12.05.2008 -17 °C
This month commemarates 40 years since the "May 1968" turning point in the history of France and the country is full of it. The student protests and general strikes of this month are seen to have led to the eventual collapse of De Gaulle's government, and to the liberal, equal France of today away from the religious, patriotic and authoritarian traditions of the past.
Leading up to this point there had been months of unrest in Universitys, notably the University of Paris at Nanterre and the Sorbonne, with mass meetings of students unhappy about the class discrimination in French society and political bureaucracy. Things reached a head in early May as the police closed these two institutions and were met with several days of, increasingly violent, protests from 1000s of students and lecturers. Hundreds of young people were arrested and the police were accused of being physically heavy-handed, which gained the students the support of the population as a whole. On May 13th a general strike was started which escalated over the coming weeks and eventually involved ten million French workers, about two-thirds of the workforce. Problems also started between the workers and the Unions who tried to channel the general feelings of revolution and discontempt into more specific requests for better pay.
The protests escalted to gatherings of 100, 000s of people, the government offered an average 10% pay-rise but still the situation worsened with the students now chanting "Adieu De Gaulle". De Gaulle went into hiding, assured he had the support of the military and at the end of May announced the dissolution of the government with elections to be held on the 23rd June. With this, and with the French public under the threat of the declaration of a national emergency, things gradually returned to normal and De Gaulle triumphed in the elections, retaining power until he resigned in April 1969!