French Youth Revolt for the Status Quo

Henri Astier examines the large and ongoing demonstrations by French youth over the proposed change in the labor code, in openDemocracy.

France is undergoing another social convulsion, as hundreds of thousands of students and young people – now joined by the children of immigrants from the deprived banlieues – protest against a new law designed to increase the flexibility of the labour market. Some, like Naima Bouteldja, see the demonstrators as resisting the “flexploitation” characteristic of “the authoritarian market society France has become”; others, like the veteran of the 1968 protests (and current Green member of the European parliament) Danny Cohn-Bendit, portray their actions as “defensive, based on fear of insecurity and change”.

These contrasting perspectives reflect the fractures at the heart of current French social experience. Every country has its “haves” and “have-nots”, but in France the have-nots are a particularly desperate lot…

[U]nemployment is only part of the story. Millions more are caught on a treadmill of short-term schemes – mostly subsidised by the government – that lead either nowhere or to another dead-end job. Add those living off various welfare benefits, and the number of people relegated to the margins of French society has been variously estimated at a staggering 7-12 million.

The real fracture sociale Jacques Chirac referred to when he was elected president in 1995 – and has gone on to do nothing about – is between “insiders” with well-paid, secure positions, and “outsiders” who find it extremely difficult to get on the career path many take for granted in other countries.