Today was not a day I wanted particularly to go to work.
The combined means of public transportation needed to travel to Nanterre from my boyfriend’s apartment in the 5th (bus + 2 RERs) combined with the early hour (we left the apt at 8:15) and the book-and-paper teacher-crap I have to lug around with me (of which, to be fair, N carried half) wreacked havoc on my already sensitive stomach; I staggered off the train at Nanterre-Université feeling a bit green and shaky. I was late for my 9 am class and still needed to run up to my office in the E building to get my teaching materials for the day: photocopies, a cassette tape, and a cassette player.
I did not realize anything was up when I descended from the platform and had to push through crowds of loitering students to get to the main campus walkway. There are always loitering undergrads; no one here seems to be in a hurry to get anywhere except us graduate students.
I did not realize anything was up when I reached the walkway to E building and they had barricaded the path much as they had on Monday when I took these pictures:
See, the students at Nanterre, who have a fine upstanding tradition of rebellion and work-shirking to live up to dating from 1968, are up in arms over the recently proposed Contrat premiere embauche, or CPE [say-pay-euh], a contract for employees who are under 26 years old and working in their first job. The students hate the CPE because they say it allows employers to fire employees anytime they want, for any reason they want, which leads to a much-feared précarité du travail, or lack of job security. Dominique de Villepin, who is championing the new contract, swears this is not the case.
I’m not totally clear on why this bill is a bad idea, and why the students are so mad about it; when I got into the E building on Monday I saw an information booth, and I wanted to ask someone to explain it to me, but since this is France, there was no one in it to ask:
So as best I can make out, here’s how the situation stands. Under the current system, when you are employed for a company it is with one of several types of contracts, the most common being either the Contract à durée déterminée, or CDD [say-day-day], and the more sought-after Contrat à durée indéterminée, or CDI [say-day-eee]. Basically it’s a question of job security: do you know from the getgo this is a limited committment or somewhere you could conceivably stay for the rest of your life.
I’m making this brief because I don’t really have the time to research the good and bad points of the system, and after my experiences today, I don’t give two figs.
As I was saying, I thought nothing amiss until I was physically prevented from entering the E building to go to my office by two scruffy looking twenty year-olds.
"C’est bloqué, Madame, personne ne peut entrer!" they cried with revolutionary glee. I looked beyond them. Instead of the somewhat organized labyrinth of desks you see in the picture above, the desks were now piled in ramshackle fashion to create a massive barricade that would have inspired the cast of Les Mis to jump up and drape themselves on it. It was a sight to behold.
The students told me all the classes were cancelled and all the professors were on the march to the Assemblée Nationale. I looked at them, half full of hope, half skeptical, and fully pissed off at having come to Nanterre for nothing. I raised a fist in the air, comrade-style, and wished them bon courage, then set off for the F building, where my classes are held, to see if the building was open and if I had any students.
To my dismay, the F building was open for business and contrary to what I had been told, the salle des professors was full of my colleagues making photocopies, drinking coffee, and kibbitzing as if nothing were going on outside.
My whole day was completely out-of-whack, as I by chance had only a few photocopies with me of an article, along with some grammar exercises. The lessons I tried to cobble together and my students’ softspoken English were almost completely drowned out by the bullhorns and the crowds gathering outside chanting, shouting, and blowing whistles.
Finally, during my last class, I lost it, and spewed something resembling the following diatribe at my unsuspecting students:
"I’m sorry, maybe this is a massive cultural gap, but why the f*** don’ t they shut the f*** up and get to work??? don’t they have sh*t they need to do, these people?"
They laughed at me, and groused with me. Last week, one girl told me, the protestors blocked off the RER tracks so the trains to Paris couldn’t run, and it took her two hours to get home on the bus.
It’s a good thing that didn’t happen while I was there, because I probably would have started a counterrevolution.