Is France on the verge of another May '68?

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Is France on the verge of another May '68?


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I have been living full-time in Paris for the past four years and reporting from the city for nearly 20. I have, therefore, become accustomed to frequent street protests. But I have never seen anything quite like the anger that has been building up during demonstrations over the past few months against the government of Nicolas Sarkozy. The most recent of these was a protest I attended in Montparnasse on 14 May, which was led by hospital staff angry at proposed health service reforms.

The reforms are based on the so-called "Loi Bachelot" (Bachelot law), named after Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin, the politician in Sarkozy's government who devised the health reforms and is trying to push them through the National Assembly. It rests on the principle that managers will decide the level of medical care appropriate to a particular hospital. This proposal, long familiar as a fact of life to readers in the UK, has provoked a furious reaction from all sections of French society.

But you don't have to scratch too hard to find real rage lurking beneath the surface - a rage that motivates most of these demonstrators. "We are sick of being told we have no control over our own lives," Rachida Ahloulay, one of the dancing nurses, tells me. "It's not just that the government is giving managers the power over medical staff," she says, "but it means that we are degraded as citizens. And that is why France is on the edge of a serious rebellion. Anger is everywhere!"

This kind of rhetoric is being echoed all over France: in the universities, which are now permanently blockaded by staff and students; in the railway unions; among postal workers; and even in the prison service (warders recently began a series of strikes, which had never happened in France before). Little wonder that the mainstream journal Le Nouvel Observateur recently devoted an entire issue to what it called "The French Insurrection", or that there is now serious talk in most sections of the media of a "New May '68" - a reprise of the strikes and riots that brought France to its knees and almost felled the government of Charles de Gaulle more than 40 years ago.

The unlikely figurehead of this new popular revolt is Olivier Besancenot, a 35-year-old postman from the outskirts of Paris. Besancenot's boyish good looks, fashionable clothes and fluently easy manner on television have made him the nation's favourite revolutionary. Until February of this year, he was a leading figure in the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (the LCR, or Revolutionary Communist League). In what is now looking like a very smart piece of PR, the LCR was then dissolved, re-emerging as the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA, or New Anti-Capitalist Party), a much broader coalition, formed with the aim of contesting the European parliamentary elections in early June.

Besancenot, who is now official spokesman for the NPA (there is no leader), commands a 60 per cent approval rating from French voters right across the political spectrum.


So is France on the verge of another May '68?

I really really really hope so. Out of all the developed countries, France is the country with the best electoral venue for chanelling the popular anger of the working class.

We in Canada have lots to learn from Olivier Besancenot, the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste, and the French left social movements. We fail to learn from them at our own expense.


as has been mentioned in another thread, and which activists have noticed for some time, there is too much of a tendency in our work in this country to cling to our divisions.  i admit i have my own pet peeves..

but the situation was summed up beautifully when groups planned the Montebello protests; during one exchange of differences of opinion, someone from one of the unions posted a clip from Life of Brian, the scene of activists on the steps when someone new wants to join, arguing amongst themselves, if i only had all my old email accessible i could pull up that clip...[grin].

anyway, what is it? the climate here?  we're indoors half the year nursing our differences?


I think a part of the reason behind what you observe is due to a loss of class analysis in favour of identity politics.  Although, if we go back in time, having a class analysis instead of identity politics never accomplished much-- while identity politics has brought more people to the fight, at least.

Really, the kind of cohesivness or solidarity we might yearn for isn't something people on the left can accomplish.  We can keep the candle burning.  We can build bridges for some future use, but it's not something as much in our control as we think it might or should be.

It's the ruling class that will either give us reason to put divisions aside and join in common cause, or not.  Generally, I think they prohibit this by throwing a cookie to this group, a crumb to that.  

But every once in a while, things get out of their control. Right now, governments and the establishment are mired in hubris.  They have absolutely no idea.  They are believing their own spin, their own public relations, their own press releases.    Just in this they have put a strong foot forward on the path to upheaval of some sort.



thanks for listening, and the perspective.

the 'bridges' are difficult for me to build at present.

this weekend there was a festival in our community, which started off with a country video dance, the following morning there was an 'art and militia sale' !?, with various country musicians throughout the day and at the 'ecumenical' service this morning, dinner at the legion yesterday evening. i didn't attend at all.  in past years i've had energy to build more bridges. 

this celebration of 'country culture' is somewhat forced, even since i've lived here it wasn't so pronounced as it is now.

there is a reflection of the 'Bible belt' poverty and culture here, though it does not extend across the entire community.

many local families, whose kids have no other good job opportunities, do go into the military. some local families kids have died in Afghanistan.  the bridges over the 401 are attended for the death caravans, to support the families.  friends go, i haven't yet, i find it too depressing- the double whammy, a senseless war which is glorified in the deaths of these kids.  maybe i'll attend at some point, when the planting and cleaning is done...

anyway, thanks for listening again.  i'm just kinda tired.




'keep the candle burning'

i can relate to that image.

sometimes the wind snuffs it out, then i go down to the water to recoup

funny how water brings the flame back


Being a veteran for peace (there is an internationally recognized American group that has copyrighted that name) is no contradiction.

Who truly knows what war is?

The soldier wannabe/never was military armchair analyst or actual soldiers or civilians who have had the misfortune of experiencing war?

Who is most qualified to love, appreciate and understand peace?

Is it the soldier wannabe/never was military armchair analysts? Politicians (like Harpo and Iggy) who try to use war to boost their popularity ratings?

Or is it soldiers (especially those who have seen combat), and the victims of war?

The contradiction my friends is the lie the government is selling us that "Supporting the Troops" is identical to supporting war, (and) supporting the government as expressed by the words "supporting one's country".

What is war?

War is killing, injuring and destroying.

How does sending our young men and women to a foreign country and forcing them to kill, and injure the young men and women of that country and to participate in destruction in that country and to put their own lives and physical and emotional health at risk, support the troops?

No my friends, our political leaders, our military's officer class and the arms industry are like the CEOs of the tobacco industry. In both cases, they encourage (because they benefit from this) our young people to commit themselves to an activity (war) that is injurious to their health and their lives.

What is patriotism?

It started out as 'jingoism' in the Crimean War (1853-1856):

"We don't want to fight,
But, by jingo, if we do,
We've got the men,
We've got the munitions and,
We've got the money too!"

Patriotism in the modern sense came into its own during WW I.
It is a phony construct: Love one's own country but hate those of another. Whip up the public's emotions into a frenzy to support a war that would otherwise be unpopular and that people would naturally abhor.

My friends, if the people knew this, then those criminals in our government, the military and arms industry would not have gotten away with even one day of war in Afghanistan.

Not one more death!
Support the Troops
Support Peace
Bring Our Troops Home Now!

Beware my friends, Harper and MacKay are talking once again of our troops staying in Afghanistan beyond 2011.

This time they won't even put it as another war resolution before the House. This time they will lie to the public by saying that war is peace ("The mission has morphed into one where there will be greater emphasis on reconstruction, development and humanitarian aid").

Dulce et Decorum est Pro Patria More.