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Monday, March 20, 2006

Arrêtez le monde, la France veut descendre

Imagine you are a boss considering giving a graduate her first job. Are you more or less likely to take the risk if you know that, however lazy and incompetent she turns out to be, the only way you can sack her is via a time-consuming, costly and stressful legal process in which you have no guarantee of winning?

A no-brainer, you think? For the students who took to the streets of France on Saturday, merely posing the question evdiently betrays a hopelessly Anglo-Saxon cast of mind.

I saw a man with a greying ponytail interviewed on TV; he said he was proud that his children were showing their generation was not apolitical after all. And which old lefty could resist a pang of nostalgia, seeing the streets of Paris packed with marching students and trade unionists? Sadly, appearances are deceptive.

Le mouvement de mai was a central political reference point for me for a long time. However many illusions I may now think I had, its exuberance, creativity and utopian idealism still hold a certain fascination.

The fear-driven conservatism of Saturday’s demonstrators could hardly be more different. And if the government caves in, as seems highly likely, France will have taken one more step towards the alternative to global capitalism tried and tested in North Korea. It is a sad spectacle for admirers of French culture and, as Will Hutton of the Observer points out, a big worry for Europe as a whole:-

'British Eurosceptics will delight, but a stagnant, angry, drifting Europe is not in Britain's interests. France and the French have lost the plot. This is not just a crisis for them, but for us. If France goes absent, the EU will lose its drive and purpose. And that is exactly what is happening.'

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