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1968: Workers join Paris student protest

VIDEO : Footage of the Paris protest

French workers have joined student protests in Paris for the first time with a one-day general strike.

About 800,000 students, teachers and workers marched through the French capital demanding the fall of the government under Charles de Gaulle and protesting at police brutality during the riots of the past few days.

This time, police kept a low profile for most of the day but later blocked off bridges across the Seine to keep demonstrators on the Left Bank, the scene of running battles between students and the CRS (riot police) over the last 10 days.

The crowds of protesters marched for four hours starting at the Place de la Republique on the Right Bank of the River Seine.

They grew ever larger as they crossed the river to the Left Bank student quarter and up the Boulevard St Michel to Place Denfert-Rochereau.

Carrying flags and banners, workers, students and teachers chanted "De Gaulle assassin" and "CRS-SS", comparing the riot police to Nazis.

They have several and various demands. Left-wing students - no doubt inspired by similar protests in the United States and the spring pro-democracy riots in Prague - want reform of the "bourgeois" university system and an end to the "police state".

They also called for the release of their leaders, many of whom were arrested after a night of rioting three days ago when students ripped up cobbles from the streets to set up barricades.

Workers have a series of grievances including poor state salaries, centralisation and discrimination.

The one-day strike has affected all aspects of daily life in the capital and is spreading out into the rest of the country.

Public transport, air travel, power supplies, postal services and manufacturing have been severely hampered.

In Context
President de Gaulle was in Romania at the time of the worst riots when his prime minister, Georges Pompidou, sent in the infamous CRS riot police to quell the student unrest.

The strike spread all across France until around 10 million workers had downed tools and paralysed the nation for nearly two weeks.

They did not have the support of the unions or the Communist Party, who called for calm and moderation.

After workers rejected a deal between government, employers and unions to raise wages, Mr Pompidou sent tanks to the outskirts of Paris on 29 May for fear of a revolution.

De Gaulle then called an election for the end of June - and his party won a huge majority. It seemed voters were exasperated with the unrest and inconvenience of the strike.

The new government announced major reforms to the education system - 67 new universities and a more democratic system of governing councils.


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