Protest In France
By Michael Galvin
21 March, 2009
This past Tuesday, I walked into work at my elementary school in a village in southwest France and all the teachers were talking about this year's second national general strike against the current government's policies. Who's going to strike, who's going to have classes, am I going to strike, etc., but not one conversation about the legitimacy of the whole thing. And why would they? Who in their right mind could be for the roughly 500 billion euros in public funds that the French government used to keep the country afloat and bail out the largest and worst offenders of global capitalist insanity (with only 2-3 billion going toward the neediest French citizens)? Not only is everyone agreed - 78% according to latest polls - but citizens have been mobilizing together to confront the beast with students currently occupying dozens of universities throughout the country in protest against educational reforms, unions uniting to organize protests, and laid off factory workers holding their bosses captive - as recently happened at Sony France.
Despite my communist tendencies, the strong social organization in France and ability to actually resist never ceases to amaze me. After spending 18 years in the most socially deprived of American suburbs I can't help but be under the impression that everything about this hegemonic American mode of living kills social organization and the ability to express dissent in any and all ways. Take the car to the supermarket, return to suburban dwelling; take car to the church, pull into the ranch house and 1/2 acre lawn; private space to private space, contestation has nowhere to manifest itself and thus is precluded. But what happens when crisis hits: illegal war erupts in foreign country on other side of planet, so we watch what happens on TV; government spends trillions in public funds on big bank and corporate bail-outs ($1.2 trillion just yesterday I believe), and perhaps we write a note to a senator; or what if oil stops flowing to suburban gas stations? Millions die watching the crisis unfold on TV in their homes? These are trends that are in the making throughout the Occident as 'wealthy' or 'developed' countries attempt to keep themselves in the fold by following the leader. In other words, if Western countries don't follow the American model, will the neoliberal marketplace contemptfully throw them back into the 'Third World' category?
So far, none have taken a different path by promoting consumerism and oppressing popular will to maintain order. In France, a country which has resisted such reforms for much longer than most 'developed' countries, the government is currently attacking on all fronts: privatizing the ultra-democratic and free university system, instituting or increasing tuition fees, opening up public institutions to private investment and interests, raising degree requirements for professors, as well as laying off workers throughout the elementary and high school system, and eliminating programs for the neediest all along the way. As a general trend, the right-wing Sarkozy government is cutting public services and jobs in hospitals, transport and education while bailing out the largest banks and greediest corporations with 360 billion euros in public funds. It’s all very familiar. While this is clearly an imitation of the American model, albeit on a much smaller scale, people are nonetheless mobilizing to confront the contradiction in the midst of the economic crisis.
On Thursday March 19th, protests took place in over 200 cities and towns around the country as mobilizations passed the 2.5 million protesters that descended into the street for the first general strike on January 29th, with 3 million people coming out to resist the government's actions - 5% of the national population. Cars were nowhere to be seen as protesters expanded out over the roads and sidewalks chanting slogans, singing, watching, handing out flyers, talking, etc. Direct action took place from Paris to Marseille to Toulouse with militants battling riot police risking arrest and their safety as heavily armored police beat them with their clubs. Workers put down their tools saying they wouldn't continue to support the neo-liberal government’s economic schemes: 50% of trains were cancelled, 30% of flights, and 1/10th of the country's electricity production.
One of the leaders of the movement is the New Anticapitalist Party (Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste) - the first political party in the world with 'anticapitalist' in the name. The party is trying to build a structure from the bottom up, creating committees in towns and cities across the country. Militants attract more people to meetings who then go out and create more committees in other towns and cities to build a movement for a non-capitalist future. Currently posters can be seen around the country proposing 100% free public services, calls for an end to corporate bailouts, and solidarity with Palestine and the general strike in French Guadeloupe and Martinique. However, as the movement grows and people realize that the system cannot change without massive social action verging on revolution, governments will realize that there is very little they can do to maintain the status quo.
Originally from St. Louis, MO, Michael Galvin attended a liberal arts college in Minnesota from 2004-2008 where he worked with various anti-war organizations. Spending his entirely politically conscious life in George W. Bush's America, Michael decided to leave following the end of his studies, taking a job with the French government where he teaches English to 4th and 5th grade near Toulouse, France. He will be going to Palestine this summer in solidarity with Palestinians working to end the Israeli occupation. [email protected]