppose it.

The state has tried to crush it with police violence and general levels of repression under the “state of emergency”. But this hasn’t worked. Indeed, the flood waters of revolt have merely swept up the tools of the state’s repression and used them as battering rams against its legitimacy.

As one statement from protesters explained: “What is being born here has little to do with the labour law. This law is just the tipping point. The one attack too many. Too arrogant, too blatant, too humiliating. The surveillance laws, the Macron law, the state of emergency, the stripping of nationality measures, the anti-terrorist laws, the penal reform project and the labour law all add up to a system. It’s one big project to bring the population to heel. Everyone knows that what makes a government retreat is not the number of people on the streets, but their determination. The only thing that will make a government retreat is the specter of an uprising, the possibility of the loss of total control”.

Resistance is spreading. A new generation is at war with the system. The tyrants are running scared. Vive la Révolution!

Reprinted with revisions from