PARIS – I turn down Boulevard Saint Michel, just across the bridge from the tourist-cluttered Notre Dame Cathedral in the heart of Paris, police cars and vans suddenly line the streets. Armed policeman talk in huddled groups on street corners in front of cafes, perhaps weary after three weeks of subduing student protestors.
The Sorbonne, Paris’ main university that enrolls nearly 60,000 students, comes into sight and it’s a staggering mess. Police have barricaded the front entrance with ugly metal fences, now tattooed with graffiti. “Police everywhere, justice nowhere,” reads the most prominent. Trash and papers litter the plaza in front of the university, much like the morning after a wild house party.
But there are no protesters in sight.
The Sorbonne area is mostly empty except for tourists who excitedly snap pictures of the haunting aftermath. I read later that students are in another part of Paris today, voicing their rage toward a governmental law that would allow French employers to fire workers under age 26 anytime during the first two years of employment. The government says it will encourage employers to hire younger workers, but the French youth strongly disagree.
More than two-thirds of France’s 84 public universities are now completely or partially closed because of the demonstrations. The students are furious that their generation is again being targeted by a government that they say won’t allow for job protection among young workers.
After living in Paris since January and hearing first-hand the frustrations my French friends have against the government, I’ve realized that employment is an immence issue that constantly looms over them. When they graduate after years of intensive education, they don’t know if they’ll actually be able to find a job that suits their qualifications. France has an unemployment rate that hovers around 10 percent – twice as high as in the United States – and it spikes to 23 percent among those under age 25.
“It’s too hierarchical in France,” said Lydie Alberto, one of my French friends. “It’s difficult to have a professional career in France. I’d rather work in the United States. Why? Because they give a chance to everyone – there’s no discrimination.”
Lydie, whose parents emigrated from Africa, is currently studying in Paris to get her license in the import/export business. She’s specializing in North American trade in hopes of moving to America after she graduates, thus avoiding the harsh work of finding a job in France as a 21-year-old black female.
For young minorities, like Lydie, unemployment can reach as high as 50 percent in France, according to Business Week.
As Americans, we shook our heads back in November when suburban minorities torched cars as a way to protest. Did we really understand the reasons why or did we just assume they were crazy, lawless hooligans?
As an American student, I’ve never really worried about not being able to find work after Cal Poly. I know that I won’t fall into unemployment without first having a crack at the real world. But that’s not the reality for so many students here in France, and my friends and their friends are worried by it. They can’t blame themselves for not being able to find a job after succeeding in college, so they blame the government – a good place to start.
Police firing rubber bullets and turning high-pressured hoses on educated youth who want to exercise their right to demonstrate just fuels their fire. They’re mad that authorities are again refusing what they want. Until the French government figures out a way to create more jobs and stability, the French youth will never settle. For them, worry turns to rebellion.