France’s favorite sports are striking and street demonstrations. At heart, most French are revolutionaries and protestors.
In France, the answer to every problem seems to be ‘aux barricades!’ (to the barricades!). Demonstrations are typically followed by a hearty lunch.
But this time things in the Republique have gone way beyond the usual day off from school frivolity of France’s ubiquitous demos. They were a form of ritualized Gallic Kabuki in which protesters would make a big fuss and break some windows. After a lot of huffing and puffing, the government would eventually back down and give the demonstrators much of what they demanded.
France is not highly unionized, but its belligerent trade organizations, most of them with roots in 1930’s communism or socialism, have a stranglehold on key sectors of France’s economy: trains, metros, refineries, truck transport, ports, food distribution, air traffic control, and even hospitals.
The current round of demos that began a month ago are serious business. Just about everyone appears opposed to President Emanuel Macron’s plans to modernize the nation’s crazy-quilt pension regulations that confer special privileges on favored groups of workers. Rail workers, for example, a particularly pampered bunch, can retire with close to full pay while in their 40’s. Ballet dancers enjoy similar benefits. Average workers can retire at 62. Macron wants to change retirement to 64, citing the longer life-span of today’s workers, and to consolidate the nation’s 42 separate retirement plans. Britain’s retirement age is 66 years.
France’s labor movement is up in arms, responding with more outrage and fury than it did when the Germans invaded in 1940. Unless Macron backs down, the unions will strike oil refineries and petroleum distribution centers, threatening to cripple most road transport, food distribution, emergency services and airports. Ports will also be targeted.
In short, industrial warfare against the state and its citizens. Similar strike action and mass demos brought down the government of Gen Charles De Gaulle in 1968, an earthquake that still shakes French society and haunts its leaders.
A major reason is that France is still dominated by discredited leftist thinking. Modern capitalism is widely viewed with fear, dismay and mistrust. Many French regard capitalism as an American plot to permanently dominate Europe, a mistaken fear that is accentuated by President Donald Trump’s crude anti-European fulminations. France’s universities are chock-a-bloc with angry socialists and left-leaning students with poor job prospects. On the other hand, France’s business world is pretty much a closed shop with too little social mobility.
Behind all this, is the unspoken but very real French notion that government is ‘papa.’ Rather than pay for work, Paris doles out allowances to the French. When they want more, like unruly kids everywhere the French throw tantrums, demanding better pay and benefits. Government in France is assumed to enjoy unlimited wealth. Budgets and spending restraints are dismissed as the works of mean-spirited Scots or Swiss accountants.
This system makes large numbers of French workers retire far too young. I’ve seen them in small towns playing cards or helping rebuild 19th century forts. They are mostly men still fit for hard work and sharp thoughts. It’s a waste of an entire generation, sacrificed on the alter of socialist doctrine and state-sponsored laziness. It’s heartbreaking to see such a great nation as France sacrifice some of its most productive, useful members. Everything we know about health and medicine tells us that humans are better off, longer lived and happier when they work into their 70’s.
France is one of this world’s most beautiful nations. Its citizens are well educated and sophisticated; its cities shine; its ecology superbly safeguarded. In many ways, it remains ‘the Great Nation’ of the era of Louis XIV. But not when it comes to labor and civic responsibility. Instead of calm discussion to resolve wage and work issues, such as we see in Switzerland and Germany, the French keep indulging in political hooliganism to the endless misery of their fellow citizens.