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This was on the "Comment & Analysis" page of last weekend's  (March 18 / March 19) Financial Times.  The writer (John Thornhill) is editor of the FT's European edition.

The unmistakable whiff of Gallic revolution -- a mixture of Gauloises and teargas -- has been filling the Parisian air again this week.  Thousands of students have poured on to the streets to protest against the government's labour market reforms; even bigger demonstrations are promised today.

As in May 1968, the Sorbonne university, on the left bank in Paris, has been the crucible of unrest.  There have been the familiar images of students barricading themselves into lecture rooms and being dragged out again by the fearsome, head-cracking riot police, the CRS.  Just as the so-called soixante-huitards tormented the aloof President Charles de Gaulle and helped bring about his downfall, so their revolutionary descendants have been ridiculing Dominique de Villepin, the Gaullist prime minister, and could yet wreck his chances in next year's presidential elections.

There is, however, one big difference between the events of 1968 and those of today, as several commentators have observed.  Whereas the revolutionaries of '68 wanted to change the world, those of today want to keep it much the same.  Whereas the '68 generation wanted to challenge their parents' complacency, those of today want to enjoy the same privileges: secure jobs, short working weeks, early retirement and an enviably high standard of living.

Yet, in a strange kind of way, this week's events really are about '68 or more particularly the attitudes and policies it helped inspire.  Just as Bill Clinton argued that the big dividing line in US politics remained one's attitude towards the 1960s (Democrats being largely positive, Republicans mostly negative), so the big ideological faultline in French politics remains what one makes of '68.

To the left, '68 is still something to be celebrated.  The events of that year helped transform France's archaic, sclerotic society.  They led to a feminist revolution and the introduction of abortion rights.  They also fed a big increase in trade union power, a strengthening of worker protection and an expansion of the welfare state.  This socially liberal agenda has profoundly changed France; over the following 30 years the infant mortality rate was divided by four, the length of the working week was cut from 44 to 35 hours and the number of students completing the baccalauréat, the national educational qualification, at the age of 18 has trebled.  "The golden age is surely ours," the author Jacques Marseille concluded last year.

To the right, however, '68 entrenched an anti-capitalist mentality among much of the French elite, helping to turn the 30 years of heady post-war economic expansion (les trente glorieuses) into 30 years of economic underperformance (les trente piteuses).  In their view, the soixante-huitards must rank among the most selfish generations in history, inheriting a vibrant, full-employment economy from their parents and bequeathing an uncompetitive, debt-ridden, high-unemployment economy to their children.  Life has indeed been golden for those included in the French social model but it has left millions of outsiders on the scrapheap.

The paradox is that it is the rightwing Mr de Villepin who is now trying to present himself as the revolutionary by championing the disaffected jobless in the banlieues, or poor housing estates.  Mr de Villepin argues that the introduction of a more flexible labour contract (the CPE) for those under 26 years of age -- the cause of the present student unrest -- is the only pragmatic solution to cut the frighteningly high rate of youth unemployment that fanned last year's urban riots.  It is de Gaulle's political son who is challenging the sclerotic society created by the '68 generation.

The trouble is that Mr de Villepin is an unconvincing revolutionary, winning no credit on the left for his latest initiative and widespread suspicion on the right.  The Sorbonne students, as well as the jobless in the banlieues, argue that the CPE is unfairly discriminatory.  Why should a 27-year-old be securely protected in a job while a 25-year-old is more vulnerable?  The media, once so enamoured of Mr de Villepin, are turning rapidly against him.  "He has so much baroque pride that he is deaf to the advice of others and blind to his own errors.  He regards his rivals as dwarfs, his adversaries as imposters, and his only boss -- Jacques Chirac -- as his inferior," wrote Alain Dohamel in Libération.  "He is a leader who creates anxiety, an ambiguous and troubling reformer.  He is a Chiraquien dream, he is not the man for the situation."

Unless he can sway opinion over the weekend, Mr de Villepin is in danger of joining the long list of rightwing prime ministers to have buckled under pressure.  One of the most lasting legacies of 1968 is that governments have remained petrified about the power of the street.

Instead, he should argue that the students are on the wrong side of the barricades.  Rather than condemning his half-hearted reform, they should support him in being far more radical -- and egalitarian -- and extending flexible labour contracts to everyone in the workforce.  That really would shake the students' parents out of their complacency -- and be for more in the spirit of '68.


