Saturday, 31 January 2009

Strikes in France + '60s video

Until I left home and went to college I'd never lived in a house with a television. Therefore I listened a lot to the radio. And therefore, I suppose, I remember feeling quite well informed and very much interested in the huge strikes and "unrest" of students in 1968, even though I was only 11-12 years old at the time.

Forty years later I find myself still interested in the industrial and political activities of the French, so much so that it seems to me that all is closer to being well in the world, if (most of), the French are en grève.

My sister speaks French better than many natives, has lived in France on and off for a good long while and is there now. I asked her how it seemed to be.

'"Word on the street", as far as I can gather from the people I’ve spoken to, is that many on the Left (e.g. organic farmers) loathe Sarkozy and compare him with Berlusconi, saying he's a complete idiot who's totally unfit to hold power. Apparently, he says tactless things and upsets people (notoriously referring to inhabitants of Paris housing projects as racaille, or scum); he’s also criticized for being much more interested in showing off on the foreign scene than concentrating on internal affairs.

The Centre and Right tend to say that he's a sound bloke and that the Left should appreciate the fact that he's worked his way up through the ranks rather than being born to privilege like many other French presidents. They also say that the people who have been demonstrating have life incredibly easy since the majority of them are civil servants, many of whom do a 30-hour-week, have massive job security and some of the most generous benefits of any EU countries, then never stop moaning.

The minimum wage is France is €8.71 p/hour, i.e. £7.80 (UK, £5.73). Many civil servants receive the treizième mois – an end-of-year bonus equivalent to a month’s salary - and two years’ work for the State entitles employees to two years’ unemployment benefit at, I was told, 80% of their final salary; (similarly 6 months’ work will give them 6 months’ benefits). Needless to say, the civil servants don’t see their position in such a rosy light (see: http://fabfrog.blog.ca/tags/civil-servants ).

You've no doubt seen the protests at the oil refinery in Lincs (and elsewhere now) where they're kicking up a stink because the place has taken on Italian and Portuguese workers. People get nastily nationalistic when the going gets tough, don't they? I expect we'll see more of it, an’ all ...'