28 May 2016

PARIS – ‘To arms, Frenchmen! Man the barricades!’

No, it’s not the French Revolution of 1789 but a sort of déjà vu.

France is now gripped by an increasingly ugly, dangerous leftist uprising that could ignite similar unrest across Europe. The world’s premier tourist destination is being plunged into chaos.

A ham-handed attempt by the Socialist government of Francois Hollande to slightly amend and modernize France’s absurd, archaic labor laws that have brought economic stagnation and 10% plus unemployment has backfired badly. It provided angry French workers with a fine excuse to indulge in their favorite sport: street demonstrations and riots.

Street violence is routine in France. Somebody is always on strike over something. Last week, it was librarians. But this week, unrest took an ominous turn. First, the suburban train system in Paris. Stoppages at airports. Then, blockades of oil refineries. Forty percent of French gas stations are now out of fuel, producing panic-buying and endless lines of fuming motorists.

Dock workers at the important Atlantic port of Le Havre are blocking incoming shipments. The Marseilles region may be next. Unions now threaten to shut down Paris public transport just in time for the 10 June world football championships.

Airport workers and bus drivers are staging rotating strikes and slowdowns. Even the police unions say they may strike to protest ‘public animosity.’ The national and regional train services may not be far behind.

Adding to these pressures, this week militant unions began raising barricades at some of France’s nuclear power plants that provide over 75% of the nation’s energy.

All this amounts to economic warfare against the state and the public. But Francois Hollande’s feeble socialist government, now down to only 16% public support, is impotent before the anarchists and massed bully boy strikers who form a key component of the Socialist Party.

Unionized members account for less than 15% of France’s working force, but they are concentrated in key industries like transport, food distribution, air travel, electricity and public utilities. Each year, these ‘strategic’ union have shown the growing capability to shut down France with a few telephone calls and piles of burning tires.

Making matter much worse, the steady implosion of the Hollande government has ceded political and economic space to these militant unions. The strikers and ‘breakers,’ as they are known, now speak with more authority than the government. More so, they represent the real challenge from the left to the rapidly growing forces of the hard right, notably Marine LePen’s National Front.

It may not be long before we see street battles between the strikers of the powerful Marxist CGT union and football thugs from the National Front. In other words, déjà vu from the 1930’s when the Catholic far right battled communists and anarchist of the Popular Front.

The net result was a grave weakening of France’s morale that led many citizens to prefer the Nazis in 1940 to the militant neo-Stalinist left.

Tourist season has begun. Beautiful France awaits at least 83 million visitors. They may have to face riots, shutdowns and near civil war unless French unions come to their senses. France’s labor wars may spread across Europe as the Euro-left sees new ways of opposing the strengthening right. Economic woes will accelerate this process.

The Hollande government should send in its very tough riot police, the CRS and gendarmerie mobile, to clear the barricades and restore republican order. But has it the courage? I doubt it. Better to wail about ‘terrorism’ that fight the real thing.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2016

This post is in: France


  1. Manysummits says:

    Eric – You are indeed conservative!

    This article alerted me to the problems in France, and its tone reminded me of a question posed to the physicist Stephen Hawking the other day, as to whether he understood the support for Donald Trump in the USA?

    Hawking replied simply, and I thought very honestly:

    “No, I don’t”, or words very similar.

    How really is Stephen Hawking, or Eric Margolis, or Obama, or Bernie Sanders, or Varoufakis etc etc … – how are they to relate to those without power & privilege??????

    Same for the scientific community – same for anyone in a position of power & privilege.

    It’s a problem – and I don’t have a solution.

    The verdict from the past has always been the same – tear down the system – and damn the consequences.

    In effect, this is why Trump has as many followers as he does.

    And power & privilege has prevented Mr. Margolis from understanding France.

    N’est pa?

    -30 –

  2. Steve_M. says:

    Yikes! France is descending into chaos in much the same way that Britain did under the Labour government of James Callaghan during its “Winter of Discontent” (1978-79). But, unlike Britain, which was able to turn to the Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher in 1979, France’s moderate conservative alternative, Nicholas Sarkozy, would be unlikely to lead France out of its chronic mess. I recall that Britain went through many years of labour strife, under both Conservative and Labour governments, but there were enough sensible British people who eventually got so fed up with the country’s chaotic state that Labour was turfed out of office and then kept in opposition for 18 years (until 1997), but are there enough people in France who feel just as strongly and who are also anxious to stand up to the militant labour unions? If not, then France is doomed.

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