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12 June 2008

On this day in history: French Government banned student organisations, 1968

The events of 30th May 1968 marked a turning point in the struggle between radical and conservative in France. The President's defiant speech, the march held by his supporters and (probably most importantly) the promise of support from the army gave the government the morale boost they needed to suppress the revolt.

Early in the morning of 6th June, over one-thousand police arrived at Renault's factory in the village of Flins near Yvelines with orders to end the worker's occupation. They proceeded to clear the plant of strikers and later that morning escorted back to work around half the number of workers due on that shift(750 - most of whom were supervisors) . The strikers responded by forming a picket line to prevent workers from entering the factory and by requesting that students and other workers join them as reinforcements. That night, the police set up roadblocks and arrested three-hundred people travelling to Flins who they suspected of answering the worker's call.

Despite the efforts of the police, between four- and five-thousand workers and students gathered at Flins on Friday 7th June, some formed the picket line whilst others clashed with the police. These skirmishes escalated into street battles, and as in the Latin Quarter in May many local residents became involved: some were hostile to the police; others - including a mayor from a nearby town who was trying to act as a mediator - were caught up in the police's dragnet. The fighting continued in the village and surrounding area over the weekend. On the Monday only five-hundred workers arrived for their shift while thousands of police focused on locating, chasing and arresting young activists.

That day, one such chase ended in tragedy. Seventeen-year-old school-child Gilles Tautin, was part of a group fleeing across fields from the police. They found their path blocked by the River Seine and some - including Gilles - jumped in. The police caught up with them as they struggled to stay upright in muddy shallows and started to beat them with their batons until Gilles failed to resurface. On the same day that Gilles drowned, police shot two strikers at the Peugeot factory at Sochaux both of whom died.

These deaths resulted in a change of tactics by both the authorities and protesters. The former decided that prevention was better than cure: demonstrations would be prevented, so stopping the violent cycle of protest and repression. On the 12th June, the government also banned certain student radical organisations, making membership a criminal offence. Possibly as a result of this clamp-down, the national union of students declared that they would stop calling on its members to take to the streets to prevent any further loss of life.

These measures along with successful negotiations with trades unions effectively ended the revolutionary mass movement in France; however, a hardcore of radicals continued with their campaign through the summer.


Anonymous said...

Your ad caught my attention because I'm descended from Roger Sherman, U.S. Founding Father. May not quite be your historical era, but nice site!

Borkiman said...

brad: that is interesting re your famous forebear, and it most definitely is my era. If you flick around the site you will see a number of 'On this day in history' articles from the 18thC. Actually, you have given me an idea: I shall add some new tags for each century.

So thanks for passing on the fact (I may be able to squeeze a reference to Roger Sherman into one of my posts) and for inspiring me to make an improvement to the site.