Gabriel Gauffre

L’art de manifester en France
The art of protesting in France

France and protests go back a long way.
The most well-known are those that emerged form the 1968 movements, which deeply changed the way the French youth has been educated. The first demand was that men could access the girls dormitories in the University of Nanterre. The consequences were unexpected. And the movement grew, changed into a general confrontation against the political and economical establishment, the protests got bigger and bigger. Barricades were raised in Paris. The result? Within 1969, a President had to quit, minimum wage was raised by 35%, general wages to 10%, a fourth week of paid leave was enacted and the universities’ curriculum was deeply transformed. Society itself was also deeply changed, and even today, people are defined by which side they were on when the barricades where up. Feminist movements got stronger, as the contraceptive pill appeared during the same period, even though abortions were still considered illegal at that time in France (The Veil law, in 1975, will make it legal and backed up by Social Security). But France isn’t just about big protests: It is also about small groups, fighting to keep their jobs or for illegal immigrants, or denounce the high profits of companies that lay off parts of their workforce. In 2011, 3655 protests occurred in Paris, considered to be “the capital of protests” in France. Of those 10 protests that happen every day, very few gather more that 5000 people. Each and every demonstration is to reported to the Prefecture de Police, who then dispatches polices officers accordingly. Plainclothes members of the DCRI (Direction Centrale des Renseignements Généraux, a French intelligence agency directly reporting to the Ministry of Interior), keep a close eye on demonstrations of any size, often merging with the protesters, and knowing some personally. They are usually considered by the unions to be part of the “game” and these officers don’t even wear guns or handcuffs. “Protesting in France is a constitutional right, we have no right to either give out or refuse permission” comments Alain Gibelin, head of the DOPC (the Direction de l’ordre public et de la circulation, is the administration in charge of handling all traffic related events, including protests). But what is the state of this tradition, on spring 2012, a few weeks before the presidential election? This project is a snapshot of this moment , showing that besides the classic “walking from point A to point B” demonstration, different forms of contestation have emerged.

24th March 2012, Pour le droit à l’emploi pour toutes et tous! Demonstration for the right to be employed From Place de la Bourse to Place de Stalingrad. Organized by SUD Solidaires, the protest gathered up people from many different entities, such as construction workers, postmen, various factory workers, journalists, and unemployed individuals. « Enough ! That is what millions of working, unemployed and retired people say. This cry of revolt has to change itself into a hope to fundamentally change things. Lets take matters in our own hands! So that we can all work, shorter hours, better and differently! »




Smoke Canisters are often by factory workers to affirm their presence.


«Freedom, Equality, Solidarity» The national French motto (Freedom, equality, Fraternity) is often reused and changed by protesters.

«What the people gets, the people takes!». Famous quote like this one by Louise Michel, an 19th century anarchist, have been used over and over again for years by french protesters.



A young woman from the Jolies Mômes theatre group waves a red flag at Stalingrad square, in northern Paris. Artists are often invited to demonstrations to liven up the atmosphere.

«I didn’t have anyone to keep an eye on her and both my husband and I wanted to go to the protest, so I decided to bring her in !» Explains this young mother.




5000 protesters arrived on Stalingnrad square, in northern Paris.



The railway union is one of the most powerful in France.


«We are at the frontline of what happens right now in our country, and some of us are getting laid off for no reason as well !» Daniel works at an unemployement office in northern France. His shirt reads «Prisoners of work... die early!»

Various are often used to show there line of work. This flag is to signify the presence of maternity ward nurses.



Place de la Bourse, where the protest started, is also home of the offices of the Agence France Presse. The decline of press in France has resulted in massive amounts of people getting laid off, and newspapers disparearing.

As demonstrations usually start around midday, unions organize barbecues that serve merguez (spicy sausage) sandwiches served with onions and mustard.Of Five food outlets were presnt this day on square, this was the only «official» one, with profits going back to the Railway Union.



6th April 2012, the arrival in Paris of the Marche pour l’acier (« The Iron Walk ») On the 28th of March, 20 workers of the Arcelor-Mittal iron factory of Florange, in Lorraine, eastern France, set out for a very long walk towards Paris. Earlier in the year, Nicolas Sarkozy promised he would save the factory from closure, « with or without Mittal ». As nothing concrete seemed to happen, 200 of the workers set out for Paris, to protest in front of Nicolas Sarkozy’s campaign HQ. The military riot police, with tear gas and batons, welcomed them violently, even though the goal of the demonstration was peaceful. Nicolas Sarkozy later called them voyous, “thugs”. To prove him wrong, 20 of them decided to walk from the factory in Florange to Paris, which is 350 km. Their walk ended at the Eiffel tower, which was built with iron from Lorraine.

