May 1968 is the name given to a series of student protests and a general strike that caused the eventual collapse of the De Gaulle government in France. The vast majority of the protesters espoused left-wing causes, but the established leftist political institutions and labor unions distanced themselves from the movement. Many saw the events as an opportunity to shake up the "old society" and traditional morality, focusing especially on the education system and employment.
It began as a series of student strikes that broke out at a number of universities and lycées in Paris, following confrontations with university administrators and the police. The de Gaulle administration's attempts to quash those strikes by further police action only inflamed the situation further, leading to street battles with the police in the Latin Quarter, followed by a general strike by students and strikes throughout France by ten million French workers, roughly two-thirds of the French workforce. The protests reached such a point that de Gaulle created a military operations headquarters to deal with the unrest, dissolved the National Assembly and called for new parliamentary elections for 23 June 1968.
The government was close to collapse at that point (De Gaulle had even taken temporary refuge at an air force base in Germany), but the revolutionary situation evaporated almost as quickly as it arose. Workers went back to their jobs, after a series of deceptions carried out by the Confédération Générale du Travail, the leftist union federation, and the Parti Communiste Français (PCF), the French Communist Party. When the elections were finally held in June, the Gaullist party emerged even stronger than before.
May '68 was a political failure for the protesters, but it had an enormous social impact. In France, it is considered to be the watershed moment that saw the replacement of conservative morality (religion, patriotism, respect for authority) with the...