The mobilization of young people brings new life to the protests in France

The mobilization of young people brings new life to the protests in France

“Withdrawal or blockade.” With banners, circulation billboards and garbage containers, the Paris Dauphine University offered an unusual appearance this Monday morning. For the second time in its history, the entrances to this faculty in the west of the French capital have been blocked by hundreds of their students mobilized against the unpopular pension reform, which raises the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64 (with 42 or 43 years of contributions to receive a full pension).

“Even Dauphine, who is known for her economic studies and its conservative tradition, is mobilized against this measure,” explained Maria, 23, a finance master’s student to EL PERIÓDICO DE CATALUNYA, from the Prensa Ibérica group. Like more than a hundred of her classmates, this militant of the UNEF student union was concentrated in front of this University located in the 16th district (west) of Paris, one of the wealthiest in the capital. The approval of the reform “with 49.3 —a controversial government decree— has shown that this government does not want to listen to the people“. “A feeling of abandonment that is even stronger among young people, who felt abandoned during the management of the covid-19 pandemic“, Add.

Since the announcement of the ‘decree’ on March 16, young people have gained prominence in the wave of protests, the most massive in the 21st century in the bustling neighboring country and in which the students had had a supporting role until then. Spontaneous demonstrations with riots were repeated in Paris and other large cities for a week. These urban violence, especially with garbage bag fires and which led to a harsh response from policerepresented the tip of the iceberg of the strong mobilization of young people.

A growing involvement

This greater presence of students was one of the keys to the increase in the number of protesters in the general strike last Thursday, in which participation records were broken in Paris, Lyon or Toulouse. The unions rely on this letter from the youth to keep up the pressure on the Government of Emmanuel Macron in another day of strikes and demonstrations across the country this Tuesday. He will represent the tenth since January 19.

“Some analysts believed that the protests on March 23 would be the last cartridge union. But the increase in the number of demonstrators and the novel effect of young people suggest that these mobilizations are far from declining,” explains the sociologist Karel One, specialist in the trade union movement. According to this researcher at the CNRS and the University of Nanterre, for young people “perhaps the issue of retirement seems distant, but instead it is much more sensitive to the question of democracy. The same had already happened with the ‘Nuit Debout'”, the French attempt to reproduce the movement of the outraged.

Some 80 universities and more than 400 institutes were blocked last Thursday. The intelligence services calculate that this youth involvement could be doubled, or even triple, this Tuesday. More symbolic, but no less relevant, is the presence in the protests of ‘influencers’ linked to universes at the antipodes of politics, such as reality television. Or the most watched broadcast on Twitch on March 20 was one dedicated to the motion of censure, which the Government of Elisabeth Borne it surpassed by only 9 votes.

“Youth brings dynamism and unpredictability to the social movement“, highlights Yon. In recent days, several episodes of “convergence of struggles” have been observed. For example, the arrival of hundreds of students in front of a garbage truck garage in the southeast of Paris to support the garbage collectors, on unlimited strike since March 7 and converted into a symbol of the protests, images that evoke the imagery of May 1968.

Divorce between young people and Macron

The students of the equivalent of 2nd year of Baccalaureate completed on March 22 several Selectivity tests. That gives them now much more free time, which fuels the possibility of a student spring. “It’s been a while since we’ve seen so many students on the street in France. We are not going to give up. If we need to demonstrate until June, we will,” says Imane Ouelhadj, 24, president of UNEF, founded in 1907. Many of them are inspired by what happened in 2006 with the creation of a more precarious employment contract to favor the labor insertion of those under 26 years of age. The protests at that time forced the government of Jacques Chirac to withdraw this measure despite having been approved by the National Assembly.

“During his first term, Macron presented himself as the president of the youth. But the reality is that he did much less for us than his predecessors François Hollande (socialist) or Nicolas Sarkozy (conservative)”, laments Ouelhadj, who gives as an example ” the few increases in university scholarships in recent years”. The main policy of the centrist leader for the new generations has been the learning. The State allocates some 5,000 million euros to these subsidized contracts of young students (some 800,000). A measure that has served to reduce the unemployment of young people, although it continues to be high: 17%, ten points higher than normal unemployment.

The Government postponed in recent months those most explosive measures for young people, as it feared their massive involvement in the protests by retirement age. For example, its Universal National Service (SNU), a kind of “military service” —without necessarily involving military instruction— that it could make compulsory for all young people in the coming years, according to one of the clues that the Administration is contemplating. The mobilized students, however, reproach Macron’s party for voting in Parliament in February against a Socialist Party proposal to keep the price of university canteens at one euro. “This has accentuated student precariousness at a time when many young people are lining up for food aid,” criticizes Maria, a student at Paris Dauphine.

Despite being the youngest president in the history of the Fifth Republic —he arrived at the Elysee at the age of 39 and with a regenerative speech— Macron’s presidency has been marked by a political divorce with the new generations. A year ago, in the first round of the presidential elections, more than 30% of those under 34 years of age voted for Jean-Luc Melenchon, left-wing candidate, and only 20% of them for the president, who obtained his main support among those over 60 years of age. The current push for pensions not only reflects a social fracture, but also a generational one.


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