22 October 2010

Flaming France

Flaming France
By Farooque Chowdhury
21 October, 2010
France, now flaming with popular discontent, shows the limits of matured bourgeois democracy in an advanced capitalist country encountering financial and economic crises. Workers and students, millions in number, across the country are virtually repudiating neoliberal measures.
Crippling general strikes for days, and demonstrations by about 3.5 million people that took a violent and radical face have made France the centre of attention. The pension reform is being opposed as protests are polarizing the politicalscape with frequent press reports of “politicians’ extravagance including exclusive Cuban cigars and liberal use of private jets at the state’s expense”. The width of the protests was producing news almost every few hours.
According to some estimates, the raising of the retirement age would bring one million job losses. Decreasing wages, increasing poverty, soaring unemployment, deplorable working condition, anguish against the class “favored by society”, and rejection of rightist politics prepared the perspective of this protest.
Imports of electricity, 5,990 megawatts were imported in one hour on Wednesday which was equivalent to the output of six nuclear reactors, by the French authority in the face of dwindling fuel supply shows the wide impact of the protest. Striking 12 refinery workers and tanker drivers drying oil supplies, shut down thousands of schools, walked out students blocking school and university entrances and suburban youths clashing with the police in cities added force to the fight workers from public and private sectors are waging. A survey, published in Le Monde, found a quarter of French youth “want a radical transformation of society through revolutionary change”. Students marched alongside labor union activists and leftist militants in a highly charged situation when the middle class is feeling insecure and losing confidence in the present regime. Use of the term “Children of Revolution” by an international news organization tells the active role the students are taking in the present protest.
Blockaded entrances to airports by protesters, hundreds of canceled flights, stayed away trains and commuter services, stranded ships, about 70, in ports striking for 17 days, were part of the series of protests in this month that tell a showdown between labor defending their rights and social benefits and President Sarkozy at the head of an increasingly divided ruling class. The class is facing pressure both from the present world financial crisis, and from its competitors within Europe. Its attempt to put its burden on the common people in the name of austerity is part of its incapacity to get rid of its own problem that has been created by its economy. The problems in economy are intruding the arena of politics. Ironically, it itself is mobilizing broader sections of the society against its economic program!
At least 244 demonstrations all over France show the breadth of the protest. It was reported that some police joined the protests in Paris which are spreading from below. The strike by the Eiffel Tower staff shows, symbolically, France is in turmoil, which has found about 1,500 people detained and 62 police officers injured.
The turmoil began in late-May. The summer break widened the movement, in frequency and number, with millions participating in October in an economy still shaky since the Great Financial Crisis. “Renewable” strikes in railways, education, ports and refineries, each day workers in mass assembly decide continuing the action, are intensifying class struggle. “What the parliament does, the street can undo”, read a patch on one protester's arm, which is in reference to actions in the legislature and onto streets.
From press reports it appear that disgusted conservative supporters are also turning supporters of the socialists while a shaken Sarkozy government used police to break the blockades of the oil refineries and oil depots. The protesters reimposed blockade within hours the police broke the first blockade that reflects their attitude. The fuel crisis has intensified as workers in nuclear power plants have slowed down power generation.
The incidents will influence the next presidential election in 2012, and future political equations. One poll in October found Sarkozy’s approval rating down to 30 percent, the lowest for three years. Even mainstream press carries comments and interviews that strongly indicate moving mood towards further radicalization with slogans: tax the rich, expropriate the banks, job for all, no more austerity. Financial Times found “A flavour of 1968 radicalism”. The union leaders are feeling the pressure of the mass movement. One of the major unions is now openly calling for a general strike. But a number of factors in this turmoil are still unidentified.
The current movement is the most militant and powerful struggle since the 2006 uprising. Protesters occupied the Marseille Chamber of Commerce. They were, however, later pushed out.
Europe is now witnessing resurgence of labor actions in the continent. The French protest is the most intensive and wide among those. Changes are going on in the balance of forces between the working class and capital in a deeper way making France an important country for further development of class struggle in Europe.
France has gone through intensive debates over the decades: nuclear power, medical ethics, fast food chain and haalaal meat, housing problem, immigrants, and burqa. Even its football team generated debate and anger reflecting a divided politics. Le Pen, the far-right National Front leader, stunned France by reaching the final round of the presidential election. The 2005 riot in the poor, predominantly immigrant communities showed deprivation, divide, and a sterile culture. “It is individualism, selfishness, every man for himself, with the only value of human success being how much you get at the end of the month,” said Jérôme Cahuzac, a Socialist MP. These factors, in society, psychology, and politics, are also influencing the present movement.
The 1995 general strike stopped the “Juppé Plan”, program of welfare cutbacks. But none is sure of the success of the present protest in stopping the pension age legislation. Authorities, it seems, are still confident of its strength to successfully push through their neoliberal agenda: dismantle social security system. The working people now have no alternative other than rise up in protest. But lack of political platform, matured political steps, coordination, and failure in further widening of their fold may send them back home after days of violent protest, which is still lurching in the precinct of spontaneity.
There is no basis to imagine that the present protest will bring down the French capital. But it shows limits of the capital and its politics: it is incapable of resolving the contradictions in the realm of distribution, neither in economy nor in politics, and its political process is failing to accommodate needs of the people, which has pushed the protesters onto the streets, into actions of torching vehicles, smashing shops, and rampaging.
The present French furor reminds today’s mid-age persons of Paris in 1968, the largest and longest general strike in European history that rocked France. There were the student insurrection in May, De Gaulle’s flight to Germany, workers occupation of plants, slogans for a “people’s government”, ministers burning secret documents, workers taking control of cities, roads and public transport, and issuing food coupons. That movement stumbled over. The present movement has not still reached to that level.
Probably, today’s France will put a lesson before the section of scholars despising political protests in poor countries that narrow down or snatch away democratic space and distort political process, and will show a portion of politicians that the French politicians are not accusing external actors hatching plots to torpedo the French economy.
Success or abortive effort of the present French protest will not be the last act of the French people opposing neoliberalism. The movement, if subdued by force and tricks, and compelled to retreat, will learn lessons and equip itself for future rising for a fair share in economy and politics. 
Farooque Chowdhury, a Bangladesh-free lancer, contributes on socioeconomic issues.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, what i believe is that protests,strikes actually hit back to us. Country loses millions of dollors due to no buisness and we pay for that in the form of increased prices in future.