French Indignados and the new movement #NuitDeboutPartout in March 2016

For those who do not speak French, ‘Nuit Debout Partout’ means ‘Night (that is) Standing Everywhere’, Sophia Lycouris writes.

This term started as ‘Nuit Debout’, a poetic expression referring to ‘occupations’ of squares that happened in several French cities in the night of the 31st of March. People were literally ‘standing’ through the night in public squares instead of being in their beds asleep. On that same day, there had been demonstrations and a large scale strike in several French cities, as a reaction to changes in the French Labour Law. Some of the demonstrations ended with violent clashes between police and protesters, similarly to what had happened in a smaller scale mobilisation about the same issue on the 9th of March. There had also been additional demonstrations and violent events on the 17th of March when students joined the protest against the changes in the Labour Law.

Subsequently the term #NuitDebout became #NuitDeboutPartout to indicate that this is not just a French movement, and that it has started to spread in cities outside France, such as Brussels and Berlin. The hashtags are always an integral part of the name of the movement, because #NuitDebout grew out of physical interaction between people in the squares, as much as it grew out of an abundant exchange of poetic statements about the mobilisation on twitter.

I use the term ‘occupation’ in inverted commas because some of the main ‘protesters’ do not think of themselves as anything other than citizens, and insist that they do not occupy the squares. They find that the term ‘occupation’ refers to ownership and privatisation, which is not what they see themselves doing. They share public space, that’s all they think they do, and therefore the term ‘occupation’ is to be avoided, although this new movement of peaceful resistance to the neo-liberal state can be clearly seen as a continuation of the Occupy movement.

Furthermore, the citizens involved in these mobilisations have decided that a new era started on the 31st of March. Following their first night in the French squares, they felt that there had to be a symbolic action to mark the change. This is why the date 1st of April was renamed 32nd of March. The new way to calculate the dates in the #NuitDebout style is to add whatever the number of the day in April is supposed to be to the number 31. For example, what would normally be the 5th of April becomes the 36th of March.

It is difficult to speak in detail about the changes introduced to the French Labour Law. There is almost nothing written about it in English and I have not been able to even find a good summary in French yet. From what people say in French websites and twitter messages, these changes are totally unacceptable and seem to take workers’ rights 30 years back in history.

An article was published recently in the New York Times which suggests that:  “the strike [on the 31st of March] had less to do with the intricacies of the labour law than with a deepening disaffection, particularly among young people, with Mr. Hollande’s government, now heading into the last year of its five-year mandate.”

This idea seems correct. As evident in livestreamings of the General Assemblies in La Place de La Republique in Paris, the topics discussed gradually shifted from the Labour Law changes to more general ones, such as the refugee crisis. In more recent livestreamings, there was almost nothing discussed about the Labour Law, it was all about a feeling that something is going wrong in the world which needs fixing, proposals for a digital platform of communication aiming at the use of direct democracy online , and the fact that large numbers of people were arrested during these gatherings.

A call for an international #NuitDeboutPartout mobilisation (which is currently being translated in different languages) was also read out in French during a recent assembly, while there were Spanish speakers delivering speeches in Spanish without any translation at all. The Spanish connected immediately with the #NuitDebout movement since its first day of existence and spoke about it as a continuation of the 15 -M movement – one of the main anti-austerity Spanish movements which appeared in 2011. This is where the term Indignados comes in the title of this article.

#NuitDeboutPartout has now started to spread in cities outside France, such as Brussels and Berlin, while the Panama papers scandal is shaking the world. In Iceland, people reacted strongly to the Panama papers corruption and have been creating spectacular protests outside their parliament. There is one more article in English about #NuitDebout, which was published in New Internationalist Magazine, and discusses similarities between what happens in France and Island. The term ‘dream’ is used in this article, which is another poetic expression used by the people driving the #NuitDebout movement to represent it. This is an expression initially used during French students’ struggles in 2006.

So, ten years later, in 2016, the #NuitDebout movement pursues again a ‘Rêve Général’ (which means ‘General Dream’). French citizens gather in public squares to work out ways in which they could reach the ‘General Dream’ of a society without austerity, exploitation, and power control. But there is a word game used here which brings us straight back to labour struggles. The term ‘Rêve Général’ is used in conjunction with the term Grêve Générale (which means in French general strike) to create a vibration between the two concepts in the form of the composite term: gREVE GENERALe.

There are currently 40 French cities involved in the #NuitDebout movement, and the crowd gathered in La Place de la Republique in Paris has been steadily 1000+ persons every night, while viewers on Periscope have been up to 70,000 persons simultaneously.  In the night of the 31st of March, citizens attempted to occupy La Place de la Republique permanently, but the police forced them to evacuate the place just before the dawn. They then decided that they would return every evening to run assemblies .The police tried to argue that even if these gatherings were temporary and taking place a few hours every day, they were still illegal, but have not made any steps to evacuate people during the assemblies yet. A petition is currently being signed requesting permanent free use of the squares for public assemblies. Yet, daily assemblies take place in only a few cities other than Paris. In the rest of France, assemblies are more occasional, although the number of cities involved grew from 11 to 40 in a little more than a day.

Following a quick Skype call with French comrades, I found out that the French government has made several attempts to fragment the #NuitDebout movement. Firstly, the Labour Law changes do not affect the public sector, and therefore a general strike is currently impossible, since public servants are not prepared to strike yet. Secondly, the government has tried to make favourable deals with the students, and thirdly, there is a mysterious silence by the far-right who would have normally attacked and abused people in these public gatherings (although I did notice frequent online abuse on twitter and periscope comments).  A big national mobilisation is currently being organised for this Saturday, 40th of March, and the good news is that the government deals with the students fell through in the end, and the students have now committed themselves to join Saturday’s mobilisation.

We live in very interesting times, and while there is a lot of turbulence, pain and problems in the world, the French Indignados have decided to be happy, above everything else. The movement evolves in an atmosphere of love for each other, support, togetherness, dream and general optimism. Some people say that they have discovered what it is to share common space with others, and that’s why they spend so much time in the squares every night. They enjoy being together. It is difficult to guess where this might lead, but a Spanish twitter user who quoted one of my messages sounds very optimistic: “Europe is moving! Thousand lights lit, thousand torches of resistance.” Who knows?

Follow me on twitter for news @sophia_lyc, and look for #NuitDebout, #NuitDeboutPartout, #OnVautMieuxQueCa (we deserve better than this), #loitravail (labour law), #loitravailnonmerci (labourlawnothanks), and perhaps also #tousemsemble (#alltogether)

Sophia Lycouris, 27 March 2016


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