Customised search for historical information

13 May 2008

On this day in history: French workers joined student protest, 1968

Whereas the 'Night of the Barricades' (10th/11th May) brought the students of Paris widespread sympathy for their plight from across France, the events of 13th May illustrated a deeper dissatisfaction with the country's hierarchical, technocratic, bureaucratic, social order. Many had grievances with those in power, whether they be university authorities, the Government, leading politicians, or even the leaders of trades unions. This latter group responded slowly and reluctantly to the student protests, eventually calling a one-day general strike for Monday 13th, the tenth anniversary of the Algiers putsch, which was a key event in the collapse of the Fourth Republic and the installation of de Gaulle as President of the Fifth Republic.

Workers also took part in a march organised by students on that day to again call for the release of all students held in custody and for the removal of the police from the Sorbonne. The demonstrators, numbering between 800,000 and one-million, set off from the Gare de l'Est, crossed the Seine, marched up the Boulevard St Michel, finishing at the Place Denfert-Rochereau where the workers dispersed at the request of their leaders (possibly because these were the scenes of the earlier clashes between police and students).

A group of students, twenty- or thirty thousand strong - set off for the Champs-de-Mars, and at the foot of the Eiffel Tower they heard that Prime Minister Pompidou had ordered the police to withdraw from the Sorbonne. Joyously, the students set off for the University and occupied the buildings, which were to be the headquarters for an attempted revolution over the next few weeks.