French students and workers force government to abandon new sub-minimum wage policy for young workers, 1994


For the French government to formally revoke the contrat d’insertion professionelle (CIP) decree, which allowed companies to pay new young workers lower than the minimum wage.

Time period

3 March, 1994 to 31 March, 1994



Location City/State/Province

Paris, Toulouse, Lyon, Nancy, Nantes, Rennes

Location Description

Major cities where universities were located
Jump to case narrative


Union Nationale des Étudiants de France (National Union of Students of France, UNEF-ID)


Confédération générale du travail (General Confederation of Labor, CGT)

External allies

Not known

Involvement of social elites

Not known


Prime Minister Édouard Balladur and his administration

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Made appeals for protesters to stop through media including a letter published in the newspaper and a public television address.

Campaigner violence

Sporadic violence occurred in clashes that broke out between police and demonstrators on 17 March and 25 March. Demonstrators reportedly hurled gasoline bombs, stones, and bottles at police. However, the leaders of the movement actively opposed such acts of violence.

Repressive Violence

Police used tear gas and baton charges on rioting protestors


Economic Justice



Group characterization

University students
Labor union members

Groups in 1st Segment

Union Nationale des Étudiants de France (National Union of Students of France/UNEF-ID)
Confédération générale du travail (General Confederation of Labor/CGT)

Segment Length

Approximately 5 days

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

6 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


3 out of 3 points

Total points

10 out of 10 points

Database Narrative

In December
1993, the Conservative French government, under Prime Minister Édouard
Balladur, enacted the contrat d’insertion professionelle (professional
insertion contract, CIP), a new wage policy intended to address the extremely
high level of unemployment among French youth. At the time, one out of four
French youth between the ages of 18 and 26 were out of work. The French
government published decrees in late February 1994 that announced CIP and its
main provision: the establishment of new entry-level wages for young people
that would allow employers to pay young workers between 30% and 80% of France’s
minimum wage (about $1000 a month in 1994).

response to the newly published decrees announcing the CIP policy, the Union
Nationale des Étudiants de France (National Union of Students of France, UNEF-ID)
organized a meeting of student organizations and major trade unions on 28 February 1994, where 17 organizations including the major French labor
union, Confédération générale du travail (General Confederation of Labor, CGT),
agreed to issue a joint call for protests against CIP with the demand that the
government revoke the CIP decree. In the first week of March, students in
different cities, especially where universities were based, held demonstrations
to voice opposition to the CIP. On 3 March, thousands of students
marched in Paris in one of the largest early protests against Balladur’s plan
to follow through on implementing the CIP. In response, on 8 March
the Labor Ministry announced the possibility of modifying the CIP to exclude
youth with level III educational qualifications from being paid a discounted
minimum wage. However, this announcement did not satisfy students and
opposition only continued to grow.

On Thursday 17 March, about 200,000 to 230,000 youth took to the streets throughout
the country to continue protesting against the CIP. Marches and demonstrations
were held in Paris, Nancy, Toulouse, and Lyons, though there were several
incidents of violent clashes between students and police. The next day,
Balladur addressed an open letter to French youth in the newspaper Libéracion asking for patience in
negotiating changes to CIP. Balladur also agreed to hold talks with student
leaders on Monday, 21 March to address their concerns about CIP
and proposed that an additional provision be added to CIP stipulating that
young people who receive 80% of the minimum wage should only work 80% of the
time, with employers providing training opportunities for the other 20% of the

Unsatisfied with
the direction of negotiations, student leaders continued to call for additional
marches and demonstrations. On Friday, 25 March, a total of about
200,000 youth once again marched through Paris and a dozen other cities to
denounce the CIP. An
estimated 30,000 protesters marched in Paris, walking from the Left Bank across
the Seine under the gaze of about 3000 heavily armed riot police. Protesters
carried signs reading phrases like “Slaves of the Year 2000 – No Thank You”.
Student leaders were able to maintain order to ensure that most of demonstrators
were peaceful, but
after marchers
were called on by police to disperse at the Place de la Nation, some fighting
broke out. About 300 youths reportedly began breaking shop windows and throwing
stones at the riot police who answered with tear gas and baton charges. Police
said that 112 officers were hurt, five seriously, in three hours of clashes. In
the university towns of Nantes, Lyons, and Rennes, some sporadic violence also
reportedly occurred between police and demonstrators, who hurled gasoline
bombs, stones, and bottles – resulting in 30 injuries. However, most students
who marched in those towns followed student leaders’ call to remain committed
to peaceful means of protest.

On the night of Sunday, 27
March, Balladur gave a brief public television address
referring to young people’s anxiety about their future and noted, “we must
start to restore a dialogue with them and examine various possible solutions”. After
meeting with student leaders on the morning of 28 March, Balladur
announced his plans to abandon the CIP policy. Balladur’s spokesperson
announced that the CIP decree had been suspended for one week to give time for
a new policy to be developed. Despite Balladur’s announcement, student leaders
continued with plans for country-wide scheduled demonstrations on 31 March
to press their demand for the decree’s formal withdrawal.

On 31 March,
Balladur formally revoked the CIP decree and proposed a new policy to address youth
unemployment. Instead of changing wage laws, the French government would reward
employers for hiring youth under the age of 25 by paying companies  $175 a month for 9 months for every
young person given his or her first job.

While the
majority of students considered Balladur’s decision to formally revoke CIP a
successful outcome of their protests, some students voiced new disapproval to the
proposed incentive program and wanted the government to channel funds towards
training programs for the unemployed instead of giving companies money. Other
leaders announced additional demands for the government to drop all charges
against youth arrested during protest.

On 1 April
1994, tens of thousands of students marched through Paris and other French
cities including Lyons, Rennes, and Nantes and celebrated their victory in
opposing the CIP policy as they banged drums, blew horns, and shouted slogans
like “We won! We Won!”. The success of students’ efforts in 1994 would serve as
inspiration to a later generation of French students who used a general strike
to oppose the introduction of a new employment law in 2006 (see French youth
and unions’ general strike defeat new employment law, 2006).


"French Protest Wage-Cut Plan." The New York Times. The New York Times, 04 Mar. 1994. Web. 24 Sept. 2012. <>.

Riding, Alan. "As Social Ills Stir, French Premier's Ratings Sag." The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 Mar. 1994. Web. 25 Sept. 2012. <>.

Riding, Alan. "France Tries New Tack on Jobs for Young." The New York Times. The New York Times, 31 Mar. 1994. Web. 25 Sept. 2012. <>.

Riding, Alan. "France Yields to Student Protests, Abandoning Cut in Youth Wages." The New York Times. The New York Times, 29 Mar. 1994. Web. 25 Sept. 2012. <>.

Riding, Alan. "Jubilant French Students Celebrate Wage Victory." The New York Times. The New York Times, 01 Apr. 1994. Web. 25 Sept. 2012. <>.

Tompson, William, and Robert W. R. Price. The Political Economy of Reform: Lessons from Pensions, Product Markets and Labour Markets in Ten OECD Countries. Paris: OECD, 2009. Print.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Rosanna KIm, 30/09/2012