your posts

La Serveuse: Notes on the movement against the loi du travail

By waitress, 24 May 2016
Image: The waitress shoots first

A collection of notes, no longer written by a waitress, no longer regarding only the mouvement contre le loi du travail – the French state's draconian new employment law. La Serveuse covers events from the movement’s beginnings in March this year to the present 

 

Post 6 2nd February On the second of February Theo, a young man of 22 years old, was raped by four police officers during a routine interpellation. As it emerges, in fact it was not even Theo himself who was originally being searched but his friend. He intervened and the four turned on him. The one who held the matraque is known in the area as barbe rousse (red beard, plays on barbarous), a violent, red-bearded cop who terrorises the area. This comes out a week after (http://www.lesinrocks.com/2017/02/news/ami-de-theo-dit-ete-tabasse-meme-policier/). The immediate reactions to the rape are various – unlike the case of Adama Traore, where the FN mayor condoned the actions of police, here the republican mayor of Aulnay makes a long facebook post condemning the actions of the police officers and saying that something has gone badly wrong, we must repair what has taken place - a securitarian Sarkozian, it's not so surprising - he wants to avoid riots.  Meanwhile the IGPN (IPCC equivalent) comes out and calls it an ‘accidental rape’, and the head of the police syndicat says that ‘il est convenu’ – every day, acceptable – to use language such as ‘bamboula’ when referring to the black people you are arresting. ‘Bamboula’ was the word used during the attack, a racist word that plays on a parody of patois and seeks to mimic the African, colonised subject. This is the word the police used during the rape, to describe Théo. The colonial dimensions of this rape do not go unnoticed, and they filter out in different ways across the liberal press, the milder outlets saying that the issue is that policing is ‘disproportionate’ and heavy in poorer neighbourhoods, others making direct allusions to rape as a colonial weapon. Meanwhile the FN send tweets in support of the police ‘no matter what they did’. Hollande, who was completely silent in the case of Adama Traore, this time goes to the hospital. The photo on the front of Le Parisian shows him sitting dumbly next to the boy. Photographs are so flat. Above the photo are Théo’s words ‘stop the war’, taken, I think, out of context – and besides, what can he say? Some have speculated that Theo is ‘engaged’ – because it takes a lot, they say, to come out as a rape victim, and a man, as well, in the banlieue. While this may be true, I think it’s a little romantic. Besides, the lines for what constitutes politically engaged surely shift in moments like this, and also maybe are necessarily there, depending on how likely one is to be stopped by police. Indeed, on Friday the 17th February the police, predictably launch a lawsuit against him, although he has done nothing. This must be the most embarrassing presidency of any socialist mayor – the state of emergency, the work law, the death of adama traore (his silence), and finally he will be seen out by the biggest banlieue riots since 2005. Anyway, the reactions to this are not insignificant, and speak to the elections that will take place in May – the FN is of course the police party. 80 percent of CRS vote FN, and it is Marine LePen who waves a flag for all of the dispossessed cops. 

 

The first few nights there are several underreported riots in the suburbs of Aulnay, Clichy, Bobigny. Some even make it through the bois du Boulogne, one of the most bourgeois neighbourhoods of west paris. On Monday the (6th) it is reported, and confirmed by the prefecture, that they have been using real bullets on protesters in Aulnay, where the rape happened. On Tuesday the 7th and Wednesday the 8th of February there are rassemblements at Menilmontant, and attempt to bring something in to Paris. These are kettled, then reformed, then kettled again. When I arrive there is a half kettle around Menilmontant. We wait, wait, wait. There are plenty of undercovers, gendarmerie, crs. Eventually a mixed group – the mili, high school students, young anarchists – run down into the metro. The metro as it turns out is coming in 5 minutes so we wait on the quai, run up again, run down again. It seems a bad plan. Some 17 year olds are tearing off the posters on the wall. An RATP worker on the opposite side of the quai stops, hearing the tearing paper, hesitates, sees how many are on the other side of the platform, walks up the stairs, remembers her job, reluctantly crosses over to us, approaches the kids. They are very polite, I see bare ankles in trainers politely rolling up the papers and folding them. The RATP employee is very sweet and they are very respectful; they excuse themselves to her and tidy up. Now I have to get Stefan, she sighs. Now everyone on the platform is helping her, screaming for her colleague ‘stefan, stefaaaaaan’. It is too sweet. The plan is to go to Barbès, but this plan changes, everyone gets off at the next metro (couronnes) and runs back to the edge of the net. Runs forward, back. There is a boy aged about 9, on a bicycle, at the head of the group running away from the gendarme. Meandering, he is yelling ‘flics, violeurs, ass-ass-ins’ (cops, rapists, muderers). The  manif sets off toward the marais, in a light hearted manner, bins are thrown over, at the boulevard construction materials are strewn across the junction in diagonals, bins are emptied throughout the marais. The Marais bins are very good, we find some art books and postcards – there are not really any bits of food or waste in these bins. I am scared of crossing one of my students, from the Catholic school, a lot of them live here. 

