French Strikes in Retrospect

I’m an American student (temporarily) living in France, by complete chance at the time of the (g)rève général(e) strike movement against pension reforms. I got sick of the American media either framing France as a caricature of progressive awesomeness or as a hedonistic people who would never make sense, so I wrote this up. Enjoy.

Those French –they’re at it again, storming the streets at the prospect of working another two years. As if thirty-five hour work weeks, five weeks of paid vacation per year, and hour and a half lunch breaks weren’t enough. Their retirement –the youngest retirement age in the western world, mind you, is about to be lengthened by two years. Naturally they respond by striking and protesting.

They must be a lazy, hedonistic people with an extreme case of the terrible twos. Or maybe they just really like to protest.

In reality, they are neither (actually they are a little bit of both, but that’s not the point). Like most of the world, the French labor force is being asked to make greater and greater sacrifices due to the financial crisis and globalization. As productivity increases with the demand for global competition, wages stagnate to maximize profits. Globalization becomes an addictive bourgeoisie betting game, played by investing as little money as possible while turning increasingly higher profits by treating the working class as their expendable pawns. This results in fewer jobs, greater unemployment, and a general feeling of economic despair.

Enter Nicolas Sarkozy who proceeds to announce that since France can, “no longer afford the current pension system,” it must be reformed so that workers work an extra two years, spending a total of forty-one years in the work force to realize a full pension. It is not acknowledged that it is nearly impossible to work for a solid forty-one years in the current job market. Neither is it acknowledged that in actual labor –labor that most debutante legislators could not dream of doing—working an extra two years legitimately lowers ones life expectancy. The threats of “dying before enjoying retirement” that the American media scoffed at are all too real on several levels.

France can no longer afford the current pension system because it used money intended for the people to pay off debts from globalization gone awry. Naturally the privileged classes take their cue to sit back, light another cigarette, and draft responsibility-evading legislation to have the working classes clean up their excess mess.

France is not the only country that is facing these reforms. However, unlike the rest of the world, France decided to raise Hell in the streets and try to quench the backbone of the economy that the bourgeoisie consistently takes for granted. Unlike so much of the world, France has an understanding of, and disgust for immorality in politics that is too toxic to swallow with a spoonful of cynicism. So this is why the French are carrying signs in the streets that say, “We Aren’t Carla, You Can’t Fuck Us” –not because they are particularly hedonistic, revolutionary, or anti-establishment, but because they are sane.



About Anna Monier
I'm a travel writer.

2 Responses to French Strikes in Retrospect

  1. Pingback: More French Strike Things «

  2. queenemily says:

    Hey, meant to reply at the time but it’s been migraine a-go-go for me lately. That’s a really interesting viewpoint on the French strikes.

    I think you’re absolutely right about the French response being the only reasonable one to the forced economic austerity (which as we’ve seen in the UK has been mostly for ideological rather than ). I wonder what it is that makes the French that much more inclined to striking than the English and Americans… Those cliches – “a lazy, hedonistic people with an extreme case of the terrible twos. Or maybe they just really like to protest” – which as you point have a grain of truth in them, suggest a radically different value system, one that hasn’t been completely determined by capitalistic “productivity” as a form of valuation…

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