The Internationalist  
October 2010  

Police Respond to High School Students’ Protest with Heavy Repression

French Students Mobilize: “Sarkozy, You’re
Screwed, The Youth Are In the Streets!”

Youth demonstrate in Marseille against pension law, October 19. Sign says, Get lost, asshole” – an
infamous remark by President Nicolas Sarkozy to a man in a crowd, expressing disdain for common
(Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP)

PARIS, October 26 – After several weeks of union marches against the bill (soon to be law) dismantling workers’ pension rights, beginning this month the youth have come into the streets in large numbers to join the fight. One of their favorite chants is, “Sarkozy, t’es foutu, la jeunesse est dans la rue” (Sarkozy, you’re screwed, the youth is in the streets!” This outpouring of youth in fact frightened the conservative government of President Nicolas Sarkozy, which responded by stepping up repression. Now, as the bourgeois media are trumpeting that the movement has run out of steam, as they have repeated every day for the last two weeks, the students have taken the initiative “to give the protests a second wind.”

We have reported on the large numbers of lycées (college prep high schools) on strike over the last two weeks. After first arguing that the pensions law was of no concern to the students, then pretending it was being passed for their benefit, and subsequently claiming the students were being manipulated, the government and the bourgeois press settled on their main line of attack: that many youth demonstrators were violent casseurs (smashers), breaking store windows and overturning cars. This propaganda reached a crescendo at the end of last week after a number of incidents in the Paris suburbs and in the center of Lyon.

Government ministers piously intone that they distinguish between the “good youth” who peacefully demonstrate and dance, and the casseurs, the bad youth who “invade” protests in order to engage in vandalism. The bourgeoisie is cynically exploiting class and racial tensions, which it has consciously and deliberately created. The sociologist Olivier Galland, remarked in an interview in Libération (21 October):

“The French education system was conceived with an obsession about choosing elites…. The problem is … whether the 700,000 youth in the professional [vocational] track – as opposed to the 70,000 on the college preparatory track – succeed in passing their exams or getting a vocational high school degree (bac pro). The system is one big machine of scholastic selection on academic criteria that correspond to social selection and the jobs hierarchy. The idea is to skim the cream to keep the best. The others are thrown into the second-rate tracks. Students are eliminated, and this generates fear of being eliminated among the youth.”

High school student in Paris, on October 19, as police locked down Place de la République for hours.
(Photo: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters)

If numbers of youth from the impoverished public housing (cités) in the working-class and heavily immigrant suburbs surrounding Paris, Lyon and other major French cities lash out in rage by setting fire to trash cans, it is because they have been discarded by a racist ruling class which deprives them of jobs and keeps them cooped up in ghettoized projects which are periodically locked down by the police just like a prison.

In addition to playing off the “proper” French middle-class, overwhelmingly white students of the college prep lycées against the North African, black African and white working-class students of the vocational high schools, the French state has responded with blatant repression and outright police provocation. During the recent protests there have been a number of incidents in which cops have used their flash-ball riot guns on student demonstrators. In fact, it appears that these weapons are used only against youth “rioters.”

There have also been several documented cases of disguised police engaging in provoking violence. In one instance the perpetrator was wearing a CGT union badge. But when union marshals went after him and cornered him in a hallway, the CRS riot cops came to rescue their man.1 In another case, a video that has been circulating on the Internet (some frames were printed in L’Humanité Dimanche of 21 October) published a series of shots from a showing a well-built white man wearing a hoodie as he was smashing an automatic teller machine at a bank near the demonstration on October 12 with two professional photographers recording the scene. When a passer-by tries to stop the “smasher,” he is attacked by two other pseudo-casseurs of identical physique and similar clothes, one wielding the kind of black club used by police.2

Photos of supposed “casseur” during October 12 demonstration in Paris. (Photos: Reuters TV)

Then during the October 21 national high school student demonstrations, police in both Paris and Lyon used unprecedented tactics of corralling hundreds of demonstrating students and youth in what amounted to giant holding pens, turning Place de la République in Paris and Place Bellcours in Lyon into open air prisons and keeping them there for hours to prevent them from demonstrating against the pension law. Those who tried to escape were are bombarded with tear gas. And when they were finally released, they were individually searched and those without proper papers were taken police stations for identification. This was presented as a successful action against casseurs, even though none of the corralled youth broke anything. At most some threw stones at the cops who were persecuting them. The scene was so surreal that one paper put an audio file on its web site of sounds inside the police pen so readers could have the you-are-there vicarious experience of being treated as a casseur without getting beaten up by police.

