Unlike previous student militancy in France, which traditionally had Paris as its centre, the demonstrations against reducing the minimum wage - known as the Smic - have been a largely provincial movement. The protests began in earnest on 10 March and, since a nationwide demonstration call brought 230,000 people out on the streets across the country last Thursday, have been repeated in some towns. A new national demonstration has been called for this Friday.
Lyons and the Breton port of Nantes have been particularly badly hit. In Nantes on Monday, police took three hours to control a stone-throwing crowd. There were similar incidents in Lyons and police said some protesters had looted shops. A total of 73 police were hurt and 90 demonstrators arrested in Lyons.
The motive for the demonstrations was the proposal by Edouard Balladur, the Prime Minister, to allow employers to cut the Smic by 20 per cent for under-26-year- olds, an age group suffering an unemployment rate of 23 per cent, to encourage companies to offer jobs to the young.
Since then, the government has back-tracked twice, saying first that the measure would not apply to those with higher education and then that the cut would be justified by vocational training for one fifth of the working week. The decree making the proposal law was published yesterday.
The Smic is one of the sacred social advantages the Socialist President, Francois Mitterrand, vowed to protect when Mr Balladur took charge of a conservative government last year.
Since the beginning of the year, politicians from Mr Mitterrand down have been warning that the problems engendered by France's record 3.3 million unemployment could bring 'a social explosion'. With the young unemployed from the underprivileged suburbs generally blamed for the violence of the recent protests, the fear now is that, unless the movement fizzles out naturally, France could be in for a restive spring.Reuse content