France May '68

IssueMay 2008
Feature by Topher Vollmer

The events of May ’68 began in the universities. At Nanterre (just outside Paris) and the Sorbonne, students had become increasingly vocal against the US war in Vietnam. When police force was used to stamp out these early protests, more protests and strikes began to form.

By early May, courses at both the Sorbonne and Nanterre had been suspended. Students took their protests to the streets, and the Latin Quarter of Paris became the epicentre of clashes between students and police.

The force with which the Parisian police met the student demonstrators led to growing support of the students’ actions throughout Paris, especially amongst the university community and within the workers’ unions.

Around 13 May, many of France’s major unions called for a general strike. The strikes pushed the number of protestors on the streets of Paris into the hundreds of thousands. Students occupied the Sorbonne and the Theatre de l’Odeon; workers occupied the Renault factory.

By around 20 May, millions of French workers were on strike and the French economy was virtually paralysed. On 24 May, attempts to invade the Stock Exchange and seize the ministries of finance and justice were blocked by Trotskyist and Socialist party groups.

Communist-dominated trade unions then helped the government bring the factory occupations to an end by reaching a modest pay and conditions deal that excluded any hint of industrial democracy.

On 30 May, looking for a way to end nearly a month of strikes and protests, president Charles de Gaulle announced the dissolution of the national assembly and the holding of new elections. Many left-wing parties actually lost ground in the new elections. The universities were reconquered one by one. De Gaulle remained in power.