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May 1968 in France

For other events in May 1968, see 1968.
A May 1968 poster: "Be young and shut up," with silhouette caricature of General de Gaulle

May 1968, refers to a protest period in French history. In this period when the events occurred in France, the country saw the largest general strike that ever stopped the economy of an advanced industrial country,[1] the first wildcat general strike in history,[1] and a series of student occupation protests. The prolonged strike involved eleven million workers for two weeks in a row,[1] and its impact was such that it almost caused the collapse of the government of President Charles de Gaulle. Such explosion was provoked by groups in revolt against modern consumer and technical society, embracing left-wing positions that were even more critical of Stalinist authoritarianism than of Western capitalism.[2] The movement contrasted with the labor unions and the French Communist Party (Parti Communiste Français, PCF), which started to side with the de Gaulle government in the goal of containing the revolt.[1]

Many saw the events as an opportunity to shake up the "old society" and traditional morality, focusing especially on the education system and employment.[citation needed] It began as a long series of student strikes that broke out at a number of universities and lycées in Paris, following confrontations with university administrators and the police. The de Gaulle administration's attempts to quash those strikes by police action only inflamed the situation further, leading to street battles with the police in the Latin Quarter, followed by a general strike by students and strikes throughout France by eleven million French workers, roughly two-thirds of the French workforce. The protests reached such a point that de Gaulle created a military operations headquarters to deal with the unrest, dissolved the National Assembly and called for new parliamentary elections for 23 June 1968.

The government was close to collapse at that point (de Gaulle had even taken temporary refuge at an air force base in Germany), but violence evaporated almost as quickly as it arose. Workers went back to their jobs, after a series of deceptions by the Confédération Générale du Travail (the leftist union federation) and the PCF. When the elections were finally held in June, the Gaullist party emerged even stronger than before.

May 1968 was a political failure for the protesters, but it had an enormous social impact. In France, it is considered to be the watershed moment when a conservative moral ideal (religion, patriotism, respect for authority) shifted towards a more liberal moral ideal (equality, sexual liberation, human rights) that today better describes French society, in theory if not in practice.[citation needed] Although this change did not take place solely in this one month, the term mai 68 is used to refer to this general shift in principles, especially when referring to its most idealistic aspects.

Contents

[edit] The events before May

On 22 March far-left groups, a small number of prominent poets and musicians, and 150 students, occupied an administration building at Paris University at Nanterre and held a meeting in the university council room dealing with class discrimination in French society and the political bureaucracy that controlled the school's funding.

The school's administration called the police, who surrounded the university. After the publication of their wishes, the students left the building without any trouble. After this first record, some leaders of what was named the "Movement of 22 March" were called together by the disciplinary committee of the university.

[edit] The events of May

Following months of conflicts between students and authorities at the University of Paris at Nanterre, the administration shut down that university on 2 May 1968. Students at the Sorbonne University in Paris met on 3 May to protest against the closure and the threatened expulsion of several students at Nanterre. On Monday, 6 May, the national student union, the Union Nationale des Étudiants de France (UNEF) â still the largest student union in France today â and the union of university teachers called a march to protest against the police invasion of Sorbonne. More than 20,000 students, teachers and supporters marched towards the Sorbonne, still sealed off by the police, who charged, wielding their batons, as soon as the marchers approached. While the crowd dispersed, some began to create barricades out of whatever was at hand, while others threw paving stones, forcing the police to retreat for a time. The police then responded with tear gas and charged the crowd again. Hundreds more students were arrested.

High school student unions spoke in support of the riots on 6 May. The next day, they joined the students, teachers and increasing numbers of young workers who gathered at the Arc de Triomphe to demand that:

  1. all criminal charges against arrested students be dropped,
  2. the police leave the university, and
  3. the authorities reopen Nanterre and Sorbonne.

Negotiations broke down, and students returned to their campuses after a false report that the government had agreed to reopen them, only to discover the police still occupying the schools. The students now had a near revolutionary fervor.

On Friday, 10 May, another huge crowd congregated on the Rive Gauche. When the riot police again blocked them from crossing the river, the crowd again threw up barricades, which the police then attacked at 2:15 in the morning after negotiations once again foundered. The confrontation, which produced hundreds of arrests and injuries, lasted until dawn of the following day. The events were broadcast on radio as they occurred and the aftermath was shown on television the following day. Allegations were made that the police had participated, through agents provocateurs, in the riots, by burning cars and throwing Molotov cocktails [3].

The government's heavy-handed reaction brought on a wave of sympathy for the strikers. Many of the nation's more mainstream singers and poets joined after the heavy-handed police brutality came to light. American artists also began voicing support of the strikers. The PCF reluctantly supported the students, whom it regarded as adventurers and anarchists, and the major left union federations, the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT) and the Force Ouvrière (CGT-FO), called a one-day general strike and demonstration for Monday, 13 May.

Well over a million people marched through Paris on that day; the police stayed largely out of sight. Prime Minister Georges Pompidou personally announced the release of the prisoners and the reopening of the Sorbonne. However, the surge of strikes did not recede. Instead, the protesters got even more active.

When the Sorbonne reopened, students occupied it and declared it an autonomous "people's university". Approximately 401 popular action committees were set up in Paris, including the Occupation Committee of Sorbonne, and elsewhere in the weeks that followed to take up grievances against the government and French society.

