General strike called in France
Monday 20 March 2006 8:05 PM GMT

French unions and student bodies have called for a general strike and protest marches on 28 March to pressure the government to withdraw a job law they say will create insecurity for a generation of young workers.

"All the unions are calling to make 28 March a day of demonstrations, strikes and work stoppages," Rene Valadon, confederal secretary of the Force Ouvriere union, said on Monday after a meeting of France's main unions, student and high school groups.

Another union leader, Gerard Aschieri of the Federation of United Unions, said public and private workers would go "hand in hand" during the day of action.

Despite nationwide protest marches over the weekend, Dominique de Villepin, the prime minister, has stood firm on the First Job Contract (CPE) law but also called for dialogue to improve it.

He held meetings with students and employers on Monday to discuss their concerns and promote the law.

Chirac's backing

Jacques Chirac, the French president, on Monday backed his prime minister over the law, which allows employers to fire people under 26 for any reason during a two-year trial period.

Chirac said the CPE showed the government's willingness to fight youth unemployment, which is 23% in France, more than twice the national rate.

The unrest may have damaged Villepin's presidential prospects

"The challenge ... is to open a constructive and confident dialogue in this spirit which can allow improving the CPE," Chirac told a news conference with Jordan's King Abdullah.

"I know this is the prime minister's and the government's willingness and I can only approve of it," Chirac said.

Opposition to the law has provoked a crisis for Villepin, which could harm his chances of running for president in 2007 and damage the UMP party.

Opinion polls show his popularity has slumped in recent weeks, and a poll for the BVA organisation on Monday showed that 60% of French voters want the law withdrawn.

Student groups and union leaders say the CPE would create a generation of disposable workers without job security.

Protester hurt

In an announcement likely to inflame supporters of the CPE protests, the Sud-PTT union said one of its members was critically ill and in a coma after being injured in clashes with police that followed Saturday's march through Paris.

The 39-year-old man was hospitalised after being injured in the face during clashes between police and protesters at the Place de la Nation in eastern Paris, police said in a statement. He was in serious condition, it added.

The Paris prosecutor's office has opened a preliminary inquiry, the statement said.

Bernard Allaire of Sud-PTT denounced police violence and told Reuters: "His situation is worse than alarming. No one is allowed to see him except his immediate family."

Police clashed with protesters in a suburb outside Paris on Monday and more student rallies are planned for Tuesday.

The French work code contains rigorous standards for firing employees.

But Villepin hopes to use the measure to lower the 23% unemployment rate among the nation's youths, a figure that rises to about 50% in depressed suburban neighbourhoods where unrest erupted last year, fueled by discrimination and joblessness.


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From Jean-Paul Sartre's "The Search for a Method"

By its actual presence, a philosophy transforms the structures of Knowledge, stimulates ideas; even when it defines the practical perspectives of an exploited class, it polarises the culture of the ruling classes and changes it. Marx wrote that the ideas of the dominant class are the dominant ideas. He is absolutely right. In 1925, when I was twenty years old, there was no chair of Marxism at the University, and Communist students were very careful not to appeal to Marxism or even to mention it in their examinations; had they done so, they would have failed. The horror of dialectic was such that Hegel himself was unknown to us. Of course, they allowed us to read Marx; they even advised us to read him; one had to know him “in order to refute him.” But without the Hegelian tradition, without Marxist teachers, without any planned program of study, without the instruments of thought, our generation, like the preceding ones and like that which followed, was wholly ignorant of historical materialism. On the other hand, they taught us Aristotelian and mathematical logic in great detail.

