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10 May

Page history last edited by Chris Reynolds 6 years, 1 month ago

10 May – Night of The Barricades







Image of the Barricades 10 May 68.

Image taken from: http://diversoutsita.free.fr/images/Mai%2068/Mai68%2020S.jpg

Author unknown.






May 68 was a pivotal year and event in French history; it marked a real turn in French legislation and values . The year highlighted the division between the old and the new and the struggle it took to get France to where it is now. The year proved to be one of change not just for students but the general public; especially women.



The 10 May is known as the night of the barricades and is remembered for its violent nature due the police's extreme heavy handedness and brutality. The night of 10 May started off with approximately 35 000 protesters marching towards the Prison 'de la Santé'. They were protesting against some of their comrades being imprisoned there; during earlier anti-Vietnam war demonstrations. However, the marchers were stopped and became trapped in the Latin Quarter by the CRS forces of order (Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité), at around 9pm. There, they decided to build barricades in the streets, about 60 barricades were built on different roads all in the Latin Quarter. These were made from any objects found nearby such as paving stones and cars. Undeniably the act of building barricades was very much a gesture relating to the barricades built during the French revolution, it could be said that it was representing a similar situation of social malaise and repression which existed during the period of the revolution. Some of the barricades reached up to three meters high. At midnight a delegation of three teachers and three students (one of whom being Daniel Cohn-Bendit) went to meet with the inspector of schools who said that he might be able to reopen the Sorbonne but could not guarantee the liberation of the students who were imprisoned during the 3 May riots, talks broke down and the riots continued.



Initially it was thought that the students would abandon their demonstrations and the CRS just observed the erection of the barricades. However, when talks failed between the delegations the forces of order were given the order to wipe the area clean of the occupation. After waiting until 2 am the CRS then attacked the barricades on Rue Gay Lussac, after sprinkling a blanket of teargas grenades over the protesters.


Latin Quartier Barricades


Image of the barricades and the different streets that they were built on.

Image taken from





When the first barricade was attacked the protesters set light to it. The police attack lasted three hours, by 5:50 am the last group of protesters had been disrupted and by six am the streets had been cleared of all the protesters and their barricades. During the course of the night about 469 demonstrators were arrested and about 188 vehicles were burnt. Slogans could be seen on the walls such as: 


sous les pavés de la plage


la barricade ferme la rue, mais ouvre la voie


After the closing of La Sorbonne it was decided that it would be reopened, however strikes continued. 


The nearby residents and onlookers supported the protesters and threw water onto the protesters to protect them from the effects of the teargas. Most of the population followed the events of this night through regular radio broadcasts. The following day the residents of the neighbourhood formed a ‘comité de riverains’ (neighbourhood committee) organised by the sociologist Evelyne Sullerot’ which gathered first hand witness accounts of what happened the night before. These accounts testified to the nature of the police's actions, which were said to have been aiming to attack the protester's dignity and that the nature of their behaviour was xenophobic and sexual with beatings aiming to deliberately injure people. Young women were particularly targeted by police when arrested being found with ripped clothes, suffering systematic blows to the stomach and being exposed to indecent gestures. Women also underwent searches in inappropriate places such as police vans, while the Depot de Beaujon gave it's forces a free hand authorising all kinds of acts which went as far as attempted rapes - however they were prevented by other offices of order.


Contrary to the overall image of the 10 May demonstrations were also being held in other regions of France such as Strasbourg University one thousand students were occupied a part of the university and flew the red and red flag and were demanding university autonomy from the state (which was later approved). After hearing the broadcast of the Paris events students decided to occupy the faculty of sciences over the night of 10 and 11 May which was named the 11 May movement, this was formed of students, college students and teachers as well.


After the night of 10 May indignation spread over France and demonstrations sprung up all across the country in outrage against the action of the police. People came together from all backgrounds to protest. On the 11 May the CGT, CFDT and the FEN called for a general strike and demonstrations for 13 May.


