Interview with Manon Chelmy, protester against the labour law
2 July 2016
The WSWS interviewed Chelmy Manon, a political science student at Jules Verne University in Amiens. She is one of the victims of the Socialist Party (PS) government of President Fran ç ois Hollande ’ s attempt to intimidate students in struggle against the labour law.
Like other youth and workers in France, she and her fellow protesters were clubbed, gassed and threatened with draconian criminal charges. She has been a member of Communist Youth Movement of France (JC), the youth wing of the Stalinist French Communist Party (PCF) for a year. Despite the deep and historical differences between the WSWS and the PCF, we defend the youth and workers facing state repression.
WSWS: Would you tell us what happened on April 28?
MC: April 28 was a day of protest in Amiens. A small group managed to enter the town hall by a side door and let the crowd into the municipal council chamber. We decided to hold a Citizens’ Assembly—we held a discussion for four hours. I thought a lot about the 1871 Paris Commune.
Early in the evening, we learned that 11 riot police vans were heading towards the town hall. The room was under surveillance cameras, we were peaceful, no damage was done, we were not armed so we said “we won’t get beaten.” The CRS [riot police) came in and charged us. Seeing people being clubbed before my eyes, I didn’t think. I was scared and I wanted to protect people. I threw two or three table microphones at the CRS. It is specified in my police hearing that no physical damage was done.
On May 12, I was summoned to the police station and they informed me that I was being taken into custody on two counts: damage to public property and wilful violence against a person holding public authority. From the beginning of March, the members of General Intelligence [French interior intelligence] told me that I was getting known because I was very active at the beginning of the movement.
Their version is that I wanted to commit violence against the police because I’m anti-police or something like that, which is untrue. My defence, which is the truth, is that I wanted to protect people. The police committed violence against us and I tried to prevent it. The problem is that in French law, the institution which has the monopoly of legal physical violence is the state and nothing but the state.
Seventy percent of the population is against the El Khomri law, which is completely ignored by the government, who wants to push through this measure by all means, fair or foul. I do not even understand what country I’m in, what historic epoch I’m in. We are in a country that’s becoming increasingly fascist and policies which are increasingly unashamedly fascist: at the slightest action you get charged, gassed, jailed, sued because you are opposing a law.
We’ve gotten very close to the Goodyear workers, especially towards the end when they were tried in February. [...] The judge sentenced them to nine months in prison for trying to defend their jobs, their livelihoods. Since the Goodyear plant closed in Amiens, 12 former Goodyear employees have died, including several suicides, and a lot of divorces. People can’t find work anymore.
The El Khomri law is very much linked to the Goodyear case, since this law allows even greater flexibility in relation to the Labour Code and therefore greatly facilitates sackings. It’s shameful. The Goodyear people have supported me enormously in what I’ve been going through, as we’re undergoing the same thing. We are being repressed because we fight and we want to defend our rights.
I think we’ll win. At first there were virtually only university and high school students mobilising and were really getting bashed on demos, and from March we witnessed police violence in cities all over France.
Now workers have got going, blocked refineries: there’s general panic on the government side. Lorry drivers have been mobilising, the railway, the Paris public transport, prison guards. Workers are angry that it’s been two months that they’ve been seeing their children get it for defending their rights.
WSWS: Do you think that the CGT should enter into discussions with Valls?
MC: Whatever [Philippe] Martinez [secretary general of the CGT] does is immaterial. There is no dialogue to be had with these people. Historically, the PS is a party that betrays. It all boils down to the relationship of forces. In Amiens, it was the student mobilisation that led the unions to mobilise. The unions joined in and since then we’ve been working with the unions.
Not only should the El Khomri law be removed but Manuel Valls must resign, Hollande must resign, the government must be removed. It’s crystal clear.
I know that the PCF has its shortcomings too, especially historically. But personally, I will never get duped as in 2012. Unless there is an exceptional candidate of the far left who stands and really brings a lot of hope for the far left, which reunites it. Which is not the case with Mélenchon anyway.
I think the far left parties, when they called for a vote for Hollande, were voting for the lesser evil. We cannot compromise with a party that has betrayed the left and the population like that. For me, it is the open door to the right or even the far right. Politically I think we are in chaos.
The #UpAllNight protest movement in Amiens? It’s not credible. I also blame them for not supporting people who are in trouble with the law because of the town hall occupation.