It was at about this time that I read Capital and German Ideology. I found everything perfectly clear, and I really understood absolutely nothing. To understand is to change, to go beyond oneself. This reading did not change me. By contrast, what did begin to change me was the reality of Marxism, the heavy presence on my horizon of the masses of workers, an enormous, sombre body which lived Marxism, which practiced it, and which at a distance exercised an irresistible attraction on petit bourgeois intellectuals. When we read this philosophy in books, it enjoyed no privilege in our eyes. A priest, who has just written a voluminous and very interesting work on Marx, calmly states in the opening pages: “It is possible to study [his] thought just as securely as one studies that of any other philosopher or any other sociologist.” That was exactly what we believed. So long as this thought appeared to us through written words, we remained “objective.” We said to ourselves: “Here are the conceptions of a German intellectual who lived in London in the middle of the last century.”

But when it was presented as a real determination of the Proletariat and as the profound meaning of its acts — for itself and in itself — then Marxism attracted us irresistibly without our knowing it, and it put all our acquired culture out of shape. I repeat, it was not the idea which unsettled us; nor was it the condition of the worker, which we knew abstractly but which we had not experienced. No, it was the two joined together. It was-as we would have said then in our idealist jargon even as we were breaking with idealism — the Proletariat as the incarnation and vehicle of an idea. And I believe that we must here complete Marx's statement: When the rising class becomes conscious of itself, this selfconsciousness acts at a distance upon intellectuals and makes the ideas in their heads disintegrate. We rejected the official idealism in the name of “the tragic sense of life.” This Proletariat, far off, invisible, inaccessible, but conscious and acting, furnished the proof-obscurely for most of us-that not all conflicts had been resolved. We had been brought up in bourgeois humanism, and this optimistic humanism was shattered when we vaguely perceived around our town the immense crowd of “sub-men conscious of their subhumanity.” But we sensed this shattering in a way that was still idealist and individualist.

At about that time, the writers whom we loved explained to us that existence is a scandal. What interested us, however, was real men with their labours and their troubles. We cried out for a philosophy which would account for everything, and we did not perceive that it existed already and that it was precisely this philosophy which provoked in us this demand. At that time one book enjoyed a great success among us — Jean Wahl's Toward the Concrete. Yet we were disappointed by this “toward.” The total concrete was what we wanted to leave behind us; the absolute concrete was what we wanted to achieve. Still the work pleased us, for it embarrassed idealism by discovering in the universe paradoxes, ambiguities, conflicts, still unresolved. We learned to turn pluralism (that concept of the Right) against the optimistic, monistic idealism of our professors — in the name of a Leftist thought which was still ignorant of itself. Enthusiastically we adopted all those doctrines which divided men into watertight groups. “Petit bourgeois” democrats. we rejected racism, but we liked to think that “primitive mentality,” the universe of the child and the madman, remained entirely impenetrable to us.

Under the influence of war and the Russian Revolution, we offered violence-only theoretically, of course-in opposition to the sweet dreams of our professors. It was a wretched violence (insults, brawls, suicides, murders, irreparable catastrophes) which risked leading us to fascism; but in our eyes it had the advantage of highlighting the contradictions of reality. Thus Marxism as “a philosophy which had become the world” wrenched us away from the defunct culture of a bourgeoisie which was barely subsisting on its past. We plunged blindly down the dangerous path of a pluralist realism concerned with man and things in their “concrete” existence. Yet we remained within the compass of “dominating ideas.” Although we wanted to know man in his real life, we did not as yet have the idea of considering him first a worker who produces the conditions of his life. For a long time we confused the total and the individual. Pluralism, which had served us so well against M. Brunschvieg's idealism, prevented us from understanding the dialectical totalisation. It pleased us to decry essences and artificially isolated types rather than to reconstitute the synthetic movement of a truth that had “become.”

Political events led us to employ the schema of the “class struggle” as a sort of grid, more convenient than veridical; but it took the whole bloody history of this half century to make us grasp the reality of the class struggle and to situate us in a split society. It was the war which shattered the worn structures of our thought-War, Occupation, Resistance, the years which followed. We wanted to fight at the side of the working class; we finally understood that the concrete is history and dialectical action. We had repudiated pluralist realism only to have found it again among the fascists, and we discovered the world.

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