Prelude to 10 Mai and Context


The 10 May was really only one protest that attracted the most attention and due to oppressive police actions effectively united and motivated a larger proportion of the French society,  to take action against an unsatisfactory national situation. Tensions had been already building over the previous year at Nanterre between University authorities and the militant left-wing students this resulted in the closing of the Sorbonne May 2.  On May 3 riot police were called in, due to feared violence. This day was actually the very first riot of May 68. There was not just unrest at Nanterre and La Sorbonne, conflict between workers and employers was already taking place throughout France and strike action had been taking place over the previous year (1967).


There was a widespread student malaise all over France, in reaction to the events of 22 March but also, more importantly, a wider more serious discontentment over very poor learning conditions and bad economic politics in France. Universities such as Toulouse, Lyon, Montpellier (on strike since 22 April), Strasbourg, Brest and Marseilles which were all involved in strikes and action due to this situation. The media has largely depicted the riots as being centred at Nanterre University which were instigated by trouble foreign trouble makers or middle class children having a 'bon enfant tantrum'. It is clear from this that there was much more of a wider more serious nature of unrest in France.  If we look at one large region in detail we can understand the scale and extent of the problem. Brittany was an area of economic deprivation which had not benefited from ‘les trente glorieuses’, it had largely been left behind. Salaries were 30% less than the rest of France, unemployment was high and basic amenities were lacking. On 8 Mai there was a huge demonstration held called: L’Oeust veut vivre’ which was formed by teachers, farmers and the working class which was in protest against the economic situation of the region. This demonstration consisted of approximately 100 000 people, which is a very significant number of demonstrators. Brest was also home to extremist groups such as the: FLB (Front de la Liberation de Bretagne).


Students all over France were unhappy in France. Due to the baby boom there was a huge number of students. The government plans, under the education minister Fauchet wanted to introduce strict entrance exams to university to try to reduce the number of students. Class sizes were also very large approximately 200 students per class, furthermore students were unhappy with the rigid end of year examination system and wanted a different system. Students also wanted a change in the authoritarian and hierarchical teaching system, (present in colleges as well, with the lycéen movement) they wanted the system to be more democratic, to have a say in how the system operated and the student authorities to be able to be held accountable for their decisions. Protests had been happening at other Universities in France also because of these issues. Teachers were also in support of the demanded changes.


Many the students were anti-capitalism who wanted a fairer system without social inequalities. The location of Nanterre being near to a slum where many workers and immigrants lived reinforced their beliefs in the need for a change in system. The lack of unity between the different parties and between the students and workers still remaining is hard to understand because ultimately their beliefs for a fairer system and social equality were mainly the same, despite difference on how to achieve the desired changes.




Source:  Reynolds., C. 2011. Memories of May 68, France's convenient consensus. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. p. 41, 40,


Mai 68, Trente Ans Apres, Les Années 60 : 1998. [film] Broadcaster ARTE.  Learning Material from NOW. Weekly Learning Materials, Week 5 


Source: Author: par jillllll | SEPTEMBRE 29, 2008.  LA NUIT DES BARRICADES AU QUARTIER LATIN


Last Accessed : 05/03/2-018, 8 :40pm.


Image of Police Abuse 

Author : Maux et Mots de Miche. Blog 50, mes goûts et mes couleurs, mes plaisirs, l’écrit du cœur, la vie dans tout les sens.


Last accessed : 04/03/2018,  09 :00 am.


Source: Le mouvement du 22 mars. Entretien avec Daniel Cohn-Bendit

[article] Geneviève Dreyfus-ArmandDaniel Cohn-Bendit. Matériaux pour l'histoire de notre temps. Année 1988 11-13 pp. 124-129

Available at: http://www.persee.fr/doc/mat_0769-3206_1988_num_11_1_403840 


Philippe Artières, Michelle Zancarini-Fournel  Une Histoire collective 68,1962 – 1981. p.215, p. 222 - 223.


Reynolds., C. 2011. Memories of May 68, France's convenient consensus. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. pp. 1, 2.


Monday 13th May1968 - trade unions CGT and CFDT start a general strike and join the students who had been protesting since the start of the month

Source: 13 mai 1968 - Grande manifestation contre de Gaulle (12 May 2013)

Image from: http://aujourdhui.over-blog.fr/article-13-mai-1968-grande-manifestation-contre-de-gaulle-117631810.html




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