Monday, October 18, 2010

Where's the famous Gallic shrug when you need it?

Who are these people?

Why's Gerard Depardieu sniffing the snail?

More important where's the famous Gallic shrug when you need it?
The barricades are up, acrid tear gas is filling the streets, angry hordes of striking workers and students are battling against a common enemy. Eh oui, the French are at it again. In the past, I have found the Gallic shrug the best response to the country’s trigger-happy strike culture – it’s just something you have to learn to live with. This time, though, I’m finding it difficult to shrug off – and I am not alone.

The government is in the final stages of pushing through a plan that will, if you believe the union hype, change the face of France as we know it and end the good life this country has come to symbolise – not just for its own citizens, but for the world at large. Or so they say. Which is why the country has taken to the streets.

You might be forgiven for not being entirely sure what year we are in. It could be 1789 - apart from the tear gas.
Or 1968? Or perhaps 1995, when France shut down completely for three weeks over a plan to reform disgracefully advantageous special pensions for a small group of workers. It could even be 2006, when students ran amok against a bill to make youth work contracts more flexible.

But, no, this is October 2010 and it is all about saying NON to retiring at 62 instead of 60 and receiving a full pension at 67 instead of 65. In rejection of this seemingly paltry change, protesters have brought the country to its knees. Yesterday, strikes halted all 12 of France’s oil refineries – the first time since May 1968. The pipeline bringing fuel to Paris’s two main airports and a large area of southern Paris was closed. Lorry drivers are in slow mode clogging France’s roads and rail workers are disrupting TGV trains whose promise of Très Grande Vitesse may come back to haunt them. Students have taken up the call to arms, blocking schools with garbage cans in lieu of the traditional paving slabs.

Up to now, things have been relatively peaceful - a policeman in Cannes was injured by a flying rock and doctors struggled to save an eye of a 16-year-old boy after he was struck by a rubber bullet. But today hundreds in Lyon took to the street and several cars were torched and burned. A school inspector in Seine Saint Denis, the Paris suburb where the nationwide riots of 2005 began, has sounded a note of caution. “Certain school blockages,” he warned earlier this week, risked “degenerating into the beginnings of urban riots”.

Sarkozy and his government feel the pressure as 3.5 million take to the streets, many of them simply because they can no longer stand their president. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, an aggressive hard-Left figure, said that Mr Sarkozy was trying to “place himself in the shoes of a 21st century Thatcher”. In one sense, he is wrong. Compared to Margaret Thatcher and her battle with the miners, Mr Sarkozy’s reform is hardly radical. However, if the fuel blockages, student protests and demonstrations continue, he may need some of the Iron Lady tactics to stand firm.

But he'll be facing an incoming tide. As Le Monde pointed out yesterday, France is a very conservative country “hell-bent on keeping the status quo and acquired (social) rights, with history used as a windshield against reality”. Even the Iron Lady might have resorted to a Gallic shrug at the thought of trying to break the Frenchman’s bond with his placard.

Cara - Tuesday
who's hoping her flight will land in Paris not Budapest next week
PS that's Stan and me at Bouchercon having too much fun.
PPS loved seeing Susie who frequents our blog, Peter Rozovsky and Christopher Moore. A big thank you to Yrsa for a UK copy of her Ashes to Dust that I will inhale on my flight given my plane takes off :)


  1. kdurkin3@verizon.netOctober 19, 2010 at 1:39 AM

    I think the protests in France are great; it's the only way that the government will feel the pressure and opposition to cutting back on the rights which people won, with union assistance. (I do, of course, hope people are not injured here or anywhere.)

    People are facing austerity measures all over Europe and are objecting. They have a right to; it's their lives and livelihoods at stake here.

    I wish people in the U.S. would object and protest more about the horrendous unemployment and underemployment, the wage and hour cuts, the growing number of foreclosures and homelessness, 51 million now without health care, increasing crisis in public education, with children paying the price.

    This is about millions of people's lives and those of their families. It's not an academic issue. It's real life.