Note to Jen and Tavi:  You probably shouldn't be eating or drinking anything when you read this; you might choke when you get to Alain Dohamel's description of Villepin.

Comments

( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
jenni_snake
Mar. 22nd, 2006 10:33 pm (UTC)
What? It's right on, that description...
aswanargent
Mar. 23rd, 2006 10:56 am (UTC)
Well, yes, I knew that would be your reaction, lol. Let's see what Tavi has to say. ;-)
jenni_snake
Mar. 23rd, 2006 04:37 pm (UTC)
*looks all innocent*
aswanargent
Mar. 23rd, 2006 12:31 pm (UTC)
I especially liked the bit about Chirac...
jenni_snake
Mar. 23rd, 2006 04:40 pm (UTC)
I like the bit about dwarves. I'm sure so will Tavi. ;)
aswanargent
Mar. 23rd, 2006 05:07 pm (UTC)
Did you scroll down and read the two comments from anonymous poster Frank? If not, do it.
jenni_snake
Mar. 23rd, 2006 05:28 pm (UTC)
He's even more of a Commie than I am... ;-) Have to admit I'm curious to find out who he is. Keep me posted.

I wonder if he's aware of the petro-dollar conspiracy explaining the invasion of Iraq?

Though helping improve participative democracy is high on my to-do list.
dominiquelechic
Mar. 25th, 2006 04:25 am (UTC)
Petro-dollar conspiracy? I fear the idea is a bit more than a conspiracy theory.

Participative democracy... *groans*
jenni_snake
Mar. 25th, 2006 09:54 am (UTC)
It is, but to say that it's the single reason why a country acts in a certain way (which is what conspiracy theorists tend to do) is illogical and simplistic. I wouldn't go so far to use those two adjectives for the posts to which Karen is referring, but it comes pretty close.

Oh quiet about the participative democracy. I'm going to start calling you Emperor... or would you prefer 'your Highness'? ;-P
aswanargent
Mar. 25th, 2006 10:26 am (UTC)
I'm going to find it really hard to stop thinking of her as her latest MSN username. The royal purple works in both cases, I guess. ;-)

Btw, I read the convo and will have something to say later on the subject of need and power relationships.
jenni_snake
Mar. 25th, 2006 10:46 am (UTC)
Hmm, yes, the purple is quite good, come to think of it. ;-) The oyster bit reminds me of The Walrus and the Carpenter...

How's work? *awaits comments*
aswanargent
Mar. 25th, 2006 10:55 am (UTC)
Work is *shrugs shoulders* someplace where I'll be minding my p's and q's (and definitely cutting back on weekday, working hours, lj-use). Other than that, I've stopped caring.
jenni_snake
Mar. 25th, 2006 11:07 am (UTC)
Aw. :-( That sucks. 50 hours in a place you hate... sorry, I'm not making it any better, am I? :-S
dominiquelechic
Mar. 26th, 2006 04:07 am (UTC)
Oh, of course not. It was never just war for oil. But it was a pretty major part in the decision making process to bump Iraq up to the head of the queue.

I'm having enough problems with 'democracy' as it is now, but you want a system where everyone really does exercize their right to have a say? God, no!
jenni_snake
Mar. 26th, 2006 09:19 am (UTC)
Not 'everyone have a say' (you recall my problem with referendums), but so that one organization cannot gain so much power that it can unequivocally revoke the rights of any individual or any group of individuals. And if people don't particiapte in civil society and form organizations for causes they believe to be right, then you end up with a rather lame form of democracy. The kind of democracy we're growing today.

(And how about I just call you Empress Lizzie? ;-P)
desert_rifka
Mar. 22nd, 2006 11:39 pm (UTC)
I was recently talking to someone about 1968 and the student protests. I'm really not familiar with what's going on in France so I can't speak to that.

Students certainly are too complacent here but you really can't blame them; threats of expulsion are all too real. Fear is real.
(Anonymous)
Mar. 23rd, 2006 02:27 pm (UTC)
Frank
"Fear is real." - That reminds me:

"Quite an expeience to live in fear, isn't it? That's what it is to be a slave."
- I'll let you guess who that quote is from.
aswanargent
Mar. 23rd, 2006 03:12 pm (UTC)
Re: Frank
Ah, a Blade Runner fan.

