References to page numbers refer to LIENS 1. A PDF of the following from the journal is available.
ASSEMBLÉE GENERALE ::: GENERAL ASSEMBLY
A well-established political form in France, the ‘general assembly’ in practice takes many forms and performs many functions. A minimal definition: an open assembly of everyone in a particular workplace, school, university or other social structure which – so long as it’s large enough – regards itself as sovereign and its decisions as binding on the entire body from which it emerged. It’s these bodies which constitute themselves to, for instance, vote in strikes or other sorts of activity in the universities; the term may just as well apply, though, to workers meeting to decide collectively whether or not to continue their strike.
ASSEMBLEE INTERPRO :: INTERPROFESSIONAL ASSEMBLY
Ordinarily general assemblies are made up of strikers from a particular workplace, organising for instance students at a particular faculty separately from the teaching staff, and certainly separately from post workers down the road. Where it’s been necessary in the past ‘interprofessional’ assemblies have been held, getting together strikers from different workplaces and so on. One major and rather new feature of the current movement is the widespread and spontaneous development of such assemblies, which have regrouped much broader groups of people for political discussion and collective action. Some of these have been enormous. As noted in the short extract from a communiqué from such a group on p.2, 1000 people got together under such a rubric at 3am in order to launch economic blockades towards the end of October in Toulouse. Still they’re proportionally small and it’s hard to be clear about their significance: but in experimenting with a mode of political contestation which is mobile, anti-sectoral and flexible they’re experimenting with something serious. The Rennes ‘Address’ on page 3 argues for the generalisation of associated practices throughout Europe, amongst other things.
BLOCAGE :: BLOCKADE
Until 2006 ‘blocage’ meant the blockade of a particular workplace on strike by strikers. In the course of the anti-CPE movement in 2006, experimentation generated a relatively new practice: economic blockade of society at large, using strikes as a launching pad. In the current movement, after the CGT refinery strikes (and their attendant blockades) visibly panicked the government by coming close to imposing fuel shortages, the refinery strike pickets – which had begun to be attended by all sorts of people – began to adopt as their main objective economic disruption, in an effort to deepen the impact of the refinery strikes. In this way the ‘piquets volants’, flying pickets for the disruption of circulation and production, were formed. A friend’s account – from the bulletin “FRANCE FALL”, available on the LIENS blog – gives an idea of their character:
“All over France, but particularly in Rennes, the technique of piquets volants (small groups scattered over city blocking activity, circulation, transports […] and changing targets constantly) is more and more frequent. Those ones, in Rennes, proved to be useful and all reports on them are about the mixture of the crowd (unionist with non-unionists with students with the unemployed with…) and the level of friendship between people involved -in such groups, you clearly act as a group but because the confrontations with police are not constantly high, there is enough space for talks and people getting to know each other-.”
CASSEUR :: ‘HOOLIGAN’?
Pervasive in French political vocabulary since at least the 2005 suburban riots, the term ‘casseur’ is a state weapon in a word. Derived from the verb ‘casser’, ‘to smash’, it has a shifting designation whose central function for journalists, liberals, the police and in fact every part of the state is to mark off ‘bad’ from ‘good’ protesters.In this respect it works in a similar way to the English ‘anarchist’: an un-principled, rageful, barely-human and certainly abnormal creature whose only interest is destruction – applied to anyone they fancy trying to exclude from any possible public sympathy. So fighting off the designation, or reclaiming it, has been a central concern for the movement in recent years; the article ‘Le Front Commun des Casseurs’ is just the latest example. During the anti-CPE movement, the general assembly of students at Rennes II, repeatedly targeted by such vocabulary for their innovative deployment of tactics of economic blockade and riot, adopted the slogan “NOUS SOMMES TOUS DES CASSEURS” – “ALL OF US ARE HOOLIGANS.”
DEMENAGER :: RELOCATION
A tactic invented (perhaps?) during the CPE movement, and maybe worth thinking about in the UK (although totally unreported this time, oddly.) An account from the brilliant document ‘Two weeks spent in Rennes’ follows. “One funny action I participated in was to “demenage” a Quick restaurant. You just have to go in and organise a relay to bring all the furniture out. This way it’s very quick and the responsibility is shared between everyone. The funniest bit is the look of the customers and the workers (on that occasion, one of the workers tried to hold to a table but quickly had to give up, while most of the others didn’t react). Then you can have a nice time sitting on chairs and tables outside before continuing the demonstration. This new way of disturbing the functioning of a place has been widely used in France during the movement as it is a middle term between occupying a place (which can be quite boring, especially when it’s an horrible place) and damaging it.”
Someone who attends a ‘lycée’, a post-secondary educational institution quite like our further education sector. (It’s also split into technical and academic, etc.) The lycéen movement in France is extremely strong and has played a major role in many of the movements of the last few years, including providing a major impetus in the current movement. The use of strikes, occupations and blockades has been common up to now; a relatively new feature is their occasional participation in the interprofessional assemblies and economic blockades. The question of the make-up and role of the lycée students remains to be worked out in detail, though. (One might ask: what relation to the ‘casseur’?)