 

The next night there is a manif sauvage even more kettled than the first and in the same place, with some confused signs – ‘viole est une arme coloniale’ and ‘2017 – communism or barbarism’ – very poor choice of colonial languge – how are the passersby supposed to understand? And then on Friday there is an action called at Les Halles, the main shopping centre. I was sceptical about the choice of place – a gleaming shopping mall under the ground in the centre of paris. It has just been redeveloped. The development, which took (?) years, has to be started again, since the mushroom like roof is not waterproof. It was easy to feel sceptical abou the connection between the shopping mall and the protest, from my outsider perspective, but once there it became evident. Of course the shopping mall was surrounded long before the protest with lines of police -  a staple, along with the army, in that part of town. Nothing out of the ordinary since a tourist destination would be a prime spot for a terrorist attack. There were baq clustering on the ground floor of the centre which extends two floors below the ground. It is made up of two courts, one open to the air, and one covered. The aesthetic of the internal court, place carree, is of a shopping centre in the 1990s or 2000s. It is outmoded. By the time we find the place carree, which is where Muji and a cinema are, it becomes clear that Les Halles was an excellent choice of location. Being where many of the rer lines – the train that leads into the suburbs – converge, it is also a hang out of kids who come into paris. The corrdiors are low ceilinged, with office like panels and tiles, shops squeezed in the middle, fluorescent light. In these halls are the normal toto – the autonome – which translates into meaning a miscellaneous bunch of activists who are more, or less, or not at all crusty. But this toto seems to include the mili, the high school kids, kids very sharply dressed in slick nylon sweats and puma trainers, bomber jackets. There were gendarme hidden many lines thick in a little aperture, another corridor, ready to close in the one we were in. 

 

Inside the place carree, lines of protesters flocked the stairs, lines of police stood at the bottom, pepper spraying, lines of cameras. This must be, what with all the cctv, one of the most photographed protests. I have the impression of a hall of mirrors, all angles turning in on themselves. All corridors and glassy shop fronts. The ceilings are so low that the robo cops take up nearly the entire height of them – a surreal, larger than life force. A crowd of people waits by the entraces to the place carree. Teenagers, not part of an obvious toto, seem to have joined the protest spontaneously, and are screaming justice pour theo justice pour theo. Then the gas, crying eyes, never exposed before. Someone on the phone to her mama, cursing cops. A boy in reeboks, slick nylon survetements, carries a Chihuahua which starts barking at the smell of food, but is otherwise calm. The crowd is defiant but a little unsure, and is being pushed back and back.

 

The place carree is fenced off and what follows is a run around the centre. Teenagers with the new found pleasure smoke inside, throw things and run. They clatter around the court so fast – the noise is incredible

 

Post 5, circa June 14th 2016

It’s been so long, but it isn’t because the movement has finished. It hasn’t, though it looked set to finish as more manifestations passed without several new dates on the horizon.  When the refineries stopped striking at the beginning of may, it seemed to be over, but then the following weeks, strikes continued in Paris, as did demonstrations. Near the close of the month of May, a fascist demonstration of Generation Identitaire marched through the 5tharrondisement, and we were able to observe it through pissing rain, a small, 100 person march lined by cops, each person carrying a French flag. The next day after staying up too late I called in sick and unofficially lost my waitressing job – that is, she never called me in for work again. I am as much a waitress as I was when I was working in this restaurant – as I never had a contract, I was a waitress all of the time or only for the time that I worked. Since she often called me in for only 2 hours, I guess I was always waiting to be a waitress the rest of the time.

