During the demonstration of December 5, 2020 in Paris, the union procession faced police violence, unfortunately the usual. But, for the first time, he also had to endure the assault of a group of demonstrators. Verbal assaults, physical assaults, ransacking of equipment, burning of a barricade cutting the procession in two and facilitating the police attack … Full story.
Each year, at the beginning of December, the organizations of the private and precarious workers (CGT-Chômeurs rebelles, Agir contre le unemployment, Apeis, MNCP) and several unions of employees (including those of the CGT, Solidaires and FSU) are organizing a demonstration in Paris against unemployment and insecurity. That of Saturday, December 5, 2020 was part of a convergence of struggles both against the new “ reform ” of unemployment insurance and against the Comprehensive Security Law. This demonstration was also supported by various political organizations, including the Union Communiste Libertaire. Its activists were present, alongside their fellow workers, in union processions or in the UCL procession.
A rally at the Trocadéro and a united demonstration against this law and against police violence had already gathered thousands of demonstrators the two previous Saturdays. This popular success, a real snub for power, was not to the taste of Prefect Lallement, who tried to ban the demonstration on December 5. But the trade unions have maintained their call to demonstrate, even if the demonstration is banned. New snub for power, whose frustration will result in repressive rage of rare brutality.
Police and union preparations
On the said day, the meeting was therefore fixed at the Porte des Lilas, for a departure scheduled at 2 p.m. towards Place de la République, according to a route imposed by the police headquarters.
The police force is impressive: the cramped streets are surrounded by armored cops, heavily armed, trucks and riot gates. The cops keep watch until the demonstrators arrive by public transport, such as those stationed on the tram platforms, among the residents of the neighborhood, staring at everyone who gets off a train.
From 1 p.m., in a dry and biting cold, the trade unionists set up along Avenue Gambetta to prepare and organize the procession: assembly of sound systems, arrangement of vans, deployment of banners, balloons and banners for expression. demands and the visibility of the procession.
A unitary CGT-Solidaires service is then set up. What is its role ? It’s time to twist some fantasies.
Evolution of union SO design in recent years
A certain number of people have kept from the SO of the CGT a not very tender image of sectarian ” big arms ” dating from the years 1970-1980. In fact, in recent years, a change has taken place, as one libertarian activist testifies: “ There is now pluralism ; we see women taking on coordination responsibilities ; there is cooperation with the SO of Solidaires, as there was with the SO of the Adama Committee on November 28. So many reasons that pushed me to agree to be part of it when my union asked me to. “
The members of the CGT’s SO Ile-de-France, like those of Solidaires, are in fact delegated by their union to carry out this task. On December 5, there were intermittent entertainment workers, employees of the AP-HP, printing workers, employees of education and research, and activists from interprofessional structures. local.
The SO’s mandate is not to ” police the demonstration “, but to ensure the safety of the demonstrators, preventing the risk of accidents (crowd movements, vehicles, etc.). He ensures that the procession progresses continuously: indeed, a procession is never more exposed than when it is at a standstill. The SO thus helps self-protection against police provocations and possible attacks from hostile groups, such as those on the extreme right.
How the prefecture tries to use the “head procession”
Shortly before the scheduled departure time, the first police manipulation, now usual, since 2016: the cops who park in a row near the union procession, at the corner of rue des Tourelles, retreat and disappear, leaving a void to the ‘front of the procession. This space will allow the constitution of the informal procession called ” head “. For those of the demonstrators who join him, it is a question of occupying a space freed from the constraints implied by the collective and coordinated action of organizations and structured collectives. Festive space for some, offensive space for others, but also, for some, space to monopolize the “ direction ” of the demonstration.
Since 2016, the prefecture has learned how it can use the “leading procession ” to serve its objectives. On the political level: symbolically relegating to the background the organizers of the event, to better make their demands invisible and thus undermine the militant mobilization of the previous days in the workplaces and in the neighborhoods, mobilization essential to bring people into the street.
On the repressive level, the interest is to position the clashes between cops and insurrectionists no longer at the rear, as before 2016, but at the front of the demonstration, to justify the blocking of the streets and justify the violent charges against the ‘entire procession, including against sectors that have chosen non-violent action.
A route through narrow streets
The procession ends up moving shortly before 3 p.m. The demonstrators rushed down Avenue Gambetta, towards Place de la République. Union sound systems give voice. The square head is in place with its unitary banner, and the members of the security service are ready to intervene in front of the cops to prevent the charges. The crowd is very dense, large, the demonstration progresses very slowly in the narrow avenue. From the point of view of attendance, it is a success. Arrived at rue Haxo, near the Saint-Fargeau metro station, the unitary order service CGT-Solidaires helps a group of teufeurs to insert their gigantic truck into the crowd, to constitute a festive pole in the middle of the procession of organizations.
At the back of the procession, political organizations, including the UCL, await the start.
