A five-minute primer on an issue making headlines There were mass demonstrations in tear-gas filled streets, universities and schools were blockaded, and even the Eiffel Tower was closed. As if we didn't know already, no one does revolt like the French. Why are they so good at it? The main reason the French protest is that on the whole, it works. Ever since 1789 - a defining moment in the success of public rebellion - French history is littered with uprising success stories. The ground rules are fairly simple: disagree with a new government policy? Then whip the critics into a protest frenzy - preferably the highly organised student and labour unions - and hey presto, the politicians will back down. Wasn't the last big demonstration back in 1968? The present unrest is widely regarded as the worst since the student uprisings of 1968, which inspired a general strike that virtually paralysed the nation. But France, and Paris in particular, have witnessed many big protests since, which have yielded significant results. In 1986, they forced the shelving of university reforms, and in 1994, the government abandoned plans to cut the pay of young people in training. It wasn't long before protests over pension reforms helped push former prime minister Alain Juppe from power. And last year, key elements of school reform were dropped in the face of opposition from protesting students and teachers. Is there something unique about the French character that inspires these protests? In France, the notion of liberte, egalite, fraternite is stuck on the national psyche like a permanent tattoo. The French have been largely suspicious of globalisation, which is widely viewed as a threat to not only job security, but also the nation's culture. Despite helping to create the European Union, political leaders have done little to convince voters of the merits of a globalised free market. Social ideals are as firmly entrenched as the 35-hour working week. Laws that prevent the biggest firms from foreign takeover are popular. Some commentators believe France resembles the trade-union dominated Britain of the 1970s. Others say the French are to be admired for showing strong social solidarity against so-called 'free-market reforms'. So what are they fighting over this time? Big protests are usually over government plans to make the country's economy more 'flexible' and competitive, and the battleground today is no different. The demonstrations are over a new law that will enable companies to get rid of employees under 26 without reason during their first two years on the job. Ministers argue this new flexibility will help reduce France's 10 per cent unemployment rate, but those affected see the change as another attack on their security.