 

AGs that week continued to discuss the importance of the tete de cortege. The following week, an anti fascist march to commemorate the death of Clement Meric marched from Stalingrad to -- and never arrived because it was broken up, smashing several windows along the way. The graffiti on the street read Le Monde ou Rien coming from the PNL song, and ‘it’s not possible to kettle us’, and Beyonce, with a hammer and sickle through the C. This was repressed by cops and a line of protesters faced off to them, unfortunately separated from the crowd. In a poetry reading the same night a video performance paid tribute to the tete de cortege in obscured poems and videos. By the end of that week, continuing strikes hit Paris at the same time as the football fans, and the binmen’s strike filled paris with the stench of garbage. I went to the restaurant to get my wages, since I had called and texted and had no reply, and walked back rather hopelessly through St Germain des Pres. Since the strike was on, the best rubbish, an itinerary of things unwanted by the rich, filled the streets. As for my boss, she said she couldn’t pay me yet since she hadn’t done the paperwork. She spoke fast in French, and when my friend tried to translate, she spoke over the friend. 

 

The next week, garbage and the detritus associated with British football related binge drinking still floated down place de clichy like confetti. In the aisles of the castorama next to the construction masks, 3 well-dressed young women who had never met before regarded each other conspiratorially, as they selected masks and hard hats, and the one alone suggested tacitly that the two others should come to the feminist banner making the next day. You mustn’t buy masks and anoraks and swimming goggles on your card, you must take cash out first. The police confiscate these items from people who have them visibly on their person. Instead, hide the goggles down your pants, giving the illusion of new genitals, put the lunettes in your bra, put the eye drops in your small jeans pocket. Do not wear makeup, since your skin will peel off with the effects of the gas. There is a phrase in French for when you are busy, it mirrors I’m washing my hair, it’s J’ai piscine , I can’t come I’ll be at the swimming pool, and the weeks before the huge demonstration on the 14th of June, the whole of Belleville was filled with posters showing a girl in swimming goggles, saying what are you doing on the 14th ? j’ai piscine. 

 

There are more controllers out than ever in the metro 

 

 

On the 14th, the whole area of Place d'Italie and much further was controlled by cops, and the boulevard was completely filled with their trucks. We settled in a café, where we were soon besieged, as the biggest tete d cortege passed. First union members and cgt, arguing with gendarmerie, then the black block, the npa. Very mixed, dispersed, but everyone running, throwing things. As for the gendarmerie they were so young, so armed, so eager. And so many BAC (undercovers) passing this fishbowl of a terrasse that we found ourselves in. I contracted some kind of UTI before the demonstration, and with a fever and blood mingled urine, still decided to go, armed with antispasmodic opiates and herbal medicine. While we waited in the café the patron became agitted, grabbing us all by our arms and trying to make us sit as we stood up eagerly to watch what was passing so quickly . a carousel off the rails. we joined the march, making our way closer to the front. Again, tear gas, and the same tactics, but this time the crowd was calmer, it seemed organised. Everyone was wearing a construction or gas mask, and everyone was wearing lunettes. In only a short time these items had become the means of demonstrating. so when the gas came or the police advanced, people remained calm, stopped, and continued. At Hôpital Necker there was suddenly a water cannon on our right, and as police tried to split the crowd, we came upon another. Entering Invalides the crowd filled the whole boulevard – glass smashed on the peripheries, masked protesters breaking up the pavement with hammers – the phoenix, again, triumphant is running along on a shopping trolley, built to fight cops. Again the same sense of calm, for these are avenues mastered in the last months, and the people will walk to the end of the demonstration. But suddenly walking to the end of the demonstration seems hopeless, why is this what we do? how does it differ to for example, actions in the deindustrialised places of rennes and nantes? The march continues, with serious injuries. Later we find that a swiss man has had a tear gas canister explode inside his shoulder. Falling unconscious, friends tried to take him out. According to somebody, a policeman, disguised as a medic, came in and removed the canister, causing him to bleed, and to faint more, and leaving only a piece of shrapnel in the wound. They tried again to move him, he was hit over the head by a policeman, fainting again. Many disengagement grenades in stomachs. At the square, people start changing clothes. We get to invalides, it is so full of millions of people, who sit down. I go to pee. But when I come back the water cannon is razing the crowd on the far side of the square with what looks like a faint jet of water – still, the jet is consistent and extends about 30 metres, so it must be quite strong. How strange that you can just leave – the metro is open and so many gendarmerie line the walls of the metro.

 

Later that night, a manif sauvage sets off from place de la Republique, and a transport controller’s car is smashed up and incinerated after someone gets controlled in the metro. The rue faubourg du temple and the rue de Belleville is full of so many undercovers, trying to catch outliers from the manif sauvage. there are people with a banner being arrested on the boulevard. 