In the following days, workers began occupying factories, starting with a sit-down strike at the Sud Aviation plant near the city of Nantes on 14 May, then another strike at a Renault parts plant near Rouen, which spread to the Renault manufacturing complexes at Flins in the Seine Valley and the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt. By 16 May, workers had occupied roughly fifty factories, and by 17 May, 200,000 were on strike. That figure snowballed to two million workers on strike the following day and then ten million, or roughly two-thirds of the French workforce, on strike the following week.

These strikes were not led by the union movement; on the contrary, the CGT tried to contain this spontaneous outbreak of militancy by channeling it into a struggle for higher wages and other economic demands. Workers put forward a broader, more political and more radical agenda, demanding the ousting of the government and President de Gaulle and attempting, in some cases, to run their factories. When the trade union leadership negotiated a 35% increase in the minimum wage, a 7% wage increase for other workers, and half normal pay for the time on strike with the major employers' associations, the workers occupying their factories refused to return to work and jeered their union leaders.

On 25 May and 26 May, the Grenelle agreements were signed at the Ministry of Social Affairs. They provided for an increase of the minimum wage by 25% and of the average salaries by 10%. These offers were rejected, and the strike went on. The working class and top intellectuals were joining in solidarity for a major change in workers' rights.

On 27 May, the meeting of the UNEF, the most outstanding of the events of May 1968, proceeded and gathered 30,000 to 50,000 people in the Stade Sebastien Charlety. The meeting was extremely militant with speakers demanding the government be overthrown and elections held.

On 29 May, Charles de Gaulle fled to the headquarters of the French military in Germany, in Baden-Baden, to meet general Jacques Massu; he came back the next day. Though this move was initially appraised as a political maneuver, Massu's later testimony was that Charles de Gaulle was really disheartened when he arrived in Baden.[4]

On 30 May, 400,000 to 500,000 protesters (many more than the 50,000 the police were expecting) led by the CGT marched through Paris, chanting, "Adieu, de Gaulle!" (Meaning: "Farewell, de Gaulle.")

On May 30, de Gaulle dissolved the National Assembly by a radio appeal. Immediately after, de Gaulle's supporters, around 800,000, marched through the Champs-Elysées.

While the government appeared to be close to collapse, de Gaulle remained firm, even though he had had to go into hiding. After ensuring that he had sufficient loyal military units mobilized to back him if push came to shove, he went on the radio the following day (the national television service was on strike) to announce the dissolution of the National Assembly, with elections to follow on 23 June.[5] He ordered workers to return to work, threatening to institute a state of emergency if they did not.

[edit] Events of June and July

From that point, the revolutionary feeling of the students and workers faded away. Workers gradually returned to work or were ousted from their plants by the police. The national student union called off street demonstrations. The government banned a number of leftist organizations. The police retook the Sorbonne on 16 June. De Gaulle triumphed in the legislative elections held in June, and the crisis came to an end. On Bastille Day, there were resurgent street demonstrations in the Latin Quarter, led by leftist students wearing red arm-bands and anarchist students wearing black arm-bands. The Paris police and the Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité responded with brutal repression starting around 10 p.m. and continuing through the night, on the streets, in police vans, at police stations, and in hospitals where many wounded were taken. There was, as a result, much bloodshed among many students and tourists there for the evening's festivities. No charges were filed against police or demonstrators, but the governments of the UK and West Germany filed formal protests, including for the indecent assault of two English schoolgirls by police in a police station.

[edit] Slogans and graffiti

It is difficult to identify precisely the politics of the students who sparked the events of May 1968, much less of the hundreds of thousands who participated in them. There was, however, a strong strain of anarchism, particularly in the students at Nanterre. While not exhaustive, the graffiti gave a sense of the millenarian and rebellious spirit, tempered with a good deal of verbal wit, of the strikers (the anti-work graffiti shows the considerable influence of the Situationist movement).[citation needed]

[edit] References in popular culture

[edit] Film

[edit] Literature

[edit] Music

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b c d The Beginning of an Era, from Situationist International No 12 (September 1969). Translated by Ken Knabb.
  2. ^ De Gaulle, Televised speech of June 7th, 1968. Quoted in René Viénet (1968) Enragés et situationnistes dans le mouvement des occupations (Paris: Gallimard)
  3. ^ "Ils voulaient un patron, pas une coopérative ouvrière", Le Monde, interview with Michel Rocard, 20 March 2007 (French)
  4. ^ Mattei Dogan, How Civil War Was Avoided in France, International Political Science Review / Revue internationale de science politique, Vol. 5, No. 3, Political Crises (1984), pp. 245-277
  5. ^ Speech of 30 May 1968
  6. ^ MAY 1968 GRAFFITI
  7. ^ Ken Knabb, ed (2006). Situationist International Anthology. Bureau Of Public Secrets. ISBN 9780939682041. 
  8. ^ imdb
  9. ^ IMDb
  10. ^ IMDb
  11. ^ Roy Carr, The Rolling Stones: An Illustrated Record, Harmony Books, 1976. ISBN 0-517-526417. p. 55.
  12. ^ John Squire. ""Bye Bye Badman"". John Squire. http://www.john-squire.com/art/gallery_byebyebadman.html. Retrieved 2009-11-03. 

[edit] Further reading

[edit] External links




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