A fire is ignited in front of the nursing home
The route imposed by the prefecture leads the procession to walk along an EHPAD, at 161 avenue Gambetta. It is more than 4 pm when the front of the union procession begins to reach its height, preceded by the procession ” leading “. The caregivers, but also the residents, greet us at the windows. The adjoining building, at number 159, is covered with scaffolding. While the neighborhood is crisscrossed by the cops, the site is however not secure. Everything is freely available there: metal barriers, construction materials, various materials and insulation panels: very light, very large, transportable at arm’s length, and very combustible … The trap is set. The string is very thick, but the demonstrators of the leading procession are being tricked. The site is looted. A fire is lit on the track, hampering the demonstration, in front of the nursing home… To decide where the demonstration will stop and decide where the clashes will take place,
The cops attack
The first police charges are violent, first targeting the leading procession. To the blows of batons are added the fire of tear gas canisters, making the street unbreathable. “ It was burning nearby and, with the clouds of gas, the nursing staff were distraught. They rushed to close the windows and make the residents move back into the rooms, ”said a CGT unionist from 93. Some demonstrators responded with rocket fire and firecrackers. Then the leading procession disperses in the face of police assaults, which soon reach the top trade union positions. Several young activists of the CGT, who do not pose any ” threat “, Except for the fact that they hold the line and refuse to back down, are violently assaulted and clubbed by the cops.
Most of the demonstrators in the leading procession will not succeed in passing the blocking point located at the level of the building under construction. They then begin to flow back towards the unitary union procession, in a crowd aggravated by the gas-saturated air and the cramped nature of the street.
The situation is dangerous: with the disorderly reflux of the leading procession, with the panic caused by the attacks by the cops, and with the inexorable push, behind, thousands of demonstrators of the union procession who advance with their vehicles, the risks of trampling are big. The SW then tightens in the middle of the track, to clear the spaces on the sides, inviting the demonstrators to bypass them. A CGT activist, on the front line of the union procession, said: “ They were running towards us. Some had difficulty breathing because of the gas and coughed. The cops were behind them. We shouted at them to go around us and go through the sides, to get behind us. ” The objective is to allow the demonstrators of the leading procession to come and take shelter in the union procession, behind the security service which is then preparing to stand up to the cops.
Confusion, misunderstanding and verbal aggression
Without knowing the unionists’ street strategies, the maneuver is not understood by all of the demonstrators who are fleeing the police. Under stress, some people insist that the SO be retreated, which is technically impossible.
At that moment, the slippages begin. To the worried, but understandable injunctions, are added insults aimed at trade unionists, with a much heavier political charge: ” queers “, ” collaborators “, ” whores ” … ” There is a guy who called us” merguez eaters ”too. This insult is a classic. Me it makes me laugh, I’m a vegetarian, “ laughs a CGT unionist. Homophobia, sectarianism, misogyny and class contempt, it’s all there. Like an echo to the insults launched the previous Saturday, to which had been added racist insults: comrades of the unitary SO then being called ” dirty niggas ” by some demonstrators …
While the whole of the leading procession has ebbed or dispersed, the anti-riot forces finally reach the union procession. ” We first received 4 or 5 tear gas grenades,” said an activist. We couldn’t see anything because there was so much gas. A group of BRAVM mounted in front of us. But we held on. We united, we held the line, and they had to back down. “
Hold the line and never back down, despite the air saturated with gas and the violence of the charges: a strategy that pays off to hold the street. The procession then resumes its progression as the cops retreat. At that time, the front of the union procession passed the blocking point located at the level of the building under construction and the EHPAD, and headed towards the Pelleport metro station. The trade unionists positioned at the front of the procession are getting ready to take the whole demonstration towards the Place de la République. A series of speeches is planned there.
First stab in the back
It is then that a first stab will be planted in the backs of the demonstrators by a small group, a stab which will seal the fate of this demonstration, but also of the following one.
After taking shelter in the union procession while the unitary security service was blocking the police, a group of demonstrators began to stir up the fire in the building under construction and to build a barricade with the material available. The effect is disastrous: the union procession is now cut in two. The front, with the flatbed truck for speaking, the front square and the unitary service, found itself cut off from most of the union procession, stuck behind, blocked by the barricade, without any possibility. to move forward. “ The procession stopped a little before we arrived at the Saint-Fargeau metro station. We remained immobilized for at least forty-five minutes, perhaps more, says a CGT unionist from Val-de-Marne.As I walked a little further, I saw smoke further. The front row had been able to advance but the procession got stuck by a barricade and a fire. “
A barricade – supposed to separate the demonstrators and the power – was therefore set up by a small group inside the union procession ! An incredible inconsistency which, from a symbol of resistance, has made a symbol of division of the social movement.
Rocket and firecracker firing at the union banner
A group (the same ?) Will also target, not the cops, but the front of the union procession “ They fired a small rocket and launched firecrackers while aiming at the square head. It fell near the unitary banner, ”said a friend from SUD-Éducation. The activists of Solidaires, who secure this sector of the square head, are near the shootings. No one will be injured and the incident will remain without consequences. But, again, the symbol is very heavy.