19th July: Adama Traore killed by police.

 

Post 4. May 25th (Waitressing)

I am a waitress. At the moment I work as an extra in a restaurant that only serves eggs, since I couldn’t get anything better. That means exactly that I amextra, completely dispensable. This means I have ‘free time’ but also means I am broke. It makes for a hierarchy inside my workplace, since often I get the worst, small tasks, my presence facilitates the other workers’ breaks, whereas I am often dismissed before the time when I would be entitled to a legal, paid break. Sometimes my employers call me in for 2 hours and send me away again. The journey takes 1 hour in total, and luckily I am good at fraudé the metro, otherwise I would pay 2/5 of my hourly wage getting there and back. So far I have worked there just two or three days a week, and my only other source of income is childcare ‘in English’, i.e playing with as much energy as possible with young children for an hour, or two hours at a time. I am often astounded when parents, who themselves work, often as academics in the university, come home and say ‘did she start to speak in English?’, as if one hour in my presence would have magically transformed their four year old’s linguistic capacities. Still, I nod, smile, lie, say ‘a bit’, since I don’t want my services seem ineffectual. Last time I looked after my favourite student she dressed up in her mother’s high heels and we spent the day drawing pigs and throwing teacups in the floor “I don’t wanna work! I wanna rabbit!” she said, jumping up and down on the sofa. 

 

As for my job as an extra, I am not sure that my employers have actually declared me, although I have asked for it, and since I don’t yet have a número secú, my badly paid hours are probably not contributing at all to my as yet non-existent social security file. The social security say it is the responsibility of my employers, and my employers say it is my responsibility. The first day I worked at this particular job it was Mayday, there was a huge manifestation elsewhere in the city where many arrests were made, and I was told afterward that I should have been paid double for working on a holiday. Instead the boss, who is retired from the music industry, ushered me into the small side street next to the restaurant, which serves just egg brunch-dishes at a mere €25 per meal, and pressed €60 into my hand for my 7 and a half hour’s work, as some kind of special treat. Actually this is completely illegal as it comes out as far less than the SMIC (minimum wage), which is €9.67/hour. 

 

Before this I worked as an English teacher on a salarie ocassionel, which means you have no guaranteed hours, and are paid according to how much work you are able to get and the agency take a large cut. I became unenthusiastic about the job, which required so much preparation and admin, and often involved large travelling distances for one or two hours of work at a time, which drove my wage down to way below the SMIC. Unlike most young French people, because I am not French, I don’t have RSA or other benefits yet, so I have survived on cash work. This teaching job gave me only just enough for my rent and nothing more, since students (business men) kept cancelling. I left it at the beginning of the social movement, quite by accident, as one day, I guess it was in late February, there were lycées bloqués and an extremely spirited and tempestuous un-notified manifestation sauvage ahead of a union march, in Nation, and I decided to call in sick and never went back. Indeed, this kind of strike, one that is not formally collectivised, is the character of many ‘strikes’ that have been taken by friends through March, April and May. It has been common to hear people on the demonstrations relating that they were taking the day off sick, or even, if they had a sympathetic boss, had declared them selves on strike. Just as the lecturers of Paris 8 have, for the most part supported the student-strike by unilaterally awarding students a good grade of 16/20 across the institution, many sympathetic doctors have similarly provided sick notes. Completely by accident, I then found myself completely unemployed for the riotous month of April, since it was also school holidays. *

 

I’m sure that the conditions of waitressing (that is: running up and down stairs with heavy, hot plates piled high with food that customers do not eat, and is priced at three times your wage; being yelled at on repeat by a coked-up boss; cleaning, re-laying tables with this or that particular fork; finding yourself sympathetic to customers in the face of employers; having no guarantee of hours; sometimes receiving little in the way of tips; having no break despite the fact that it’s the law; the kitchen staff all being people of colour, the waiting staff being mostly white; the boss being disorganised and the waiting staff being verbally abused, the boss, for example, throwing a plate at one of the cooks so it smashes on the floor at his feet) haven’t changed since for example the 1970s. Indeed there is nothing extraordinary about this kind of work, and it’s not worse than many other kinds of harder labour. Still, I relay these details of my own employment situation to explain, that while the huge union mobilisation addresses the famous French social security and stable post war work schemes which the Loi du Travail will attack,for many people of my age, or indeed for strangers who do not yet have access to benefits or social security, the consequences of the Loi du Travail are already mostly in place. There are numerous kinds of contracts which lie outside of stability. Indeed, this week it seems that the issue of who takes the tête de cortége, is at once a question of the support or condemnation of private property damage, as well as one of who is allowed to represent the movement. The taking over of the tête also appears as a demand for recognition of non unionised kinds of work.

