May 26, 2016

The need to communicate....

Over the past weeks the French have been in a heated discussion about the "code du travail". I will spare you the details let's just say "a company can, by agreement, lower wages and change working hour" should this law pass. This would ultimately essentially allow employers more ‘flexibility’ and their employees the possibility of working more hours according the employers’ needs, but I'm not going to discuss that.

A simple walk across the Place de la Republique featuring the statue of Marianne - who symbolises the spirit of the French republic - shows the unease of the French population. They are in dire need to communicate their opinion and what better way than to stage demonstrations.

Street protests are hardly a novelty in the homeland of the 1789 French revolution and the May 1968 student-worker uprising but the occupation, night after night, of the vast square by left-wing and anarchist young people is a novel form of snowballing action that is giving President Francois Hollande's Socialist government sleepless nights.

The "Nuit Debout" or "Up all Night" movement began on March 31 when a group of activists decided not to go home after a march against labor reform. Crowds ranging from several hundred to a few thousand have gathered every evening since then for a spontaneous happening that is a mixture of street theater, party and ritual initiation for a new generation of activists.

The "Nuit Debout" protesters agree only that they want change. There is no defined platform beyond widespread anger at the government's pro-business reforms.

"Nuit Debout" unites the discontented in a mostly joyous hubbub of debate on everything from rewriting the French constitution to protesting against police violence and labor reforms.

Asked what their objective is, a common response among the participants is "We'll see where this gets us".

Come rain or come shine... 

Place de la Republique had become an improvised shrine and a symbol of national unity. 

Working groups on the square discuss utopian projects such as a universal income, a lifetime job guarantee or worker takeovers of companies, but also women's rights, the media, unemployment and climate change. 

Everybody has a right to express themselves as best they wish!

The "Nuit Debout"movement has pitched its tents and built its stalls around the shrine of la Marianne, still festooned with candles, banners, graffiti and flowers from last year's Islamist attacks.

Police have taken a mostly hands-off approach! 

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