The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

French demonstrators can’t count on the police to protect them

Apr 10, 2006

The following article is translated and excerpted from the April 7 issue of Lutte Ouvrière. It refers to a problem that arose in the demonstrations referred to in the other article.

Since the beginning of the movement to force the government to repeal its youth job scheme, the police and the CRS (the national SWAT team) arrested 1,052 people in Paris, among whom 590 were prosecuted and 226 were convicted. Throughout the country, 2,600 people were questioned by the police. The government justifies these convictions by the violence which marked the demonstration, and especially by the necessity to repress the action of “smashers.”

All the demonstrators know that these smashers are a problem. Plenty of young demonstrators have been attacked by groups of hoodlums, clearly organized for that purpose, who swoop down on a demonstrator to steal a cell phone, possibly beating the protester up, or several of them throwing some protesters to the ground. Under these circumstances, some of the demonstrators welcomed the intervention of the CRS or plain-clothes police and have even complained that the police haven’t intervened more systematically.

Fortunately, up to now this hasn’t stopped the youth from demonstrating. But the demonstrators can’t rely on the police to protect them. If the police intervene, they hardly pay attention to “details,” as we’ve seen. The CRS often beats up whoever is in front of them, as was shown by the case of the postal militant of the SUD Telecommunications union who was trampled by the cops, putting him in a coma.

What’s true for the police is all the more true for the justice system, which allows a defendant to be tried 48 hours after questioning, leading to prison terms for hundreds of youth questioned by the CRS. A 24-year-old man was sentenced to two months on a prison farm because he supposedly insulted the CRS, who said they saw him throw a beer bottle. Another man, arrested after a demonstration protesting a speech by President Chirac, was given a two-month suspended sentence and 80 hours of community service. A CRS cop said he had thrown a beer bottle at them, although it didn’t hit anyone.

Counting on the police to prevent “smashers” from attacking demonstrators, and counting on the justice system to condemn them, runs the risk of seeing demonstrators and smashers wind up in the same cells and on the same court benches.

The only way to avoid this is for the demonstrators to protect their own marches. They have nothing to fear when they number tens of thousands. Thousands can easily defend themselves against those who number only in the hundreds. The demonstrators have to count on their numbers and on their organization. An efficient system of defense guards is capable of protecting a march. They can include mobile groups who intervene rapidly against anyone attacking demonstrators.

Youth in struggle and workers on strike both need to organize to protect themselves from those who would attack them. We can’t let the actions of a few discourage the many, especially when the movement of hundreds of thousands around the country against the youth job scheme has begun to make the government retreat.