Members of Marseille’s Railway Union are serving Pastis, a typical beverage from southeast France.

The letter sent by the walkers to their supporters.
20 21


The walkers are being greeted by other members of the factory in Paris.


«Lorraine’s iron will live» has become a rallying cry for the whole region, where hundreds of thousands of jobs could be indirectly at stake if the factory closed. Iziblue, a military surplus company based in the region provided the walkers with their now iconic grey sweatpants, and orange coats.

«It is essential to support such an important movement, a symbol of Nicolas Sarkozy’s lie. The necessity to back up our nation’s industry is also vital» comments Manuel Valls, MP for the Socialist Party, Mayor and Senator. Politicians are well aware of the impact that their presence might have on public opinion when seen at such events.



«We’re here guys, we made it !» The walkers are cheering as they walk down the streets of Paris.

One of the walkers is supported by his colleagues as he is on the verge of collapsing. After walking 350 km in 8 days, signs of exhaustion are starting to appear.



March 31st, 2012. Counter protest against Catholic extremists around the Tenon Hospital, 20th district. Since September 2011, catholic extremists have gathered seven times in front of the Hospital Tenon, to protest against the abortions that are being performed in the clinic. On March 31st, a pro-choice neighbourhood association and decided to take matters in their own hands and organize a peaceful demonstration to show their disapproval. The main legal point that the prochoice have is that the Catholics pray in the streets, which is forbidden since 2011 in France.

«I stopped counting my blisters, there are way too many of them. It feels so good to be finally here, morale is really high. People called us crazy, saying we would never get there. But we’re here! Its a peaceful revenge over the way we were welcomed at Sarko’s HQ. We managed to get there thanks to the mayors who helped us on the way, giving us food and shelter within their community. We saw a truly beautiful France on the way there.»




«Women’s Rights in Danger, no to hospital closures !»


A prayer is led by a priest in front of the Tenon hospital. When challenged about the fact that is illegal, one anti-abortionist answers replies: “But we are good Catholics, calling on God to protect the lives of innocent children”.

«I am an atheist, fuck you !» France is one of the countries with the most «non-believers» in Europe. Slogans like «If Mary had known of abortion, we wouldn’t be in all that mess! » resonate around the hospital.



Two ladies, members of the Front de Gauche, a far-left party gaining importance on the political scene in France, are wearing hats with sewing needles. This type of needles are the symbol of illegal abortions, and what the pro-choice activists fear it would come back to if the catholic activists managed to get abortion clinics to close.

«Get your rosaries off our ovaries !» Various NGOs took part in the protest, like Act-Up Paris, which is fiercely fighting for support of Aids patients by the government, as well as women’s rights.



April 10th, 2012. Apéritif Pour fêter les 16 millions de Maurice Lévy. A drink to celebrate Maurice Lévy’s 16 million euros bonus. Publicis is the most successful ad agency in France generating massive profits. Its boss, Maurice Lévy, received a bonus of 16 million euros. Publicis is also known for hiring a lot of interns, using them as a cheap workforce. Génération Précaire is an NGO dedicated to denounce the advantages that big groups and companies get from hiring cheap, young and needy labor. The heads of the group also asked all the employees to sign a petition in support of Maurice Lévy. Générations Précaire then decided to “celebrate Maurice’s bonus”, with champagne and party accessories, in front of the head office, avenue des Champs-Elysées.

The association Sauvons les Riches (Save the Rich) also took part in the action. They usually try and come up with theatrical ways of denoucing the actions of some CEOs of wealthy groups. The shirt reads «I am rich but getting treament».

The call for participation




Protesters throw fake bills in the air, symbolizing the 16 millions euros bonus.


Two protester enjoy some cheap champage under a rain of party favors, waiting for representative from different unions to come back from a talk with Human Resources workers from Publicis.

Karima Delli, an Europe Ecologies-Les Verts (Green Party) MP, shows off the bills. Green party members seem to enjoy more freedom in their actions and are often involved in such protests.



«I hope Maurice Lévy appreciates what we are doing for him» says Jérôme, member of Générations Précaire. The white mask is often worn by members of the association, symbolizing the silent masses of interns and underpayed youths that work in big corporations.

After the meeting, Human ressources admitted that there was a slight «discomfort» in the size of the bonus. Another source of discomfort lies also in the fact that all of the employees of the group were «strongly recommended» to sign a letter of support for the CEO, in order to justify the size of the bonus.




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