Friday 13 December 2019

The strike diary of a French schoolgirl

Eve Zuckerman


Today, 60 students from two nearby schools massed in front of my school in the east of Paris, shouting, dancing, and throwing stones. They pushed against the glass door, then stampeded in, throwing chairs, breaking a window and shoving a female English teacher, while yelling the names of their schools.

Finally, they rushed towards a courtyard used by younger pupils -- who were terrified by the mob, sobbing with fear. As I watched kids my own age, who I didn't know, trash my school I wondered what this had to do with retirement reform.


After days of siege, three students at my lycee tried to organise a proper blockade.

They wanted a referendum: to block the school or not? Time was short and a secret vote would take too long, they said, so students voted with a show of hands.

"Are you going to block?" I was asked a few times beforehand. "No," I said.

Only three in my class voted against. I was asked why I had said "no". Out of 960 students, 77 per cent voted "yes".


What a sight! By 7.30am, long white sheets with painted slogans had been hung up: "If you're against the 62, then clap your hands."

Outside the lycee, rubbish bins lay on their sides in a barrier. A sign was taped to a post: "Middle-school students, (aged 11 to 15) and final-year students signing up for the bac (exam) are allowed in."

Policemen stationed by the blockade chatted with the students. I do not like blockades but if you are going to have one, it should at least be as polite as this.

At 11am, 200 people who we didn't know, aged 15-18, arrived and hurled bottles and cans at the policemen.

"Leave," the police warned pupils. "We're going to gas you." Tear gas hit everyone. It burned people's eyes and made them water.

All of a sudden, everyone was running to escape the gas. The rioters ran back towards the main street and turned over two cars, one a police car.

Then a school bus carrying nine- and 10-year-olds appeared. The rioters pitched rocks at the windows until one broke.

Behind it, mouths gaping in shock, frightened children cried for home. Now the protesters ripped out pavement barriers and broke shop windows.


The last morning before half-term. Things are quieter, so there's time to think.

It's easy to put young people in one bag when it comes to strikes. But there are actually three groups: the rioters, the protesters and those who agree with the pension reforms.

But the protesters' case is drowned out by such incomprehensible violence.

As for those who agree with the reforms, they cannot be heard. If they aren't protesting, the attitude is, what could they possibly have to say?

Eve Zuckerman, 17, is a student at the Lycee Edouard Branly, Paris © Telegraph

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