Unrest in France Alienates College Students

For the second time in only a few short months the French streets are filled with riot police, rampaging youths and tear gas.
The riots in France raise some important and troubling issues concerning its current economic and social situation.
Race, religion and ethnicity, as well as government response have played a large role in past riots, such as the ones that took place in November.
However, the more recent riots invoke issues of social exclusion and alienation among the youth, especially privileged university students.
Students are protesting what they see as an assault on their future job security and their apparent ‘birthright.’
The new contract would allow companies to fire individuals under the age of 26 more easily during a two-year trial period.
This measure, the opponents argue, will create a generation of ‘throw-away workers.’
Presently the unions are threatening a general strike unless Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin backs down from the contract. These protests against the contract have disrupted studies and exams at the majority of France’s 84 universities, emphasizing strong discontent among the youth with the current government.
On one hand, this new contract would encourage employers to hire youths on a trial or temporary basis before offering permanent benefits. It would help create jobs, especially for those individuals who are currently unemployed and are at a disadvantage.
Nonetheless, there is an obvious downside: Young workers could be dismissed on a whim, or simply be fired in order to make room for a new wave of disposable workers. This law would make it difficult for university students to secure jobs and benefits within the first two years of their employment.
However, much of the resistance to this new law is somewhat impractical and unfair.
It seems that the fact that there is a serious unemployment problem that needs to be remedied is being overlooked. This new law is meant to help the general population who need to work.
Taking into account France’s unemployment rate, a two-year trial period does not seem like it would be such a horrible sacrifice.
The alternative to this plan is hardly appealing. The current state of economic affairs implies that jobs are scarce. Unemployment is at 22.2 percent among the younger citizens and close to 40 percent in the poor suburbs, compared to 9.6 percent nationwide.
This plan, in actuality, is not necessarily threatening since it could potentially create more jobs, especially for those individuals in the poorer suburbs.
Unfortunately, Villepin did a horrible job of presenting and selling the new law to the students and the unions.
Villepin’s approval ratings are quickly plummeting and politicians of all stripes are ready to pounce as support for the violent student protests continues to grow.
The student and the union resistance to this current law seems a little bit selfish and out of line. Although Villepin, who isn’t that great of a politician anyway, did a poor job of constructing the law to benefit and appeal to university students.
There is no excuse for the violent and potentially threatening behavior exhibited by students.
Although the recent disturbances have produced some dramatic images in the media, the clashes have been restricted and, for the most part, brief.
Thankfully, the damage of the March riots is far less than that of the 2005 November riots.
However, before matters become even worse, students should stop defending their privileges with forceful protests and heed President Jacques Chirac’s call for a creative dialogue about how they can help to resolve the problems facing their generation, rather than further alienating themselves.

Reut R. Cohen is a second-year English major. She can be reached at rabudi@uci.edu.