The French CPE-CNE law will extend the casualisation of labour in order to subvert all workers' rights to the needs of “flexibility” demanded by French bosses.
This is not an issue just for young French workers. The Irish Ferries and Gate Gourmet disputes last year both demonstrated that across the world jobs are more and more insecure and workers' rights increasingly ignored.
“Precarité” is the dynamic of globalised capitalism. The demonstrations and strikes in France show that the whole working class, not just students, see standing up to capitalism's attack on young people as their own struggle. Polls show 70% of French people support striking students.
The French protests display a stark contrast with the trade union and student movements in Britain. The UK National Union of Students has capitulated in the face of New Labour's privatisation of education and introduction of fees. NUS has done nothing more than warn the government that it would perhaps do something if the government increased the cap on fees!
In contrast, French student organizations have formed labour movement liaison groups to extend the struggle beyond the campus into the streets.
Workers in Britain and France face the same threats of privatisation and casualisation. In France anti-CPE demonstrations have seen all unions standing up against de Villepin to defend young workers. On this side of the Channel, even supposedly left-wing trade union leaders have voted for pension deals which sell out the workers of tomorrow.
The French CPE law isn’t principally aimed at workers over 26, but the French workers and students know that a defeat in this struggle will mean a raft of other “reforms” designed to undermine other labour rights. The task has to be a fight back against the system — the best defence is a strong blow against the whole neo-liberal project.
Media comparison between anti-CPE university occupations and strikes and the May 1968 general strike may prove to be inaccurate. Yes, the French working class might suffer a defeat on this issue. But a defeat at the end of a hard-fought battle is far better than not to fight at all. A unified working-class opposition will increase consciousness and understanding of the system.
The British student and labour movements must wake up and take a good look at the struggle in France.
And learn the lessons which constitute an ABC of trade unionism — class solidarity, consistent opposition to casualisation, and refusing to concede hard-won rights without a fight.