 

Post 3. May 26th (Paris: Thursday, Manifestation)

The oil strikes and blockades, which are now being reported more in the international press, have been ongoing since Thursday 19th, and with increasing strength. On Thursday we heard it was not possible to get cash or oil in Rennes, since the ATMs were smashed during the manifestation, and the refineries were on strike. This is an explicit case in which the actions ofcasseurs support the actions of a strike. Every day there has been news of another refinery blocked, a new one evicted. They are often reoccupied. Road blockades are too many to count. The headlines suggest that the union, the CGT, has the power to block the country, and Manuel Valls has reproached them for the same crime. On Tuesday Minister Bruno Le Roux (the leader of the Parti Socialiste inside parliament) seemed to move on the law, saying it could be modified, but head of FO Jean Claude Mailly, wrote back with the minimal demand of retraction. On thursday morning, a senior CGT member reported having received personal and intimidating text messages from a government minister.

 

Videos from elsewhere in France show gas workers singing antipolice songs at lines of gendarmerie “the police are paid for by our mothers, to kill our brothers, the police are paid for by our… we will never be police”, linked here . The longer that refineries remain blocked, the more chance there is that they will have to close down all together, since it is a health and safety concern to keep them running without workers. Tuesday 24th, 1/3 of gas stations were in complete or partial penury, according to Le Parisien, 6/8 refineries were stopped or functioned only partially, petrol boats were blocked in Marseilles, there was a call for a strike on the SNCF with 10% of members already striking. These strikes linked here, are, additionally, ongoing or about to commence in Paris . By Thursday 26th, 1/5 of gas stations nationally were without gas according toLeMonde’s live feed, 40% of gas stations in Paris were having trouble obtaining gasoline, and indeed, one in the 19eme read PAS DE GASOIL in 1m tall green felt tipped letters. The pickets had casualties too, in Cherbourg a unionist was killed on his motorbike on the way to a picket, whilst on another blockade a protester was injured being run over by a truck driver.

 

Thursday was counted as the 8th of grand day of mobilisation against the Loi du Travail, meaning that there were large mobilisations across the country, union marches, accompanied by strikes and blockades. The police estimate for the number of protesters for the whole of France was 180 000 whilst the CGT said it stood at 300 000 (Le Monde). In Paris, lycées _Voltaire _and Montaigne were blocked again, along with the industrial zone of the Porte of Gennevilliers (from 8h30-9h20). A manifestation walked from Bastille to Nation (a deliberately short route). As with last Thursday’s protest, the bloc autonome (non-union affliated block), which has been renamed the tête de cortège was large, full of everyone – black bloc and lycéens. The CGT had already started walking when we got there, presumably to stop the non-affiliated sections of the march from taking the head.

 

Sections of this tête _break off, break stuff, including the glass of bus shelters, the glass of moving billboards, the glass of shop fronts, but it seems only because it is glass, although some breakings are accompanied by anticapitalist chants. The rest of the crowd call to each other to wait, applaud when things are broken, and protect each other. They have a quiet solidarity with those more active, masked sections of the march, contradicting what is said againstcasseurs in the press. At one point the march tails to the right, presumably for an action, but after letting thousands through the gendarmerie try to form a kettle. Everyone boos and everyone is defiant this time, they walk forward, their arms raised, saying free our comrades in the imperative tense. The police push them back, gas them, but the whole of the march is there. As people are gassed, others take over, hands up. Everyone hates the police, the crowd chants, moving forward again. The police push back, beat people, use pepper spray. People reel, recover. Ahead you can’t see anything through the smoke. Later I hear that there were thousands crushed in to this space and the tear gas and disengagement grenades caused several protesters to go on fire, since the missiles landed on pieces of clothing. The crowd advances saying cassez-vous, (fuck off). Eventually the cops are defeated, give up, let everyone go. Everyone comes back in a rush, crying, injured, and the march continues.

