Thursday, October 21, 2010
Living in America can sometimes give people a skewed idea of the way things are. For instance, one might get the impression that it's normal to refer to a health-care bill that forces people to buy health insurance from big HMOs as "progressive". You might think it's normal that when the government introduces austerity measures that the only protesters are Teabaggers demanding more austerity. And yet, in France, the government austerity measures that pale in comparison to Obama's have provoked a 3.5 million to take to the streets in strikes and protests.
Seriously, the French worker's willingness to take to the streets to defend their standard of living makes us Americans look like a bunch of Cheez Whiz-eating surrender monkeys.
It doesn't help that American news sources have such terrible coverage. For instance, polls show that 70% of the French population supports the strike. But, amongst the people interviewed in this atrocious New York Times article, 100% oppose the strike. I guess Ann Coulter was right about the New York Times being biased. She was just wrong about the direction.
The mainstream British press is occasionally willing to provide better take on the events. Even better is the not-so-mainstream press.
So here's what you missed out on.
The protests began in September against President Nicolas Sarkozy's attempts to raise the retirement age from 65 to 67. This gets reported as being from 60 to 62 in order to make the workers look greedy, but 60 is the age at which one can receive a partial pension. But the fact that an attack on pensions resulted in a general strike is mighty impressive already.
Really, though, the retirement issue was more of the straw that broke the camel's back. The protests a few days ago included a large number of high school students and the issues were stretched to include things like the "First Job Contract" that says that employers can fire workers under the age of 26 without a reason. These are all part of a series of austerity measures Sarkozy is attempting to impose on the French workers, in conjunction with massive tax cuts for the rich. Sarkozy (And Tina Fey) defends the measures on the grounds that people live too long now and can't afford the luxury of their current standard of living, while completely ignoring the impact that the tax cuts for the rich may have.
But here in America, the Tea Party Protesters are demanding more cuts for the rich. And what's the left up to? Holding a "Rally to Restore Sanity" with the help of Oprah, the chick who thinks you shouldn't vaccinate your children because they'll get autism. Okay, there was the October 2 March for Jobs, which had some good demands and a sizable socialist contingent. But even then, most of the organizers were using it as a "get out the vote (for Democrats)" campaign. Frankly, I think general strikes can be a bit more effective.
I should note that this doesn't mean that France is inherently better than America, or that we should all just go to France if we don't like things here. After all Sarkozy had to come to power somehow.
He started out as the Interior Minister for the right-wing government of Jacques Chirac. His first claim to fame concerned an incident in 2005 in which two Arab teenagers died being chased by the police during an "identity check". Sarkozy's response was to declare that they deserved it because they were involved in a burglary. When he was later informed that they were, in fact, not involved in a burglary (or any crime), Sarkozy refused to retract his statement on the grounds that baseless accusations he pulled out of his ass are more important than the truth. This led to riots, which led to more police repression, which led to more riots.
Sarkozy's response to the riots was to call them names like "racaille" (scum) and blame the whole thing on Islamic fundamentalists (also something he pulled out of his ass).
While Sarkozy's aggressive racism mysteriously failed to solve the race relations problems in France it was able to encourage enough racism among French whites that he was able to win the 2007 French presidential elections on a platform of making France more like America. The fact that the "Socialist" Party candidate had the exact same reactionary economic policies didn't hurt either. And I guess being married to Carla Bruni may have had some effect.
So yeah, France is not perfect, and the anti-immigrant racism there makes the anti-immigrant racism in Arizona look like slightly less aggressive anti-immigrant racism in comparison.
But . . .
Five months later, Sarkozy was already faced with the biggest public transport strike since the general strike of 1995. And by 2009 there was already a general strike that was bigger than the ine in 1995. So, the French people may have allowed the greater of two evils to win, while us Americans elected the lesser of two evils. But they were willing to fight back once said evil started acting, you know, evil.
With the economic collapse, the. By now, Sarkozy's approval rating is down at 30% compared to Obama's 47% (although Sarkozy's approval among the people interviewed in that New York Times article is 100%).
Sarkozy's response has been to do what he does best: try to deflect attention away from his horribleness by blaming an oppressed minority. It was blaming the Arabs that brought him to power. Who is his new enemy? The Gypsies! Sorry, I mean, The Gypsies!
And you know what? This time, it didn't work, as evidenced by the 3.5 million people in the streets who were much more concerned about losing public services than being attacked by Gypsy Bandits. This includes many people who were previously swayed by Sarkozy's race-baiting. So if the 3.5 million Frenchmen can move beyond their prejudices and act in solidarity, why can't we?