It is around 5 pm, night is falling and the situation will become tense, this time at the back of the parade. Several political organizations, which have been trampling for hours a few tens of meters from the starting point, like the UCL, decide to dissolve their processions when it becomes clear that the demonstration will not be able to achieve its initial goal. The union procession, blocked by the barricade, also begins to disperse. Despite this, the violence of the cops will be unleashed.
New cop assault
The cops are positioned in the rue des Tourelles, in the rue Henri-Dubouillon, in the rue Haxo and in the rue Saint-Fargeau. Lallement holds his revenge. New charges, accompanied by tear gas and de-encircling grenades, were then launched in Avenue Gambetta against the union procession blocked by the barricade. New crowd movements and new ebbs. The processions of the FSU and Solidaires succeed in evacuating the premises, despite the chaos. The procession of the CGT is that day positioned further forward. There, at the stop, there is the van of the departmental union of 93, that of the CGT-Interim, one of the local Picardy union of Santerre and finally a van of the regional union Ile-de-France . In other words, the vans of CGT organizations in the poorest department of Île-de-France,
Around thirty activists and CGT activists remain around, initially in charge of leading the procession: “ We suffered a lot of tear gas, without any protective equipment. It was chaotic. It seemed obvious that we could not continue the demo as planned. Most of the demonstrators went up to the Porte des Lilas. As the charges, tear gas, and de-encirclement grenades continued, we had to back up the vans and then attempted to turn them around. “
Second stab in the back
The second stab in the back will be carried at that time by a group of demonstrators (the same ?) Who sweep over what remains of the CGT procession and physically attack the unionists, even as the cops go wild with batons. The thirty trade unionists are literally bored (!) By this group. Insults are raining down: ” They shouted at us that we were traitors, cops, tells one of the Nass union members, that the CGT was worse than the police headquarters, that we had started to agreement with her to screw up the demo. “Union members are pushed around, some and some are beaten and slapped. A group among the attackers sets out to block the trucks, to prevent them from fleeing the cops and to force them to stay in the middle of the clashes. They also undertake to explode their windows with hammers. The vans of the UL de Santerre and the UD 93 managed to cross, not without damage. There remain those of the URIF and the CGT-Interim, stuck in a double trap, concentric: that of the hooded aggressors, and that of the cops which in the meantime has spread all around.
New police charges are launched. The remaining trade unionists and the last two trucks manage to emerge and take refuge in a nearby housing estate, at number 211 Avenue Gambetta ” We finally managed to get into an open-air car park at the foot of residential buildings . We parked the vehicles as far away as possible, then we waited for the leading SO to join us so that we could evacuate. » Makeshift shelter in the storm of violence.
The cops finish the job
The unitary union SO finally succeeded in joining the demonstrators who had remained stuck in the trap of the cops, making their way through the neighboring streets. When the SO militants arrive, they witness a chaotic scene, a vision of collapse and a totalitarian world: in a twilight light, ranks of cops in armor, blocking all the streets, beat up the demonstrators who seek to flee the scene, even as some put their hands in the air, amid fires and clouds of tear gas. The CGT unionists are preparing to leave the car park where they have taken refuge, but this time accompanied by the SO. In the midst of the chaos, the inter-organ collective Front Social continues to give voice to the sound system to hammer out its slogans, giving a heartwarming example of combativeness and solidarity.
Near the rue des Tourelles, when crossing the cordon of the cops, brutality is unleashed, again: the trade unionists and the SO cross a ” guard of honor. »Formed by the cops in armor over about thirty meters, where they are heavily beaten, with shields and batons. The trade unionists and the unitary SO CGT-Solidaires finally reach the Porte des Lilas. It is around 6.30 p.m. The place is calm. Breathable air. We take care of the injured. The chaos that ravages the streets just a few hundred meters away gives way to the quiet and ordinary life of the neighborhood. We start to breathe. We believe we are finally done. But the respite only lasts a few minutes, police hatred has not yet dried up: heavy grenade fire in the direction of union vans drowns the Porte des Lilas in a few moments in a thick fog of tear gas. They will only stop chasing us beyond the periphery.
Consequences and outstanding questions
First consequence of this delirious day: the trade unions gave up participating in the demonstration on the following Saturday, December 12. It is impossible to guarantee the safety of union members in such a context, with both the cops and unidentified attackers on our backs, in an even more dangerous configuration (the Place du Châtelet).
From this experience, activists can draw lessons on police strategies, on the porosity of informal processions and on the consequences of authoritarian practices which reveal the principle of “ diversity of tactics ”. But many questions remain unanswered. And in particular three: to which camp belong the groups which helped the cops, indirectly and directly, to suppress the demonstration ? What camp are the militant groups claiming to be on, who subsequently rejoiced in publications on the web ? And in the service of which camp do certain groups encourage them to attack union processions during upcoming demonstrations ?
Libertarian communists unionized with the CGT and Solidaires
This story was written based on the testimonies of 9 demonstrators, some members of the CGT or Solidaires, who came from all over the Paris region and who experienced these events.