What would a demonstration be without slogans or songs? A white step. And even if some accuse Emmanuel Macron of burying the pension system with his reform, the songs and slogans were present in the processions, everywhere in France. A brief overview of what was spotted by the journalists of 20 minutes for the second day of demonstration Tuesday, January 31.
These are the slogans or songs that we find at almost all demonstrations. In Paris, we could hear “Macron, Macron, your reform we don’t want it! No, no, no hesitation, no no no! In Rennes, we report the very classic: “We are here! Even if Macron does not want to, we are here! For the honor of the workers and for a better world, even if Macron does not want to, we are here”.
Some slogans are adapted according to the circumstances and extend their lifespan. This is the case of “Retirement, we fought to win it, we will fight to keep it”, sung by Nathalie, microphone in hand and red bob on her head. This nurse at the AP-HP and CGT union member has been the voice of the “Health Social Action” section since the major demonstrations of 1995. “It was a slogan that we had used to defend the social security and we rearranged according to our demands,” she explains.
The demonstrators are particularly inventive when it comes to mixing humor and politics. In Lille and Rennes, we saw a “You put me 64, I re-may 68”. In Strasbourg, we have the choice between, “we will not beat a retreat”, “tax the poops” or, more trivially, “fuck your dead, not our pensions”. “We can only react through the prism of humor in the face of this government absurdity”, explains Alex, in the Toulouse procession. The young man who has already participated in mobilizations against pensions but also for the climate holds up a sign: “64 years old? I’m not Dalida, I don’t want to die on stage! »
In the Ville Rose, in the great tradition of the Knights of Biel, we were particularly inventive, with in disorder: “In the kingdom of the blind, the “Borne” are kings”, “Water boils at 100° the people at 49.3”, “Social injustice seriously harms health”, “Reform Macron, pensioners in underpants”. Finally in Rennes, we feel that the Dry January is struggling to take as evidenced by these signs in the procession: “All work deserves salary, beer and retirement”, “Working from 16/64 years: premature beer” or “Less font, more than 8.6”.
Some slogans are distinguished by their regional specificities, such as on the banks of the Rhône with “Lyon, stand up, rise up” or in Rennes with “Macron, retirement is like the cake, we want it complete”. In the Provençal procession, the Marseilles language is also essential in slogans and placards. “60 years we told you, my life” inscribed on a construction panel bordering the route of the event. Or, like Chantale, in her fifties, who brandishes a walking stick topped with a cardboard on which we can read: “At 64 we are going to caner”.
“Caner” and “my life” two very Marseille words. The first means “to die” and used here as a pun understandable to all French people, but with a deeper double meaning for the inhabitants of the city. The second, vulgar, most often used as an interjection, expresses disagreement, annoyance. “My life, that’s enough now”, could say (no) a teacher faced with a turbulent class. In the strict sense, it designates a male gender. And to warm up a procession, a few “to arms”, this song of supporters of Olympique de Marseille, resounds from time to time.
The union sound
Another classic of the demonstrations, the union sound system, generally installed in a van or utility vehicle. In Nantes, we met Matthias, DJ and professional trainer, who, thanks to his two turntables, has been in charge of sound at major CFDT events for about 10 years.
Music is an important component of a successful demonstration. There are more and more. The equipment has evolved and we are much better equipped. The titles broadcast depend on the moment and the composition of the procession. Today, it’s very family-friendly for example, so we wanted to favor something dancing, dynamic, but above all not aggressive: Yannick Noah (Citizens trees), NTM, The Sunday Song (little railwayman)… On January 19, it was more committed titles, we had to mark the occasion”.
For Matthias, the great classics to go on demonstrations remain Trust, Noir Désir, Rage against the machine (RATM), Gainsbourg… Yann, head of sound animation for Force Ouvrière and subscriber to demonstrations since the “great strikes of 1995”, plays on the same score since among his essentials, we find Trust, RATM, Noir Désir but also Survivor, ACDC, Mano Negra, HK and the Saltimbanks, Damien Saez, Lavilliers… “Rather rock, to make you want to move, explains he. Text singers like Renaud or Souchon are also interesting, but they are more difficult to capture. »
And like everywhere you have to know how to adapt with the times. “Before, we didn’t really ask ourselves the question, we chose very committed or slightly retro titles,” says Matthias. But for a few years we have understood that if we wanted to attract young people to demonstrations, we had to pass current titles. Today it’s Dua Lipa, Orelsan, Rosalia, Big Flo & Oli…”
Thus, some ultra-broadcast titles have clearly gone out of fashion. “Zebda, Tryo, La Rue Kétanou, Sinsemilia… They were demonstration hits but, today, it’s too much marked by an era, he adds Same for Johnny, it was essential there is 15 years old. Now people don’t want it anymore. The same fate, less marked however, for militant songs, such as The International Where Bella Ciao. “It’s a little less, you have to renew yourself a little”, comments Yann.
But this rise in power of the union sound system arouses regrets among some nostalgic people. “It takes a little precedence over slogans or messages sometimes”, laments Jean-Paul, unionized FO and “of all demonstrations for more than 20 years”. Same feeling with Annick, 69, CGT activist. “Thirty years ago there weren’t all these sound systems. We sang a lot more, we wrote different texts for each event. There were more instruments, brass bands were coming. Broadcasting music is good but it’s an easy solution I think. Ah, the younger generation!
In Lille, it’s the classic of Claude François Come to the house who became through the voice of a certain Guillaume Hey, it’s inflation. In Rennes, it’s a feminist version of Freed from Desire who was heard to denounce the patriarchy. In the streets of Lyon, a sign chanted “Born, Born, Born, to be a lie”, in tribute to Patrick Hernandez. Finally, at Place d’Italie in Paris, at the start of the demonstration, it was the choir of teachers from the Joliot-Curie de Pantin college which took up classics of the French variety pastiches in diatribes against the reform project.
The chorus of My son, my fight by Daniel Balavoine thus becomes “Working endlessly / it scares me too much / My retirement, my battle / It shouldn’t go away” And that of For you to love me again (Céline Dion) is transformed into ” I’ll go get the money / In the coffers of the bosses / That’s why we’re on strike / There will be no truce ”. Behind 90% of the revisited texts, we find Elisabeth, a French teacher. “You have to take classics that are intergenerational and then as soon as you have the hook of a song, you rewrite the lyrics using keywords like pension, retirement, strike,” she explains. Some songs have been around since 2019 but two new texts appeared in 2023. It only took the French teacher two days to finish them. “Macron is my muse,” she laughs.