France has staged six revolutions (1789, 1830, 1848, 1870, 1936 and 1968) in two centuries – not counting innumerable strikes, riots and demonstrations.
It is a curious fact of life, that whilst the English are characterised as ”The Angry Island’, they seem to get angry only with each other; the French, by comparison, get angry with their employers and politicians.
For the first time since the second World War, France’s eight trade unions were united for the May Day marches. On April 28th, doctors joined forces with university professors – who’ve been on strike for three months – to protest at what they see as the attempted privatisation of public health and education by Sarkozy.
Students are lining up to become politically involved again, as in 1968, the rectors of the universities of Orléans and Rennes, and the head of the Paris University services organisation CROUS, have all been taken hostage.
In Chatellerault, the workers in the ‘New Fabris’ factory have lined the walls with gas canisters and say they will blow up the factory if Renault and Peugeot, who accounted for 90% of the factories business do not give them redundancy payments of €30,000 each. The New Fabris workers, whose employer was declared bankrupt on June 16, claim that Renault and Peugeot paid around €30,000 each to 200 workers laid off from another supplier, the aluminium specialist Rencast. But both Renault and Peugeot said Monday it was not their responsibility to pay out compensation to the New Fabris workers.
The threat comes after a recent wave of “bossnappings” across France earlier this year in which managers have been held hostage by workers over factory closures. Most of the business executives who’ve been detained by workers facing factory closures were employed by subsidiaries of foreign companies (including Sony, 3M, Caterpillar). A French consultancy group now advises bosses about to announce bad news to carry a kit containing a pre-programmed cellphone, toiletry bag, change of underwear and a clean shirt.
The French already enjoy working agreements that would be the envy of the British. The Matignon Agreements in 1936 enshrined the right to a 40 hour week, and two weeks paid holiday, long before such notions had been thought of abroad. Every French employee has the right to a subsidised train ticket to his home commune once a year, to help families stay together. If your employer asks you to work further than, I believe it is currently 15 kilometres, from where your wife is dutifully preparing your traditional four course luncheon at 12 noon sharp, then your employer must give you a voucher to pay for a similar four course meal, including wine, at a local restaurant…..hence the proliferation of restaurants serving excellent food at 10 or eleven euros at lunchtime, generally the value of the vouchers!
Tolerance for violent protest is so deeply ingrained in the collective psyche that even right-wing politicians express understanding. Two years ago, when he was campaigning for the presidency, Sarkozy told Breton fishermen:
“Here, when you demonstrate, when you use violence, it’s not for fun; it’s not to harm others. It’s because you are deeply despairing, because you think you have no other recourse and you feel condemned to economic and social death.”
In Britain, we see an increase in knife crime as the citizens stab each other in the back – and front, we go online under pseudonyms and threaten to ’string up all the politicians’, we get drunk and break off a string of wing mirrors in a quiet side street on our way home, we employ our anger by proxy in voting off contestants from innumerable TV shows.
Next Tuesday, July 21st, your politicians take off for an extraordinary 80 days summer recess, they will not return until the 12th October, will not debate the great affairs of state, will not hold this government to account. This is in addition to the 24 days at Christmas, and the 11 days in February, and the 18 days in April, and the 10 days for Whit-sun, and just for good measure, the Bank Holiday of May 4th……….deduct the time they spend on their second jobs, the week-ends, the first class travelling time to and fro their constituancy, the time spent on sexual shannigans……..
Where is the British revolution, where is the refusal to be governed in the manner that we are? Why aren’t the British barricading parliament and demanding that they stay there until they have sorted out at least some of the problems?