After violent protests, Nuit Debout movement at crossroads

Two dozen police officers were injured on Thursday, three of them seriously, during mass protests across France, against a deeply unpopular labour reform bill. Meanwhile, the government is celebrating good economic news showing “solid growth”.

Nuit Debout protesters gathered at Place de La République in Paris on 18 April 2016.
Nuit Debout protesters gathered at Place de La République in Paris on 18 April 2016. PHILIPPE LOPEZ / AFP

Clashes between the police and protesters erupted in Paris, Nantes, Lyon, Marseille and Toulouse with 124 people arrested nationwide.

In what was the fourth major protest day in two months, at least 170.000 people took to the streets in protest of the new labour reform bill.

Those protests passed off peacefully, but according to the police around 100 "especially violent demonstrators" forced their way through a police barricade at the Place de la Republique in Paris on Thursday.

According to the organisers and the authorities, the unrest and the clashes are due to "a minority that was seeking violence".

“We could have expected those [clashes] because it’s something we see quite regularly in these kind of situations, when you have a movement which is there for quite a long time and turns to violence,” says Bruno Cautrès, a political expert with Science Po’s Cevipof.

“It’s not the first time we see that in France in recent months and we don’t know where this movement goes”

A lot of the clashes happened on Paris’ Place de La République. The square has been the venue for the past month of nightly gatherings dubbed Nuit debout or "Up All Night". Last night, however, protesters were evacuated after midnight.

The movement started by strictly being against the labour market reform, but has now become an amalgamation of different demands, ranging from the creation of new French republic to a more being more open to refugees.

Place de La République

There are still people on Place de La République, but some are wondering if the movement can transform itself.

“It depends very much on whether the movement can achieve to accord on the same aims,” says Julie Hamann an expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations. “The problem with the Indignados in Spain or the Occupy movement in the US, was that they debated for a very long time about themselves and they didn’t achieve to take the next step and decide on what political revendications they wanted.

Nuit Debout and the labour unions have called for another protest this Sunday. The unions have also called for a new strike next Tuesday, when the law starts being debated in parliament. Analysts are expecting to see huge crowds to be drown – once again- to the streets.

“I think that there are many sympathies all over France for this movement,” explains Julie Hamann. “One crucial question is to know if the violence that we’ve seen in the last few days will continue. The Nuit Debout movement risks losing a lot of appeal if those clashes become more frequent”.

There’s no denying that the current political mood in France is electric. A recent poll said 78% of the French think the country could see a "social explosion" soon.

“What the public is saying when they talk about ‘social explosion’ is that they express their fears” says Bruno Cautrès. “The current mood in France is the following: We have this economic situation which is quite bad. The mood is very pessimistic. People get the feeling that they’re economic situation is worse than before, that there is no clear sign of optimism. People also see the political situation, where we have a weak president, and it gives the impression that they don’t know where they’re going.”

Presidential Elections

While the path to reelection for President François Hollande is still narrow, some good news came out this Friday. Official data showed Friday that France's gross domestic product grew by 0.5 percent in the first quarter of this year, beating previous expectations.

That came on top of figures earlier in the week showing the biggest drop in jobless numbers in nearly 16 years, with the ranks of the unemployed falling by 1.7 percent in March to 3.5 million job seekers.

“You never know what could happen, this election is in one year,” says Cautrès. “But it’s very unlikely that François Hollande will recover, even with those good economic news. Many French have the feeling that Hollande is probably a nice guy, but that he’s not at the right place and he doesn’t have the right persona”.

Despite the economy’s recovery, Hollande remains France’s most unpopular president since World War II.

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