French Students Take Sorbonne


French Students Take Sorbonne

Paris, Mar 10 (Prensa Latina) French students have taken over Sorbonne University, in Paris, to protest attempts by the local government to apply a law making it legal to fire people less than 26 years of age, without cause, in their first 24 months of work.

Hundreds of students occupied Sections 1, 4 and 5 of the university and put up barricades in the middle of an operation by security forces against demonstrators.

Media reported almost half of the 85 universities in the entire nation were semi-paralyzed because of student protests.

The controversial Contract of First Employment was approved Thursday 178–127, with the support of most center-right forces, while the French Socialist party promised to bring the issue to the Constitutional Council.

Leftwing parties, trade unions, and youth organizations have convoked a new protest for March 18.

Liberation, French daily, said French Education Minister Gilles de Robin tried downplay the situation, saying only 11 higher education centers were taken over.

France´s 10 percent unemployment is one of the worst in the European Union in the last 10 years, and unemployment among those under 25 has been 20 percent for almost a generation, forcing many university graduates to emigrate.

Paris protest recalls ’68 riots Emma-Kate Symons, Paris March 11, 2006

RIOT police in full combat gear threw tear gas to disperse hundreds of students trying to occupy the Sorbonne university in Paris last night, evoking memories of May 1968, as mounting protests against new labour laws spread to Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin’s Government.

Universities nationwide have been taken over by students angry at the job contracts that will make it easier to fire young employees, and prominent members of the ruling Centre-Right UMP party questioned the wisdom of the unpopular reforms.

Police brandishing riot shields barred entry to the Sorbonne campus on the Left Bank last night. But dozens of students had earlier managed to barricade themselves inside offices and lecture theatres.

It is the first time the university has been occupied since the wave of violent student protests against then president Charles de Gaulle’s administration in 1968.

Earlier in the day 1000 students held a spontaneous demonstration in front of the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs Elysées, temporarily halting traffic at the busy Place de l’Étoile before police forced them to leave.

Mr de Villepin hopes his reforms to France’s rigid labour laws will help break the cycle of persistently high youth unemployment in France. Almost 23 per cent of people aged 18 to 25 who want work are unemployed, the highest rate in Europe.

Rates of unemployment for French youth can be twice as high on the poor migrant housing estates outside France’s major cities, where young people rioted for three weeks last November.

The new job laws would allow employers to hire young people and more easily sack them within the first two years. However, many French businesses already exploit the competition for youth jobs and avoid the burden of placing staff on secure job contracts that require payment of social charges and generous holidays.

University graduates are frequently “employed” in a series of unpaid internships, prompting a series of “strikes” by young people who do not have real jobs.

French voters are becoming increasingly hostile to Mr de Villepin’s youth-specific initiatives. The new labour laws leave untouched the job security and benefits of the nation’s cosseted baby-boomer workforce. However, unions have resisted some calls for an across-the-board reform to the French work contract for employees of all ages.

According to a survey in Le Parisien newspaper, 55 per cent of French voters want the laws overturned, and students and labour unions announced last night another wave of street demonstrations and strikes during the coming week.

Mr de Villepin’s popularity has slumped 11 points in the two months since he announced the reforms.

About 400,000 protesters, according to police, and close to one million people on the estimate of unions, participated in demonstrations from Paris down through Lyon to Marseilles this week in a national day of action that disrupted public transport, airports and some workplaces.

Some French political commentators are speculating about the end of Mr de Villepin’s prime ministership and presidential aspirations. However, he has refused to water down the laws, despite promising measures to reduce the “precariousness” of young people searching for work.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy is exploiting the opposition to Mr de Villepin’s laws to further his ambitions for the presidency next year.

Hervé de Charette, one of Mr Sarkozy’s advisers, openly challenged the labour changes yesterday, in an attack on Mr de Villepin that the Interior Minister, who is also the head of the UMP, refused to disavow.

“We must suspend the new contract and open the door to dialogue with young people…if the Government remains obstinate, this could cost us the presidential election,” Mr de Charette said.

Other MPs urged the Prime Minister to make changes to the job contract in a sign of the uneasiness within the Government about escalating unpopularity of a measure that many business leaders and economists see as a modest reform, if discriminatory on the basis of age.

Le Monde newspaper, in an editorial titled “Youth enraged”, sympathised yesterday with the students, saying young French people were “dismayed” by their Government’s willingness to “sacrifice” them in a belated attempt at reform.

The Centre-Left daily said “irresponsible” politicians had allowed public debt to balloon, a burden that would be shouldered by French youth.

Meanwhile, it said, those under 26 suffered from punitive new job contracts and an attack on their culture in the form of a Government crackdown on file-sharing of music and films downloaded from the internet.