De Gaulle and May 68 (1968)

The crisis of May 1968 had some aspects in common with the social uprisings of the past. In both its origins and its development, however, it turned into a profoundly novel occurrence: it began with violent student protests, sparked a response among workers and ended in a political crisis. The French student movement, in many ways akin to those causing unrest in the USA and Germany, ended up in France by causing a major political crisis.

  • 22 March: the students at Nanterre University occupy university administrative buildings, and the "Movement of 22 March" is founded with Daniel Cohn-Bendit as its leader. De Gaulle considered these early demonstrations as mere students rags.
     
  • 29-30 March: courses suspended at Nanterre.
     
  • 2 May: suspension of courses extended
     
  • 3 May: closure of the Sorbonne
     
  • 6 May: the protest movement spreads to the provinces. The President of the Republic recommends a firm response: "We must not give in".
     
  • meeting between the UNEF, CGT and CFDT unions to decide on common action
     
  • 10 May: Nanterre University re-opens, "night of the barricades". Students clash with the forces of order in the streets of Paris. 376 injured. De Gaulle is not informed of the riots until 5.30 a.m. Prime Minister Georges Pompidou, back from an official trip to Afghanistan, decides to calm the situation by announcing the re-opening of the Sorbonne.
     
  • 11 May: televised speech by Georges Pompidou.
     
  • 13 May: workers' unions (CGT, CFDT) call a general strike and march alongside the students: a crowd of one million people invades Paris chanting "ten years is enough!" (referring to the tenth anniversary of de Gaulle's coming to power). The opposition, through the voice of François Mitterrand, adds that "it is high time for the government to go".
     
  • 14-19 May: official trip by Charles de Gaulle to Romania. France is paralysed by a million strikers. The Odéon theatre is occupied by the students.
     
  • on his return to France, the President attempts to bring the situation back under control: "Reform, yes. A shambles, no".
     
  • 24 May: de Gaulle makes a television broadcast to try to win back public opinion. He announces that order will be maintained and that a referendum will be held on participation in the universities and in companies "in industry and in agriculture within the framework of the regions". The speech makes little or no impact.
     
  • 25 May: opening of negotiations between the government, the trade unions and the employers' federation, the CNPF, at the Ministry of Social Affairs, rue de Grenelle.
     
  • 27 May: signature of the Grenelle agreements. Workers decide to continue the strike regardless.
     
  • 28 May: François Mitterrand declares himself a candidate for the Presidency.
     
  • 29 May: de Gaulle cancels a meeting of the Council of Ministers and departs by helicopter for a destination known only to himself and a handful of close aides. His plan is to meet General Hublot, commander of the 1st Army Corps, in either Strasbourg or Sainte-Odile, and General Massu, head of the French armed forces in Germany, but bad weather and poor radio reception force him to land at Baden-Baden (West Germany) where the meeting is held instead. On his return to France, Charles de Gaulle claimed, "I have come to terms with my second thoughts".
     
  • 30 May: the President makes a vigorous radio broadcast from the Elysée Palace: "I will not resign... I will not change the Prime Minister... I am today dissolving the National Assembly....". That same evening, in response to calls from the committees for the defence of the Republic, hundreds of thousands of supporters of the General march from the Place de la Concorde to Etoile, headed by Malraux, Debré, Schumann. All parties accept the principle of a new general election.
     
  • 31 May: demonstrations in support of de Gaulle in all major towns throughout France. The government is reshuffled.
     
  • 4-6 June: calm returns to the country. Public and private sector workers go back to work.
     
  • 7 June: an interview given by de Gaulle to Michel Droit is broadcast on radio and television. The President interprets the crisis of May 1968 as a crisis of civilisation and sets out the economic and social decisions that will be taken to remedy the situation.
     
  • 11 June: last day of serious student rioting in Paris.
     
  • 16 June: the police evacuate the Sorbonne.
     
  • 23 and 30 June: 1st and 2nd rounds of the general elections. Massive victory for the parties close to de Gaulle (the UDR and the RI take 362 of the 485 seats).
     
  • 10 July: de Gaulle accepts the government's resignation and appoints Maurice Couve de Murville as Prime Minister.