Nuit Debout - the failure of parliamentary politics in France


Since the worldwide recession in 2008, we have seen governments around the world make neoliberal reforms, states hammering through austerity measures. In Ireland we know only too well the extent of austerity, the state has cut everything from healthcare to social housing. We have seen the struggle communities have been fighting against the privatization of water. We have seen the ever rising number of people being made homeless, mothers and fathers having to sleep in cars and parks with their children. We have seen massive unemployment, our loved ones having to emigrate to the other side of the world to find work.

Other countries have seen and are experiencing similar neoliberal attacks carried out by the state against the people, all so the rich and powerful can keep their riches and power. France has not been excluded from this, even with its “socialist government”. Francois Hollande and his “socialists” are planning to implement a new labor law the “El Khomri law” named after the minister of labor Myrian El Khomri. The law was first presented on 17th of February. This law will make it easier for companies to lay off workers, it will loosen restrictions on the working time which is a 35 hour work week, reduce redundancy payments, and also reduce payments for overtime work. Which has led to massive civil unrest in Paris and across France.

Protests started on the 9th of March by students and youths, thousands of which took to the streets. From that day on more and more people have been coming out in opposition protesting against the proposed labor law across France. The biggest protests were on the 31st of March with an estimated 1.2 million people taking to the streets. At the end of the day activists and protesters gathered at Place de la Republique and occupied the square. Over the following days more and more people took part in the occupation.

The occupation of Place de la Republique gave birth to “Nuit Debout” (translates into Up All Night) movement. Nuit Debout is made up of a coalition of different protest groups and grassroots groups (which include factory workers from the Goodyear tyre company, teachers protesting against educational reforms, and many more protesters from different backgrounds) and individual protesters.
The occupation of Place de la République resembles the Occupy movements that were spread out across the globe in 2011. Each evening at 6pm there are “popular assemblies” held where individuals take turn speaking for 2 minutes at a time. Some of these assemblies have even involved thousands of people.

All throughout April seen many protests and clashes with the police. On April 14th President Francois Hollande in a TV interview vowed that the labor reforms would go ahead. Hearing this, 300 protesters left the Place de la Republique and marched towards the President's residence “Élysée Palace”. Before protesters managed to reach their destination the police dispersed the protesters; banks and commercial buildings were vandalised in the process.

May saw protests intensifying in France and more workers joining the struggle. There was strikes by rail, road, sea and air transport; on the 19th of May strikes by workers in oil refineries; union members and activists blockaded fuel depots which led on the 26th of May ⅕ of petrol stations across France were without gas, and 40% of petrol stations in Paris were having trouble getting petrol.

There were more clashes with the police and protesters, police cars being set on fire, protesters being tear gassed by police. Student, activists and union members took part in occupations of buildings, roads were blocked and barricading schools.

Although unions are playing a big part in the struggle some of the unions are playing a reactionary role. The actions of the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) union in France in the protests since March has proven whose side the CGT is really on. At protests services d'ordre (SOs - stewards of the CGT) armed with batons, baseball bats and helmets try to police and control the protesters, and in many cases collaborating with the police. The CGT has proven that it sides with the state, the exploiters, against the people. In many demonstrations CGT stewards have tried and in cases succeeded in taking control of the front of the demonstrations and leading it elsewhere away from government buildings. This is done by the union to keep control of the movement to suit its own agenda.

In May because the government did not have the support of parliament tried to push the labor law through using special legislation that gives the French government emergency constitutional powers that gives the right to push laws through the National Assembly (lower house of parliament) without the National Assembly voting on the law. The Conservatives tried to put a block on the government's plan by putting forward a no confidence motion against the government. The parliament then voted on the no confidence motion which lost. 246 votes were made in support of no confidence, 288 votes is need to bring down the government.

On July 5th there was a second hearing in the National Assembly in which the government used emergency constitutional powers to push the labor law through. The National Assembly now has 24 hours to put a no confidence motion forward.

What we see here in the civil unrest in France is not a people pissed off with a new law to reform labor, but a people sick and tired of austerity and being robbed by the state and by capitalists. Like Greece, France proves that voting in a left wing government will not change anything. No matter what ideology a party proclaims, once the party gains power, their principles and morals go out the window. The Syriza party in Greece is a prime example. No matter how revolutionary their speeches, promises, or their intentions. Once in government the party will bend to the rule of the elites. This is the nature of the system, parliaments don't give power to the people, parliaments disempower the people, giving the criminal elites more power to exploit the people.

The only way for the people to have power for themselves is if they take it themselves, do away with parliaments and representative democracy and work towards having a political system of participatory democracy, where people can voice their own problems and complaints instead of having to rely on a person they vote for and more than likely they will never actually meet in person.
After all only you can look after your own affairs and you're not going to fuck yourself over.

With social and mass movements there is always the threat of them being brought down the wrong road. Instead of reaching for the movement's original goals they sometimes get sidetracked and brought down the road of parliamentary politics. Instead of the movement using its force to make gains in combating the elites, politicians and all sorts of opportunists divert the power and force of the movement to benefit their own selfish gains.

For example; the union boss may sell out a workers struggle in order to not risk losing their €80,000 a year wage package; the politician may use a mass movement to get them elected into parliament on the promise of making reforms that will benefit the people, but when the politician gets elected they either can't making any reform or else they just don't bother trying to make the reforms.

In France it's the grassroots and protest groups (rather than parliamentary parties) that are taking the lead and really pushing to stop the labor law from being implemented. The struggle in France proves there is force in numbers, groups and organisations standing together to fight against austerity, it makes it a lot harder for the government to ignore. If the law is to be prevented from being implemented it will be because of the pressure and civil unrest from these groups. As has already been seen the government will try push the labor law through parliament whither there is opposition within parliament or not.

In Ireland and other countries in Europe that are being devastated from austerity brought on by capitalism, can learn from the struggle in France.The only solution to combating these reforms and new laws that are pillaging and robbing the people of their rights that were won through hard struggles over generations, is for the people that are affected to come together with grassroots and protest groups to unite against the state, the government and the EU.

If other movements flared up across Europe like what has happened in France, and work together to fight against the EU and austerity it would be a real force to be reckoned with. This might seem unrealistic. People in France in February probably would have said the same thing. But it was only a month later the struggle erupted, no one predicted it.

In Ireland the reality is, the numbers are already there, there are many protest and grassroots groups already formed to try combat austerity, there are over 750,000 people living under the poverty line, there are 90,00 people waiting on social housing waiting lists, there are 6,150 people living homeless, 2,177 children living homeless, there is 92,361 people in mortgages that are in arrears, there is 169,700 people unemployed, the government has made 2.7 billion euros in cuts to public healthcare, and there has been massive cuts in funding for education, community programs and other sectors and programs that are needed by people. All this while the rich elite still get to hold onto their wealth. There can be only so much people can take, if the state keeps kicking people while they are down, sooner or later they will have had enough.