Swans Commentary » swans.com December 13, 2010  



Perspectives: A Review of 2010


A Year Of Gallic Protests


by Marie Rennard





(Swans - December 13, 2010)   When François Mitterrand was elected president of the French Republic in 1981, he had in his luggage a full set of social reforms among which the constitution of a professional armed force, the abolition of the death penalty, a fifth week of paid holiday for workers, and the retirement at the age of 60 (instead of 65) for anyone who'd have worked for forty years.

These social measures were the first ones since 1936, when the Front Populaire, having won the elections over the extreme right, had instituted our famous congés payés along with a few other things, like the sécurité sociale.

No need to say that if the abolition of the death penalty was largely discussed by opponents, the shrinking of the working time was welcome for almost everybody.

When nicolas sarkozy announced this year that workers would be obliged to work until 62 to get full retirement, people felt their elementary rights were denied and they went to the streets en masse; not only because they'd have to work longer -- most of us are conscious that there was a necessity to walk backwards and find a midterm -- but because of the conjunction of several elements that led to the popular explosion over the past few months.

First, nicolas sarkozy had repeatedly promised, as a candidate, that he would not reform the retirement system. His main goals were to fight insecurity by cleaning out the "cities" (les banlieues) with "kärcher", to protect the rich against taxes, and to offer anyone the possibility "to work more to earn more money..."

Money is the key word. Never before along those last decades have the rich been so rich, and the poor so poor, with an additional deep despise for those who have no money.

Remember sarkozy's incredible raise of salary? 170 percent! Added to the explosion of the budget of the Palais de l'Élysée, a few sentences of our president like, for instance, "If you don't have a Rolex passed 40, you are just a failure," and his bling bling (a neologism forged for him that had never been heard before) manners, it was enough to put people in a mood of war.

His refusal after the beginning of the economic crisis to suppress the fiscal shield that benefits the wealthy, or to regulate the practises of traders, and his constant lies about how Germany, among others, did the same, also contributed to spread a wide discontentment.

So, when he announced three months ago his unilateral reform about retirement that penalises -- once again -- the weakest, people decided this was far too much. Means exist, undoubtedly, to finance the retirements without enlarging the period of work. French people, who are surely difficult to rule, are also very aware of their power. A few years ago, President Chirac cancelled a law relative to the conditions of work for youngsters, which had been voted in spite of a large popular opposition. People refused to just go home and be fatalist. They kept demonstrating in the streets, and won the fight.

They hoped it would be the same this time. But sarkozy is not Chirac. He sees himself as a new de Gaulle, the father of his people who congratulates the good ones and punishes the bad, sure that they'll thank him when they're grown-ups.

These times, fortunately, are gone. Everyone knows it but sarkozy. But gone also are the times where left-wing parties were fighting for the workers. Left-wing leaders, today, are no more than the traders of political life, looking for their own interest. Where are the Jaurès, the Marchais? Their constant divisions, motivated by their egos, have brought sarkozy to the presidency. They do not care about what is most important to the French, the powerful motto Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.

Liberties have been constantly reduced since 2007, notably in the sphere of the media. Equality is dead. The reform of justice and the law of the rich have put judges under the control of the executive. The number of custodies has exploded, not because of an increase of criminality or delinquency, but just because cops are now obliged to present statistical results. As a consequence, two young North African children were arrested after school because they were suspected to have stolen a bike that was theirs. People now often spend a night in jail for anything... No more equality in school either. Teachers are underpaid, and less and less money is available for education. Those who can afford private schools for their children send them to American or British universities; the others are left aside.

Fraternity. Well, fraternity was shot last summer with the expulsion of the roms (some of whom had the French nationality). Fraternity dies silently on the pavements with the thousands of homeless youngsters suffering from hunger and cold...

By the same time, those who succeeded in life -- meaning those who have money -- can buy as many Rolexes as they want. They can relax and sleep peacefully: sarkozy, or one of his ilk, will be re-elected in a couple of years.


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published December 13, 2010