Nov 7, 2005
The following was an editorial written on November 1st and appearing in the newspaper Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), published by the revolutionary group in France of that name. It is a response to French government attacks on youths who have been rioting in working class towns around Paris.
After the deaths of two youths electrocuted while trying to flee from the police, the city of Clichy-sous-Bois for several days has been the scene of nightly clashes between the police and several hundred youth from a workers’ neighborhood. The agitation has extended to several localities in the Paris region.
Clichy-sous-Bois is a Paris suburb. But the violence could have exploded in the suburbs of Lyons, Strasbourg, Lille or elsewhere, for the same reasons.
Certainly, the principal victims of this violence are the inhabitants of these suburbs. The cars that are burnt aren’t the cars of billionaires or of government ministers, but those of workers who live in these neighborhoods. This is why, when the youth take on firemen as representatives of authority, it doesn’t show a very high political consciousness.
Sarkozy (the Minister of Interior, in charge of the police) uses this to unfurl all his demagogy, by promising to “clean out” La Courneuve with a water cannon, to “eradicate the gangrene” in Argenteuil and to take on “the scum” in Clichy-sous-Bois. He tries to pose as the defender of workers’ neighborhoods, promising to reestablish law and order there!
But these are only the demagogic words of a man who seeks to please the extreme right wing electorate by outbidding Le Pen (a far right, racist politician). Sarkozy’s policy is to carry on a war against a whole neighborhood, sending in tactical squads against anyone young, against anyone whose appearance displeases them; encouraging these squads to throw tear gas grenades into a prayer hall. The demagogy of Sarkozy doesn’t make the workers’ neighborhoods more secure for the inhabitants, but it encourages the most repressive attitudes of the police and the racism of a number of its elements. Instead of security, it sows hatred.
Today, the Socialist Party protests against Sarkozy and his methods. Even Sarkozy’s competitors inside the right wing majority do the same. The issue isn’t Sarkozy himself, but the policy of the whole government. The harder and harder life in the workers’ neighborhoods is the responsibility of all the governments – those of the left in the past as much that of the right today.
With the general impoverishment of the laboring classes, the workers’ neighborhoods are transformed into ghettoes, undermined by unemployment. There is no infrastructure for the youth, no educators, no neighborhood coordinators – only overcrowded schools, closed post offices, businesses moving out.
The violence of daily life in these neighborhoods may be the work of hoodlums or traffickers. But there have always been hoodlums. Why do they find support today from a good part of the youth? Why do the explosions of violence against the police involve many more youth than simply neighborhood toughs? Because there isn’t a young person in these neighborhoods who doesn’t have a bone to pick with Sarkozy’s police. What he calls the “scum” are the poor, all the poor, and not just some hoodlums or traffickers. The majority of the youth see a future which is blocked and hopeless.
The decaying of the poor neighborhoods is part of the decline in the workers’ condition – besieged by blows delivered by big business and the government, whatever party is in power. What we can wish is that the working class – by again finding its capacity to react against the offensive of business and the government – will find the ear of the youth of the workers’ neighborhoods. These youth, as part of the entire working class, will be able to express all that is legitimate in their revolt, while leaving the hoodlums and the petty traffickers at the side of the road.