[Marxism] French Youth at the Barricades, But a Revolution? It Can Wait

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Tue Mar 28 07:29:30 MST 2006

(The "general line" of the media is to emphasis differences among
those protesting the new law which would allow employers to fire
workers, essentially in what's called a "probationary period" in
the United States. They want to encourage division in the minds
of the readers, if they can't do it on the streets in France.

(Rift Emerges Among Young Haves and Have-Nots in France [L.A.Times]

March 28, 2006
French Youth at the Barricades, But a Revolution? It Can Wait

AVIGNON, France, March 25 — Adrien Reynaud is a revolutionary, but
only part time.

A 20-year-old history major at the University of Avignon, in the
south of France, he had been waging a round-the-clock protest against
the new youth labor law, camping out with fellow protesters in two
dozen tents pitched across the campus lawn.

But by last Friday afternoon, Mr. Reynaud had a birthday to celebrate
and laundry to be done. So he was going home to his parents.

"I've been staked out here for 16 days," he said. "I need a weekend

The mellow mood reflects the peculiar nature of the nationwide
protest against a law that would allow employers to fire workers
under age 26 without cause during the first two years of employment.

On one level, there is nail-biting drama. With Prime Minister
Dominique de Villepin determined to put the law into effect, France
is bracing for what is being called "black Tuesday" — strikes and
demonstrations throughout France planned for Tuesday — that could
bring up to two million people out on the streets and paralyze much
of the country.

If the protests drag on and the violence and vandalism get worse,
they could further erode confidence in the government and, some
doomsayers say, even force Mr. de Villepin from his post.

Only half of the subway trains in Paris will be operating. Regional
rail services are expected to be out of service. Many planes and
trains will be canceled. Countless schools, hospitals, businesses and
post offices will be closed.

Behind the current political crisis seems nothing less than the
essential question confronting Europe today: whether its safety net
can survive in a more competitive world.

But France has not been seized by a desire to sacrifice. This is a
protest that uses the revolutionary methods of the streets — which
proved so potent in last fall's riots in the disadvantaged city
suburbs — in defense of the status quo.

As Claude Bébéar, chairman of the insurance giant Axa and one of
France's leading entrepreneurs, said after emerging with other
business leaders from a meeting with Mr. de Villepin last week,
"We're just in one of those psychodramas that the French love but
that is not justified."

The contrasts are apparent on the campus here. Banners predict
nothing less than the fall of France's center-right government and
the inevitable triumph of collective progress over individualism.

But there is also guitar playing, soccer ball kicking and sun tanning
to be done. In the spirit of compromise, the university has been shut
down only intermittently, to allow some students to take their final
exams. One handwritten banner reads: "Don't send us police. Nurture
us instead."

"I want students to gaze upward, to hope and dream for things that
are more important," said Emmanuel Ethis, vice president of the
university and a professor of sociology. "This is a rebellion — by
the petite bourgeoisie."

This is also a cross-generational conflict. Baby boomers embraced by
the generous French social welfare system want to protect treasured
benefits long into retirement. Their children want to keep the system
in place only if they can benefit from it.

"It is a collective failure of the French system," said Louis
Chauvel, a sociologist who studies generational change. "You earn
more doing nothing in retirement at the age of 60 to 65 than working
full-time at the age of 35. And we have organized society so there is
no room for new entrants."

Opinion polls indicate that the French see globalization as a threat,
not an opportunity. A sweeping survey of people in 22 countries
released in January found that France was alone in disagreeing with
the premise that that the best economic model is "the free enterprise
system and free market economy."

In the poll, conducted by the Program on International Policy
Attitudes at the University of Maryland, only 36 percent of French
respondents replied yes, compared with 59 percent in Italy, 65
percent in Germany, 66 percent in Britain, 71 percent in the United
States and 74 percent in China.

Similarly, when the French polling institute Ipsos last fall asked
500 people between the ages of 20 and 25 the question "What does
globalization mean to you?" 48 percent answered, "Fear." Only 27
percent said, "Hope."