The answer is Roy Batty.

Not meaning to be unwelcoming, but would you mind telling me how you found this post?
greedy_dancer
Mar. 23rd, 2006 12:52 am (UTC)
hahaha ... extend "flexible" working contract to everyone? what does he want, civil war? lol

most of the riot police left the Latin Quarter yesterday, for no apparent reason. did they demobilize or just go elsewhere? i have no idea, but it's starting to look slightly more "human". the Sorbonne is still surrounded by iron fencing though. it was especially weird yesterday as it was the start of a charity event to support cancer patients, wich involves selling daffodils and unrolling strips of grass along the pavement from the Panthéon down to the Jardin du Luxembourg ... the mix of atmospheres was really STRANGE!
lark_about
Mar. 23rd, 2006 11:58 am (UTC)
daffodils
Ahhhhh the Jardin de Luxembourg....one of my favorite places in the world!
(Anonymous)
Mar. 23rd, 2006 02:17 pm (UTC)
Frank
The fact is that 68 did not change anything in reality. You see it's not the politicians pulling the strings, it's the central banks (which are just a private corporation although stealthily) who in turn control the media, the corporations (themselves operating under corrupted laws).

So when they make your economy good or bad depending on what they feel will help their policies of forming a centralised world government ruled by themselves. They create Mind Control Projects, MK ULTRA etc. Terrorism, Al Qaeda, Operation Gladio, Operation Condor.

All these power groups, OCDE, NATO, IMF, World Bank, Bilderbrg, Bohemian Grove, Skull and Bones, Nazism, Stalinism...

Always revolving around the top of these are Warburg, Rockefeller and others (who could themselves be puppets, who knows?).

Until people realise this and start building real democracies, nationalise and decentralise the bank, create participative and popular government, THINGS WILL NOT CHANGE.

That's why this movement has to break beyond the CPE and be joined all over europe in general strikes and blockading these oligarchic corporations.
aswanargent
Mar. 23rd, 2006 03:53 pm (UTC)
Re: Frank
Okay, now I really want to know who you are and how you found this post.

The only comment I'm going to make is that at least your central bank theory makes a change from the usual "worldwide Jewish conspiracy" one.
dominiquelechic
Mar. 24th, 2006 12:56 pm (UTC)
Re: Frank
I've seen a meeting of Bilderberg, and you're over-rating it, really. It's a productive lobbying ground, sure, that's what you would expect when so many politicians, diplomats, business people come together, but it's nothing like the conspiracy theorists describe it.

And the mind control thing came to nothing back in the 80s.
aswanargent
Mar. 24th, 2006 04:22 pm (UTC)
Re: Frank
Okay, I've now seen what has to be the same anonymous poster on Domi's lj (responding to today's the "Memo to Jacques" post); wish he/she would step out of the shadows.
jenni_snake
Mar. 25th, 2006 09:59 am (UTC)
Re: Frank
It's somehow more insidious when it's not a behind-doors conspiracy - nice to know that not only are we bringing greed out into the open, but also endorsing it.

Hmm, I just noticed in Frank's post this line:

Always revolving around the top of these are Warburg, Rockefeller and others (who could themselves be puppets, who knows?).

I wonder if that would be the extra-terrestrials who are biding their time, watching the Earth until the moment is right for them to take over and... well, I dunno, control the banks so they have absolute and total control of the human race? Well, at least Canada will be safe - we hate our banks and they hate us, so we're just looking for a reason not to use them. Though come to think of it, some of the tellers did have a greenish skin tint. Silly me, I wrote it off to bad lighting and a loathing of their job...
aswanargent
Mar. 25th, 2006 10:31 am (UTC)
Re: Frank
Hey, lay off the bankers, already. Remember that you count one among your friends. Of course, your theory could explain how, without lifting a finger, I became the final word on matters D/V. Who says mind control didn't pan out? ;-)
jenni_snake
Mar. 25th, 2006 10:48 am (UTC)
Re: Frank
Oops. So... how goes that banking conspiracy? Frank would be happy to know you're working weekends... more proof! ;-)
aswanargent
Mar. 25th, 2006 10:57 am (UTC)
Re: Frank
Nah, the working weekends part is over. Like I said above, they've managed to make me stop caring.
( 28 comments — Leave a comment )