 

The rest seems to be without police. More is smashed, including a skoda shopfront, which people get inside. This is all done under the watchful gaze of a high definition camera operated by an RG (French intelligence service) pretending to be a journalist, on a balcony, and as a few members of the _Cheminots _pass, saying casseurs, collabos (breakers, rioters, you collaborate with the state). The graffiti along the walls says things like 1789: les casseurs prennent la Bastille! (1789 the rioters/breakers take Bastille) and vivre, sans temps (to live without time) and enfin une manif qui se passe bien (in the end, the march went well). At one point an Emmaüs shop (a kind of large thrift store with cheap furniture and slightly too expensive clothes) is under threat. One section of the autonomous bloc argues with the rest – not Emmaüs! it is a shop, we understand, which caters for the poor. So the black bloc stand in front of it and everyone claps.

 

Nation is again a half nasse, a violent playpen: the police have cordoned half off it off using these transportable barricades. They are metal and are often used to block whole streets ahead of demonstrations. Every third manifestation or so, they seem to use them. I wonder how they transport them, since they are like large decorative screens that you might get dressed behind were they not made of blue mesh. A multi-coloured phoenix, made of cardboard, which has been there throughout the march, is emblazoned with the words à l’assaut du ciel. Marx’s letter to Kugelmann, 12 April 1871, re the commune: ‘…ces parisiens montant à l’assaut du ciel’ – ‘these Parisians storming heaven’. It goes up in flames, but is reported in Le Parisien as a ‘burning shopping trolley’. It has fake money in its jaws. The police have the perimeter of a half moon of the square and moreover the rest of the cortège has not arrived yet. People, standing on the grassy banks, on the floors, on beds of roses, on the square, throw things at the police. For a moment the sky is full of stuff, flying at random, then the gas comes back. The BAC (undercovers) come in, steal a random boy, everyone runs at the BAC, they come back with iron bars in their hands. It is reported that earlier that two of these undercovers were chased out of the demonstration, and that one got his gun out and pointed it at a protester. The square was again gassed, leagues of riot police charged, from one direction, from the next.

See also: 

Mouvement Inter Luttes Indépendant

Videos 

LeMonde’s live feed

 

Post 2. May 18th  - 24th (Paris: the affair of the burning police car)

After Wednesday the 18th’s demonstration, as part of which a police car was burnt, 5 people were arrested and had their houses searched. They seemed to have been chosen at random, and this choosing was justified by the fact that they’d received a ‘prohibition notice’ forbidding them from attending Tuesday (17th) morning’s protest. This notice was cancelled on Tuesday morning and was no longer active. One was released after being detained for 1 day, and the remaining four were presented to the judge on Saturday, accused of:

 

- attempted homicide

- wilful violence toward someone of public authority

- damage to public property

- participation in an armed gathering.

 

The severity of the accusations seemed to have been also influenced by the directive of Minister of Defence Bernard Cazeneuve, who demanded the harshest sentence possible for those involved, after describing his feelings:

 

“I found it extremely shocking to see individuals around, documenting the scene with cameras, without moving or helping, as if it were a normal state of affairs. I will have an extreme difficulty to consider that behind those hoards of barbarians something that resembles humanity still exists”

 

The four, seemingly arbitrarily selected, were granted a period of a few days before going to the judge, but were sent to prison anyway, and were held until three were released on Tuesday evening. Lawyers said publicly that the case rested on an empty folder, and that the four were being targeted at random, because of their individual records. The only evidence in the case was to be a testimony from one RG (French intelligence services). Indeed, the prefecture of police released a statement on Thursday detailing that the four were ‘known to them from antifascist groups’, as if this were, in itself a crime. Three were released on bail on the night of Tuesday 24th, the police union are up in arms. 

 

The defence collective’s communiqué  from the 23rd of May is linked here. A general communique reads: 

" In France, since March 2016, there have been many protests and actions against the new Labor law “Loi El Khomri”. Judicial repression has hung over the movement and hit at random like rubber bullets. In Paris alone, on top of the the countless ID checks, CRPC (the French “plea bargain”), fines, summons to trial, we can count over 136 arrests, leading to 50 immediate court cases and ten judicial inquiries, including four for the arson of a police car. The reaction against criminal prosecution must be broad, self-organized and invested by all, as not to remain the burden of a few, nor the choice of specialized activists or lawyers. Developing a collective defense necessarily means refusing to separate so-called "good" protesters from "bad" ones, and refusing to draw lines between legitimate and illegitimate ways of protest. Anyone arrested in or around the demonstrations, actions or occupations of the movement must be defended, regardless of their form of involvement. Since mid-March, the group “Defcol” (defence collective) has provided advice, tools and material assistance to those arrested in Paris. It has circulated legal information, maintained a relationship between the people in jail and their friends and families, and helped them pay for their lawyers' fees. The group will need financial help as long as the courts continue to crack down on protesters."