Disdain for what is called the "Anglo-Saxon model" sometimes becomes
confused with residual criticism of America's projection of power
around the world.

"I respect the world of Shakespeare and of Hemingway," said Bernard
Reynes, the 52-year-old mayor of the once-flourishing farming town of
Châteaurenard, outside Avignon. "I respect less the culture of

"Three years after the war in Iraq, the Americans are now admitting
their mistakes there," he said. "The American way of life that judges
the rest of the world severely is not the only way of life."

The current crisis of fear follows the overwhelming rejection of the
European Constitution by French voters last May, a reflection of
widespread worry that the country would lose jobs and benefits to the
new members of the European Union.

It also coincides with a wave of economic nationalism. The recent
decision by the French government to orchestrate the immediate merger
of two giant French utilities to prevent the possible takeover of one
of them by the Italians has been roundly criticized by the European
Union as protectionist and anti-European.

"What is needed in France is some leadership, some enthusiasm and
confidence that is able to spread," said Ernst-Antoine Seillière, the
French head of the European business lobby Unice, in an interview.

"In the business world, we are not pessimistic about the future. And
in the past, we have seen the ability of a person with charisma to
promote a plan that is able to transform — a de Gaulle, a Margaret

In a poll released in the weekly newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche, 83
percent of the respondents said they wanted President Jacques Chirac
to intervene in resolving the crisis over the new labor law, which
was passed to reduce unemployment by encouraging employers to hire
young workers with little or no experience.

But Mr. Chirac, the head of state, has been largely absent from the
political scene, and the popularity of Mr. de Villepin, the head of
government who is largely responsible for domestic matters, has
plummeted in the polls over this issue.

Mr. Chirac seemed particularly out of touch with the globalized
modern world at a European Union summit meeting in Brussels last
week. When Mr. Seillière declared that he would speak English, the
language of business," Mr. Chirac declared himself "deeply shocked"
and walked out of the room.

As some protests have turned violent, with more than 1,400 arrests,
tour operators are already reporting that American and Japanese
tourists are canceling trips. The government and tour operators hope
to avoid a repetition of late last year, when travel to France
declined 20 percent after riots in the suburbs.

The Web site of the American Embassy in Paris notes that the recent
protests "have turned violent and have occurred at times in areas
frequented by tourists. Police have responded by using tear gas."
Travelers are advised to "avoid areas where unrest has occurred, move
quickly away from any concentrations of demonstrators or police they
may encounter, and exercise particular caution during evening and
nighttime hours."

The British Foreign Office is also warning tourists to avoid
demonstration routes on Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy has scheduled a breakfast with
foreign journalists on Wednesday to "give his own vision" of the
situation, the Foreign Ministry said.

Mr. de Villepin, meanwhile, hopes to be the first prime minister in
decades to succeed in making changes in the country's labor laws, and
has vowed that he will not back down.

But avoiding a prolonged, all-out confrontation is the priority of
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who is responsible for maintaining
law and order and who, like Mr. de Villepin, harbors presidential

"Being able to find a compromise is about being brave and serving
France," Mr. Sarkozy, who is also the leader of the governing Union
for a Popular Movement, said at a rally on Saturday.

Paradoxically, Mr. Sarkozy is also the most un-French of politicians,
a firm believer in globalization, hard work, raw ambition, the man-on
the-street and the American dream. When he speaks about France's
future, he does not look to France's grand past, but across the ocean
to the United States.

"The dream of French families is to have their young people go to
American universities to study," he told an audience at Columbia
University in October 2004, an exceptionally startling admission for
a French official. "When we go to the movies, it is to see American
films. When we turn on our radios, it is to listen to American music.
We love the United States!"

Mr. Sarkozy described a very simple formula for lowering France's
chronic 10 percent unemployment rate.

"There is only one way to reduce unemployment in France," he said.
"You have to explain to the French people that they have to work

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