According to many analysts, the degree of mobilization of young people could be decisive for the future of the movement against pension reform. This is why the slightest event is immediately highlighted and dissected. The images of a few dozen high school students perched on garbage cans blocking the entrance to the prestigious Lycée Henri IV, in the fifth arrondissement of the capital, have garnered more than 100,000 views on Twitter since March 17; the recent blockages of the Parisian universities Assas and Dauphine have been described as “historic” and presented on social networks as being the sign of an amplification of the participation of young people; and there are countless appearances by the young Manès Nadel, one of the representatives of the La Voix Lycéenne union, on television sets.
This Tuesday, March 28, on this tenth day of action against the pension reform, the figures relating to the blocking of high schools or universities were once again strongly highlighted. Data obviously different, even contradictory, depending on the sources. This afternoon, the Ministry of National Education reported “53 incidents in front of schools, including 14 blockages”. While the union La Voix Lycéenne claimed, for its part, “500 high schools mobilized including 450 blocked throughout France”. Access to university sites was also disrupted in several cities including Paris, Lyon, Lille, Bordeaux, Rennes or Nice.
Should we see a massive mobilization of young people? Is it a simple effect of media magnifying glass or a very large-scale phenomenon? “I would say that we are a little in between,” replies sociologist Olivier Galland, who calls for caution in the face of temptations to cut corners or generalize. And this research director at the CNRS to recall that we cannot speak of young people as a homogeneous group since this category of the population is particularly divided. In a recent survey carried out for the Institut Montaigne – 20 years old, the beautiful age? X-ray of French youth today (ed. Nathan) – he noted that a quarter of today’s youth is part of a form of radicalism. No more. “These young people are advocating a radical change in society through revolutionary action,” he explains. But, on the other side of the spectrum, there are also those he calls the “disengaged” and who still represent 26% of young people. “If we compare to the 1960s, I think that today’s students are, in reality, relatively demobilized and depoliticized”, continues Olivier Galland.
Everyone has in mind the abstention rate of 18-24 year olds (41% against 21% in the population as a whole) in the last presidential election. Ultimate proof of their growing disinterest in politics? Dorian Dreuil, specialist in the issues of commitment, citizen mobilization and democracy for the Jean-Jaurès Foundation is not so categorical. “Focusing on the abstention rate says a lot about how young people are considered by their elders. Democracy does not only live by voting, but also by other equally legitimate moments of expression” , he believes. The political scientist acknowledges that there may have been a magnifying glass effect at the start and a kind of tension on the mobilization of young people “perceived as game changer”, a category capable of giving the movement a greater dimension. “While it must be recognized that the youth did not really feel concerned by the question of pensions, he underlines. On the other hand, when resorting to 49.3, we saw a real change. It is from from there that she really began to give voice.” Not only during the blockades of high schools, universities or in the processions of demonstrations. But especially on social networks, notably via certain renowned influencers like Lena Situations, whose account attracts 4 million subscribers.
The “blockade challenge” launched on TikTok on March 5 by LFI deputy Louis Boyard had not really hit the mark. The idea of this former high school student unionist? Call on students and high school students to immortalize themselves in the process of blocking their establishments as a protest against the pension reform. “We will raffle one of the photos and we will take the team of blockers to visit the National Assembly,” he promised. “We are very aware of what is happening in society and we are quite capable of organizing ourselves without the supervision of a political organization or a professional union”, answers Imane Ouelhadj, president of the Unef, according to which 400,000 young people, including 70,000 in Paris, would have mobilized this Tuesday, March 28. “The 49.3 was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The young people felt all the contempt of this government for the 70% of French people who were against it”, continues the student unionist. Same analysis on the side of the FIDL, a high school student union. “If the mobilization is growing, it is also because the baccalaureate specialty tests have passed and the high school students feel freed from a burden”, recognizes its president Louri Chrétienne.
The Manès Nadel revelation
But among young people, the real darling of the media is indeed Manès Nadel that all televisions are snapping up. Why this fascination for this young representative of La Voix Lycéenne, only 15 years old? “Probably because he expresses himself well and is photogenic, says Colin Champion, who chairs this union. The positive side is that it has made our action visible. But be careful not to go overboard and in ultra-personalization which would be quite unhealthy. We try to convince journalists to also turn to other comrades.” For political scientist Luc Rouban, this media overexposure is not a new phenomenon. “You have always had that in the past. We know that the movements of young high school or university students constituted a breeding ground for future socialist deputies. Many used this highlighting as a springboard for the future, “explains he.
If the political and media sphere scrutinizes the evolution of the mobilization of young people so closely, it is undoubtedly also because everyone has in mind the outcome of the sling against the first employment contract (CPE) in 2006. The very significant involvement of young people had led the government of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin to abandon its project. For Olivier Galland, this parallel does not really exist: “The context in which we find ourselves is very different since the CPE specifically targeted young people. The latter had perceived it, rightly or wrongly, as a discriminatory measure. Which had triggered a movement without common measure with the one we are witnessing today”, continues this specialist who puts into perspective the potential scope of the involvement of young people in the current movement.
The previous Oussekine
On the other hand, the risk of an incident is obviously to be taken very seriously. “All politicians obviously have in mind the tragic disappearance of Malik Oussekine. Firstly because the death of a young person in such circumstances is obviously a tragedy and then because it would have considerable political consequences”, continues Olivier Galland for whom such an event could lead to the entry into the protest of the rest of the youth so far less engaged. But, still according to the specialist, to focus only on the number of young demonstrators in the streets or on the blockades of high schools would be a mistake. “Those who should worry politicians the most are those who are not heard, who are no longer going to vote or who do not see the danger of moving away from participatory democracy”, insists- he, warning about the deleterious effects in the medium term.