This link will allow you to donate to the Parisian collectif only. A wider call for solidarity will be put in place soon, and these funds will be split between all collectives in France. Stay tuned.

 

Post 1. May 9th – 19th (Manifestations, Paris)

 

The previous two weeks were just as enervating as the ones preceding, if not more, since the French police have newly discovered nasses (net, like fishing net), also known as ‘being kettled’. Several heavy tear-gassings and nullifying kettlings converged with an extremely low-pressure system, a lot of rain, and many people who were already under slept from April and May. Tuesday the 10th, for example, began with a 7am call for blockades, a word of the week. The plan, it seems, was to block Bercy, the train and bus terminus, since there was a strike from Sud, a rail workers’ union, the same day. This was well organised and began at Opera, where early risers boarded the metro, going on several lines, and in several directions, before ending up in a wild chase – in the station, out of the station, back in the station. The cat and mouse dispersed around the station of Dugommier at about 8.30am, which was encircled by gendarmerie. Manuel Valls passed the law sometime around lunchtime using a special decree 49-3, which was brought in during the instability between the 3rd and 4th republics. 

 

The weather all week was so low pressure, so as to invite serious, lingering headaches, rain with no relief. Assemblée Nationale at 18h was obscured by mist, flares and smoke. A heavy CRS and Gendarmerie presence gradually pushed everyone back, split them. One manif sauvage, a little naively, since there were only 50 people, set off around 19h, after which the rest were kettled on the quayside, forced down next to the water, where the windows of luxury boats displayed Parisians? tourists? serenely lindyhopping or swingdancing in a top window. Police blocked the quay, letting only fluorescent runners through, then fired off teargas. Protesters ran, stopped, since there was nowhere to go. River police – how mobile they are, in any circumstance – passed on speedboats as kids threw what they could: missiles, pieces of scaffolding. The gas continued for several hours, as, completely trapped on the road above the quay, unable to breathe, or to descend, lungs filled over and over with acrid gas.

 

Thursday the 12th was another manifestation, beginning near Montparnasse. There were clashes at first, tear gas mingling with passers by. Half way through it ended up on a grand place next to a huge building. No one knew what the building was, only, they knew quickly, that it was controlled by military, armed guards. Something began to happen in the square, but as people entered a side gate, this fact was discovered as the army came out with rifles cocked. Tear gas rained down again. A solitary shopping bag filled with paves (paving stones, taken amidst the crowd) was left on the ground in the chaos as CS gas was once again sent into the midst, the march was so tied up that it couldn’t move forward, although some breakaways later achieved road blockades. The march was sent back to where it had started, and so began a long and confusing half kettle. Everyone eventually went home. On this, Thursday 12th’s march, the CGT were openly collaborating with the police to control the demonstration, and this was evident as the vans broke through police lines, without helping pedestrian protesters, or those younger, or masked, through as well.

 

That evening the Beaux-Arts art school in St Germain des Près was occupied, and an Assemblée Générale began around midnight. This occupation led to several disputes, particularly as many students attending the university made positive appraisals of it, saying that it was different to any other institution, they loved and identified with it. The occupation resulted in two computers being broken, which eventually split the student body, and a castle was built out of street plackets in the middle of the courtyard, resembling one that was built on April 28th at République, before it was violently evicted. The Beaux-Arts occupation was evicted in the early hours of Saturday morning but was beautiful while it lasted.

 

The dialogue about casseurs (breakers, rioters) gradually began to permeate the atmosphere over the next few days, as it hadn’t seemed to before. On Sunday a friend and I were inveigled into going to an old lady’s house for an aperitif, in Denfert Rochereau. The old lady was an aristocrat, the daughter of two modernist painters, her mother, a lover and student of Picabia. Set up on a divan against her interieur: plants, totems, highly stylised paintings of naked women (an ominous and faceless knight, in a suit of armour, clasping the breasts), she articulated her distaste for the manifestations, for the casseurs “I hate it when they come here, they break everything… they aren’t from Paris, they come from the banlieues , they just want to break everything”. Her racist description of youth from the banlieues, as creatures with compulsions to break seemed to fit with the general sterility of her interior, in which living things had been slowly petrified, stylised.

