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Pierre Frank

May 1968:
First Phase of the French Socialist Revolution

Chronology of the May Events

May 3 – UNEF meeting at the Sorbonne against Fascist attacks and government repression. Police invade Sorbonne campus and make arrests. Violent incidents in Latin Quarter lasting six hours.

May 4 – UNEF holds to its plans for demonstration Monday May 6. SNESup sets strike of university teachers for same date.

May 5 – Extraordinary session of the Court of Summary Jurisdiction to sentence demonstrators arrested Friday.

May 6 – Violent fighting in the morning and then from 2 p.m. in the afternoon to 1 a.m. the next morning on the Boulevard Saint-Michel and Saint-Germain. Grills around trees and paving stones are torn out to resist the repressive forces firing tear-gas grenades. Close to 600 students and police wounded. Student strikes spread to the provinces.

May 7 – UNEF demonstration from 6:30 p.m. to midnight, going from the Place Denfert-Rochereau to the Place de 1’Etoile on the Champs-Elysees, and then from the Place de 1’Etoile to the Latin Quarter. More than 25,000 demonstrate. Violent fighting after 10 a.m., from Saint-Germain-des-Pres to Montparnasse, lasting until 3 a.m.

May 8 – Debate in National Assembly. A hypocritical statement by the minister of education Peyrefitte. A meeting in the Halle aux Vins which breaks up without incident.

May 9 – The Sorbonne is still closed despite the words of the minister of education. Impromptu meetings on the Boulevard Saint-Michel. The strike continues with three primary demands: release of all those imprisoned; halt to prosecutions; withdrawal of police forces from the university campuses. A meeting continues long into the evening at the Mutualite. The CGT and CFDT project a joint demonstration with UNEF for May 15.

May 10 – A high-school student strike in Paris in the morning; a demonstration of high-school student strikers at 5 p.m. at the Gobelins to join UNEF and SNESup demonstration at the Place Denfert-Rochereau at 6:30. The united demonstration returns to Latin Quarter at 9:00. Barricades built, principally on the Rue Gay-Lussac. Violent fighting in the night from 2:15 to 6:00 in the morning. Almost 400 wounded.

May 11 – CGT, CFDT, and FEN call a 24-hour general strike for Monday May 13. Pompidou speaks at 11:15 p.m., accepts the students’ three primary demands.

May 13 – General strike and monster demonstration in Paris. A minority continue the demonstration from the Place Denfert-Rochereau to the Champ de Mars and hold a meeting of about 20,000 persons. The students leave the Champ de Mars to occupy the Sorbonne.

May 14 – New debate in National Assembly which fails to came to a conclusion. Late in afternoon, workers at Sud-Aviation in Nantes occupy their factory and shut the plant manager up in his office.

May 15 – Renault plant in Cleon struck and occupied.

May 16 – Renault strike extends to Flins. Speech by Pompidou.

May 17 – Solid strike at Renault (Sanouville, Le Mans, Orleans, Billancourt). Strike at Berliet (Lyon), at Rhodiaceta-Vaise, Rhone-Poulenc (Saint-Fons). Air traffic halted.

May 18 – The CGT in the person of Seguy formulates demands and announces that there will be no “all-out general strike.” Student demonstration in front of and around the Renault plant. Trade-union officials refuse to let them enter the plant. Strike in SNCF, in the PTT, airplane construction, the Creusot and Rhone-Poulenc foundries (throughout France).

May 19 – Strike at the RATP.

May 20 – The strike extends to include millions of workers, the merchant marine, banks, insurance companies, gasoline industry (refining plants and distributors). Printers union authorizes publication of the daily papers.

May 21 – New extension of the strike: textiles, the arsenals, construction, the big stores, the paper industry, Citroen, municipal services, entertainment. Declaration by Seguy: “empty formulas like self-management, reform of civilization, and other inventions ...”

May 22 – Beginning of peasant demonstrations (fraternization with the striking workers at Saint-Brieuc). Expulsion decree against Cohn-Bendit. The ORTF employees broadcast the debate in parliament. Extension of the strike to all agencies, to the Atomic Energy Commission, and to the social security administration. Temporary occupation of the CNPF and CGC. Trade unions declare their readiness to negotiate with the government.

May 23 – The motion of censure is defeated. Resumption of student demonstrations on the Boulevard Saint-Germain and at the Palais-Bourbon with fighting until 4:00 a.m. The CGT breaks with UNEF. Declaration by the police unions: “Missions against striking workers would pose grave tests of conscience.” The big Paris hotels, ORTF, and taxis strike.

May 24 – Peasant demonstrations throughout France. Separate CGT demonstrations in Paris and meetings in the working-class neighborhoods. De Gaulle’s speech announcing a referendum. A demonstration by the Action Committees at the Gare de Lyon which continues into a night of rioting in several neighborhoods in Paris. Five hundred wounded. Fighting in several cities, including Lyon and Nantes.

May 25 – The strike encompasses 10 million workers. Opening of negotiations between the government and the unions at the Rue de Crenelle at 3:00 in the afternoon.

May 26 – Negotiations continue.

May 27 – An agreement is reached at 7:30 a.m. This agreement is immediately rejected by the workers at Renault (in the presence of Frachon and Seguy), Citroen, Rhodiaceta, Berliet, Sud-Aviation (Nantes), SNECMA, etc. Demonstration at Charlety (UNEF and SNESup), the Mendes-France maneuver comes out into the open. Mitterrand mentions Mendes-France in a press conference. The CGT organizes meetings in Paris.

May 28 – Negotiations continue separately in many sectors.

May 29 – De Gaulle leaves for Colombey. Scheduled to report to the Council of Ministers on the following day. The Mendes-France maneuver takes clearer form. For the first time, the CGT raises the question of a “political change opening the way for social progress and democracy.” The PCF calls for “a people’s and democratic unity government.” CGT demonstration on the main streets of Paris. Statement by Mendes-France.

May 30 – De Gaulle dissolves National Assembly and announces immediate elections. Pompidou remains premier and the government is to be reshuffled. De Gaulle appeals for “civic action.” Gaullist demonstration on the Champs-Elysees.

May 31 – Change in the ministerial lineup. During his absence from Paris, de Gaulle met with the army leaders. The CGT wants to reopen negotiations and declares its desire not to disrupt the elections of June 23 and 30. The PCF expresses its satisfaction on the holding of elections.

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Last updated: 10.12.2005