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France

French youth worse off than student protesters of the past

media French high school students protest against the labour law proposal in Marseille. Reuters/Jean-Paul Pelissier

France has proposed new measures to help young people find work, in response to weeks of street protests against a proposed labour reform law. France has a tradition of young people taking part in protest movements, dating back to the 1960s. But observers say that young people today are worse off than they were in the past, which makes them want to take part even more.

It may seem counter-intuitive to see teenagers protest against a labour law long before they enter the job market.

And yet there is an awareness that laws passed today will affect them tomorrow. About 25 per cent of 18-to-25 year olds in France are currently unemployed, and the figures are not improving.

Nearly 400,000 people took to the streets against the labour reform law at the end of March. The protests have continued, and this weekend they drew 120,000 people around the country.

Alexandrine Jandot, a 19-year-old English literature university student in Paris, has been taking part, not for herself, but in solidarity.

French students continue protest tradition against current labour reform 11/04/2016 - by Sarah Elzas Listen

“I don’t feel directly concerned, because I want to become a teacher, so civil service is not touched by this law, but I am concerned for my sister, my parents, my friends,” she told RFI.

She has seen many first-time protesters out in the streets. They are drawn not just to oppose the law, but for a general dissatisfaction with the government

“This law is a climax of a lot of things,” she says.

One issue is police violence. A video went viral in March of a police officer hitting a 15-year-old during a demonstration at a high school in Paris.

Jandot says the police's strong-armed tactics against teenagers have galvanized young people to join the movement.

Tradition of protest

Since protests lead by university students in 1968 brought down the French government, young people have taken part in demonstrations in France.

But Sarah Pickard, a specialist in youth movements at the Sorbonne Nouvelle University, says the situation is a different today

“The horizons are a lot more depressing than they were in 1968,” she told RFI, adding that young people today do not have the same optimism that they will do better than their parents.

“In 1968 as a young person, you would hope to earn more money and have a better standard of living than your parents,” she says. “Today we’re going backwards. This is the first cohort of young people to have less hope than the previous generation. Certainly my students realize that.”

Adding to the discontent is a deep disappointment with the current Socialist government.

French president Francois Hollande has made it a point to single out young people, promising to help them enter the job market.

The unemployment figures show this has not happened.

A month into the protest movement, Prime Minister Manuel Valls met with student leaders and offered 500 million euros a year of initiatives to encourage companies to hire young people on full-time contracts.

Jandot welcomes these offers, but she says the movement will not stop protesting against the labour reform law itself, which she says favours employers and not employees.

And she is optimistic that they will be heard.

“We are the ones who are going to work and build the future,” she says. “We are going to vote [in the next presidential elections] in 2017.... So I think they think about that.”

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