 

On Tuesday, the collaboration of the CGT with the police continued. The Service d’Ordre de CGT, who are a section of that union, were out in a huge block. The SO are basically self-elected strongmen from each union who are supposed to control the march - apparently this didn’t always have a collaborative aspect – in the last weeks their aim seems to be to try to get the head of the demonstration. They resemble, in their helmets and build, the BAC (the undercover cops). Some Service d’Ordre – two pathetic Stalinist men with long sticks - had attacked the march on Thursday, and the crowd rushed at them, throwing whatever they could – bins, rubbish, bottles. The discourse against the casseurs (breakers) has seemed to strengthen in the last week, since the Loi was passed, and it seems the unions want to strengthen this distinction, between those who ‘work’ (in more secure, unionised jobs) and ironically those who can’t work or don’t in the same capacity (so, the salariat, précariat, the kids from the banlieue, the MILI: Mouvement Inter-Luttes Indépendents, the lycéens). Or at least, this is what the distinction seems to me, to mean.

 

Anyway, on Tuesday’s manifestation, which followed generally the same trajectory from the École Militaire through teargas, molotovs, disengagement grenades, burning bins and flying bottles to place Denfert Rochereau, theService d'Ordre formed a kettle as people tried to escape from a police charge and an intoxicated square. The SO are dangerous too, since they come to demonstrations with iron sticks, baseball bats, helmets, pepper-spray and gloves with weights in the knuckles. Then the demonstration was interesting, the divisions crystallised, the SO were surrounded on both sides.

 

Tuesday night, on République, in preparation for a police demonstration on Wednesday called to stop “la haine anti-flics” (the hatred of cops), people were covering the floor to commemorate the dates of deaths of civilians killed by police since the 1950s. In permanent white and blue paint, these dates were alongside graffiti that spoke to the French police’s history of collaboration with the Nazis. Rough translation of 1ft tall letters: “ALL OF THE DEPORTED GRANDPARENTS AND CHILDREN HATE THE POLICE”. The demonstration, to “stop the hatred of the police”, would of course require a counter demonstration, since the police brutality has been so severe. Since such a large proportion of police (CRS) in France vote FN (national front), it was suspected that there would also be a large fascist presence. It was rumoured that, coming in solidarity with the police, there would be, in contrast with each other, the LDJ (a fascist Zionist group: Ligue de Défense Juive) as well as the followers of Alain Soral (an neo-Nazi and virulent anti-Semite). On the morning, we turned up too late, to find extremely tense lines of police, hundreds of people (left wing and antifascist) being expelled, spilling out of the square in hundreds. We were always five minutes behind but found our way to Quai de Valmy, where there were plumes of acrid black smoke coming from the remains of a police car.

 

 The anti-police demonstration was now dispersed, but at République, it was impossible to get in to the square, since it was protected by gendarmerie, and a rally of police inside, far off, near the statue, with smoke flares of their own. Peach smoke. Marion Maréchal LePen was inside, giving some kind of speech as the star of the fascists. Kids were outside the cordon, a small group of resistance, a little sad. I overheard a teenager say “Marine Le Pen? Sérieux?”. Activists were saying that police were not the problem, it was the fascists, and there was a furious argument in which several Italians said: it could only ever be the army who would join a popular uprising, never the police, since they vote FN. Apparently a police march, against the fascists and against the police was arriving to support the anti police march. It seemed pretty depressing, the square (a few weeks ago, albeit a liberal and fairly boring site of multi-various political activity, but nonetheless a place) had been cleared, forcefully, and now a fascist rally was being facilitated. People were arguing that police could join the movement against the government, and seemed extremely confused about history. Italian communists hung around, too excited to leave, too tired by the lacklustre atmosphere. 

 

Thursday 19th was a huge manifestation beginning at Nation and finishing at Place d’Italie. The cortège – the ‘autonomous’ part of the manifestation, that is the part which is not affiliated to any union – was huge (10 000 people, they say), and took the front of the demonstration. In a furious argument later, two friends discussed the way student moderates had moved over from the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste to join this more autonomous part of the march. There were some clashes, and at Place D’italie police stormed the square, making charges at protesters, and threw the usual gas. The Service d’Ordre were again attacking the march. This became the site of many clashes, before things were disbanded.