Vive La France!

There’s a war going on across the pond. It’s a war that should be waged all over the Western world. Sadly, every nation – bar one – chooses to sit on the sidelines and watch.

The US media spends little time on matters outside of its borders, unless Americans are directly involved in some foreign crisis, so coverage of this war is a bit scanty in this nation, though ABC and MSNBC do have the story on their websites.

The war is being waged by France. It’s fighting itself. It’s a civil war, but one in which the working people of all Europe, and the Americas, should be taking part.

Some months ago, wealthy French president Nicolas Sarkozy suggested he was going to raise the retirement pension age of French workers from 65 years to 67 years. It was, as can be imagined, a deeply unpopular notion with French workers. This week, that suggestion is on the point of becoming reality, and the French are determined to prevent it.

A near-national strike has crippled the country, canceled half the flights out of Charles de Gaulle airport, closed fuel depots and gas stations, schools and universities, and brought three and a half million people out onto the streets; half a million in Paris alone.

From Philippe Marliere, writing for the Guardian newspaper:

The French are deeply unhappy with the way they have been governed, but their main grievance is about pension reform, which is seen as a cynical ploy to make ordinary people work more for inferior entitlements, while bailed-out bankers and the rich get tax rebates and continue to enjoy the high life. Over the past month, five national demonstrations have gathered together an estimated average of 3.5 million people per action day. The latest, on Saturday, was a big success and another is scheduled for today.

The movement is popular: 69% of the nation back the strikes and demonstrations; 73% want the government to withdraw the reform. And high school pupils have now joined the fray. Over 1,000 high schools are on strike as the youngsters take to the streets to protest against mass unemployment and the raising of the retirement age. The government has patronisingly labelled them as “manipulated kids”, but these comments have backfired and served only to galvanise the young, who have hardened their resistance and taken further interest in the reform. When interviewed by the media, pupils come across as articulate and knowledgable. Parents worry about their children’s future, so they will not stop them from striking.”

Today is day six of the action, and the day France’s Senate will vote on the reform bill. It is expected to pass.

French workers have never been shy about defending their social rights. After all, like social rights everywhere, they were hard won. The rich and powerful never make concessions to their workers without a struggle.

Marliere again:

In France, strikes and demonstrations are seen as a civilised and effective way to enact one’s citizenship. Students are expected to join marches from an early age, receiving by the same token a “political education”. France’s youth have always scared governments because of their radical potential. Student demonstrations of late have been invariably popular because people know that the young have been badly hit by unemployment over the past 30 years.[1]

It’s a measure of the corporate hold on Western media, that all outlets, including the BBC, have grossly misled their viewers over this issue. We’ve all been told that in France the pension age is 60, and Sarkozy wants it raised to 62. That’s totally untrue. The legal age at which a French person can retire is 60, but a full state pension can only be claimed from age 65. Sarkozy wants this raised to 67. (NOTE: Only today has the BBC website finally quoted the correct figures.)

France is grinding to a standstill, while the rest of European workers look on. The British are too lazy, too comatose from a surfeit of beer, to do more than slump in their chairs, drag on their fags, and criticize the latest offering from the TV soap operas.

The Germans are too fat, bloated by sausage and pickled with sauerkraut, to care what the French are fighting for on their behalf. And why should they? After all, the German economy is the best in Europe, isn’t it? Why should they care?

The answer is simple. They should care, along with the Brits, the Italians, and every other worker in Europe, because if Sarkozy and his fat-bellied political pigs can get away with this in France, it sends a message to every politician in Europe.

French workers fight the hardest of all for their rights. If the French workers lose this battle with the rich and powerful, it will prove an easy matter for any other European government to impose similar legislation, or worse, on its own workers. David Cameron, leader of the British Tory government has already made plans to drastically cut benefits to the poor and unemployed. Why are the streets of Britain still empty of protesters?

What’s happening in France should also ignite warning sparks in the heads of US workers. It won’t, of course. Americans will turn out in force to hear speeches from the lunatic fringe, hang teabags from their hats, but when it comes to actually standing up and demanding their rights, Americans are at the very bottom of the list.

They’d rather stay home and watch it on the widescreen TV.

The corporate masters of America learned a long time ago that cheap, artery-clogging, fast-food and sugar-laden fizzy drinks were all the average US-Joe required to keep him from complaining.

There’s a war being waged across the pond. It’s outcome will effect us all.

[1] “France’s future is fighting back” Guardian, October 19th 2010

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2 Replies to “Vive La France!”

  1. Complete agreement fro moi, RJ.

    Your last 2 paragraphs brough to mind a poem from one of my few American Heroes, Carl Sandburg

    I was a boy when I heard three red words
    a thousand Frenchmen died in the streets
    for: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity–I asked
    why men die for words.

    I was older; men with mustaches, sideburns,
    lilacs, told me the high golden words are:
    Mother, Home, and Heaven–other older men with
    face decorations said: God, Duty, Immortality
    –they sang these threes slow from deep lungs.

    Years ticked off their say-so on the great clocks
    of doom and damnation, soup, and nuts: meteors flashed
    their say-so: and out of great Russia came three
    dusky syllables workmen took guns and went out to die
    for: Bread, Peace, Land.

    And I met a marine of the U.S.A., a leatherneck with a girl on his knee
    for a memory in ports circling the earth and he said: Tell me how to say
    three things and I always get by–gimme a plate of ham and eggs–how
    much–and–do you love me, kid?

  2. Finally I’m here, RJA, I couldn’t access for quite a while!

    If these protests happened in Amurika, the armed forces would be mobilized on every corner and the “collateral damage” would be horrific. Think Kent State.


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