EU: Is A New Revolution Brewing In France?

Tuesday, across France, more than one million strikers, both from the private and public sector, demonstrated in protest over retirement and pension reforms. This estimation of one million people who took to the street today is according to the French police, while the union organizers of the nationwide protest estimated that the number of demonstrators was considerably higher at around 3.5 million.

Strikers are calling on the unpopular Sarkozy government to drop the plan to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. This is the sixth day of national demonstrations and strike since September. Overall today, more than 200 protests took place in France, and the country was almost paralyzed by action from truckers blocking the roads and with also 12 oil refineries being shut down.

Violent clashes erupted between young demonstrators and riot police in Paris poor suburbs, and in several towns with vehicles set on fire, public property destroyed and even some reports of stores being looted in Lyon. Police in Lyon fired tear gas and arrested nine demonstrators who had allegedly turned over cars before setting them on fire.

Fuel shortages have affected more than 2,600 gas stations nationwide, and the French fuel and heating federation said that “the situation was critical”. Late in the day, the Sarkozy administration announced that they were going to tap into the national fuel reserve to alleviate the shortages. Air transportation was also affected with half of the flights cancelled at Orly airport, and one out of three at Roissy airport.

President Sarkozy, who was meeting with German and Russian leaders in Deauville told reporters that he would deal with the fuel situation as soon as he returned to Paris.

“In a democracy, everyone can express themselves but you have to do so without violence or excesses,” said Sarkozy.

However, this new show down between the Sarkozy administration who wants to impose his “global capitalist friendly” agenda to the French, who at large are against it, might not only backfire but could become more violent and force him to back down. French workers and students have not been as enraged against they leaders since the mini revolution of 1968 which drove General De Gaulle out of power, and De Gaulle was a lot tougher than Sarkozy.

At one of the demonstration today, one of the countless protest signs said: “To hell with the national debt. We’ll give them nothing and we don’t give a damn about their AAA !”, referring to the AAA current credit rating the French government says  would be at risk  unless it gets its pension shortfall under control.

It is rather obvious that a majority of people in France are not willing to go along with austerity measures imposed by their government, and they are, with Greece, one of the few nations willing and able to put on a fight against the nasty side effects of global capitalism.

Yesterday, I heard some derogatory comments on NPR’s Market Place concerning the French demonstrators alluding that they would cave in and that strike and social unrest was just a “meaningless French sport”. The host added, “you know the French, that’s what they do”, as if it was just a futile exercise. Beside from being insulting, this perspective could not be more wrong.

Massive strikes and demonstrations, such as the one unfolding in France are the essence of  democracy not a sport, and some French rulers including General De Gaulle and of course Louis XVI found this out at their expenses. President Sarkozy should reflect on the events of the past month very carefully, and consider it a warning. Challenging the will of  the French people can be hazardous to your health.


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