    The U.S. needs an FDR-type Works Progress Administration jobs' program. It'll take a lot to pressure the government to get that as it did in the 1930s.

    I really am opposed to the suffering millions are going through in my own country and elsewhere. It just sickens me to see this as banks and corporations got humongous bailouts and Wall Street is making huge profits and bonuses once again, while so many are going through terrible times and poverty rates are going up.

  2. Hi Cara,

    It was so nice to see you!!!!


  3. Kdurkin thanks for commenting. Even if the French retirement bill goes thru tomorrow - which it most likely will - this has pulled Sarkozy up on his toes. You're right this is not an academic issue but the real deal. time let's try for coffee, ok?


  4. We are the new Victorians. We are financially comfortable and arrogantly self-satisfied. We believe we have a right to more because we, by nature not nurture, deserve it. If someone is poor, it is because they deserve to be. We worked hard for what we have or we have had others work hard so we can benefit.

    If the right wins control of Congress, any hope of legislation or programs to help the unemployed or those who have lost their homes will be cut back until they are finally cut out. The US is in danger of becoming a plutocracy; the rich will get richer and the poor and middle class will not be able to afford higher education that would allow them to move up the economic ladder. Our adult children today will not be able to do for their children what we were able to do for them. The number of marriages has declined because those of marriageable age don't feel economically secure enough to make a life-long commitment. The British have raised the cost of university education, giving education and the promise of a better future back to those whose futures are already safe.

    People in the United States have their opinions formed and their minds controlled by the millionaires who rule the air waves and Fox news. None can see beyond the hysterical rhetoric of the men who the are pushing the deluded off the cliff.

    The French are smart to march. The comfortable middle-class in America believes that only the poor are going to suffer from the cuts that the right will impose. FDR? Most of my fellow Americans have no idea what he did to make life bearable for so many. There is something to be said for being governed by old money; they were taught about their obligations to society.

    The society of the selfish will be happy to gather in front of the TV cameras and wave their placards demanding that the government keep its hands off their Medicare.


  5. Looks like you and Stan had a laugh!

    Funny you should mention Mrs Thatch - the old dear had her 85th birthday this week but was too ill to attend. This news failed to elicit sympathy from a lot of people. Funny that...

    In a future post, maybe a posthumopus one (hers not mine...I hope) I'll probably speak of of Mrs T's legacy. She chose to meet and crush the unions. It left a bitterness and rancour that still lingers. I doubt Sarkozy would be so brave/foolish. She employed various nefarious means too - agent provocateurs, covert ops, the help of the press - which, if Mr Sarkozy was to use, would lead to full blown civil war in FRance I'm sure.

    Over the channel in the UK, our unions neutered, we think the French are a bit barmy for the way they are so willing to down tools and rise up en masse. But secretly, we also quite admire it. There's a lot to be said for kicking out and not taking your medicine like good boys and girls...

  6. Man, 3.5 million. I have to say it's good to see people giving a voice but I think I'll retire in Canada instead of France.

  7. I think it's great they're marching in France, and elsewhere in Europe.

    Wish it would influence people in the U.S. There are 30 million unemployed and underemployed, many with involuntary part-time jobs, and many who've given up looking for work.

    A lot of these people would have regarded themselves as middle-class, especially those middle-aged or older who now cannot get hired or are taking jobs are far under their qualifications and prior salary. It is very sad.

    There are good people here, not only right-wingers who watch Fox. A lot of people were in D.C. on Oct. 2 who want jobs' programs and a lot of people do watch MSNBC--the FOX alternative for people who actually think critically. They just don't get the media coverage.

    Wages are being cut here and health benefits, too. A bit of French activism or even activism which has happened in the U.S.--1930s, 1960s, etc. --would help matters.

    Now the good old rightwing has its eyes on Social Security and Medicare. If those benefits--which people paid into all their working lives--are cut, a lot of the "middle-class" won't be "middle-class" any more.