An obvious purpose of this blatant repression, aside from preventing the demonstration, was to intimidate youth. It’s part of the government’s whole “security” offensive over the summer against immigrants generally and in particular against Romany and French “travelers” (referred to in the bourgeois press as “gypsies”) whose camps have been broken up and several hundred of whom have been deported to East Europe. In addition, the government has engaged in massive arrests of student and youth demonstrators, detaining 2,257 and arresting 1,677 since October 12. The League for the Fourth International has called in our article/leaflet distributed in Paris for full citizenship rights for all immigrants, for an end to the deportation and persecution of Romany and travelers, and for everyone arrested in connection with the protests to be released and all charges against them dropped (see box below, translated from the L’Internationaliste leaflet).

For Unconditional Release of All Those Arrested in the Demonstrations – Drop the Charges!

Gendarmes arrest youth during protests against pension law in Lyon, October 19. (Photo: Laurent Cipriani/AP)

Over the last several weeks, police have responded to high school demonstrations against the pension law with ferocious repression. Some thousands of youth have been detained and hundreds arrested on the accusation of being “casseurs” (smashers). Many of those detained are youth of immigrant origin from the suburbs, who are always the target of racist attacks by the cops, and who are referred to in the bourgeois press as the “other youth.” The real casseurs are the police, the armed fist of capital and professional anti-worker repressors. We say: police out of the unions! The workers movement must demand immediate and unconditional release of all the detained and dropping all charges. Down with the “Republican” racist repression!

1 In response to this accusation (widely reported and confirmed in an interview with Libération [27 October] by Bernard Thibault, head of the CGT union federation), the director of public security of the Rhône region declared that this was nothing but “mythomania.” The interior minister, Brice Hortefeux, vituperated this was an old trick of the left, when in trouble accuse the police. However, Le Parisien (28 October) published two lengthy articles interviewing undercover cops and an academic specializing in police issues who confirmed that plainclothes cops putting on union badges during demonstrations was standard practice. At the time of the incident, which took place in Lyon on October 19, a young woman demonstrator approached some union firemen who were demonstrating to asking them to intervene, as one of her friends (the only black youth in her group) had been dragged into a building by some men wearing CGT badges who looked like police. The firemen investigated, and when they complained, the “CGTers” pulled out police armbands. After a video of the incident in Lyon was placed on the site Rebellyon.info, the local prefect finally admitted that the men in question were indeed undercover cops.

2 The photos were taken from a Reuters video that has circulated widely on the Internet. On October 28, the police announced with great fanfare that they had arrested “the casseur in the video” and that he was an individual “close to the anarchist scene.” Leaving aside that rather curious formulation, many elements continue to point to police provocation. To begin with, the police have denied access to this supposed “smasher,” and several days later admitted the person they were holding was not the man with the bat seen smashing the ATM (photo left above) but supposedly one of the two who attacked the passer-by (photo right above). How the police could identify that person is unknown, since he was wearing a ski mask. Moreover, contacted by L’Humanité, the passer-by, Bertrand de Quatrebarbes, reported that when he was attacked, after he finally released his grip on the man with the bat, another man said in an authoritative voice, “It’s okay, you can let him go,” whereupon his attackers instantly obeyed. This same man later approached Quatrebarbes’ wife and daughter to say that it had been a mistake. His wife shouted at the man that he was a plainclothes cop, which he didn’t deny. Quatrebarbes was then hauled in for four hours of interrogation at police headquarters, 36, quai des Orfèvres, by the head of the anti-terrorist cell!

To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: internationalistgroup@msn.com