• "God invented war so Americans could learn geography" -- Mark Twain.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Difference an Ocean Makes

The news from France shows what a stiff mid-section can do. Since September, French workers have been on intermittent strikes in protest against President Sarkozy's austerity reforms.

Like pro-bank, pro-corporate, pro-fat cat politicians anywhere, Sarkozy has been warning and whining of the need to cut back on worker living standards in order to protect the "national" (i.e. corporate) balance sheet.

Compared to the draconian cut-backs in Greece and the seldom mentioned IMF devastation imposed on Lithuanian society, Sarkozy's proposal to increase the retirement age by two years seems small beer. But the French worker is quick to taste the vinegar in wine. The International Monetary Order (aka IMF) is out to fatten up something called "trade" on the backs of the actual working people who produce the goods and services traded. The French worker is taking a stand.

At the beginning of September 1.2 to 2.7 million workers throughout the country went on strike. On 23 September and again on 2 October 1 to 3 million. On 12 October an estimated 1.2 - 3.5 million filled the streets.

Not unexpectedly the whores in the French National Assembly voted the Sarkozy line notwithstanding this outpouring of popular discontent. The response of the French worker since Saturday (16 October) has been to go on Stike Plus: they have barricaded petrol stations and shut down the country's oil refineries.

Oil is to countries what blood is to humans, and the Workers Tourniquette has put the squeeze on the Elysée Palace.

It remains to be seen what the government will do. To date, it is treading cautiously, warning its own forces of repression (the police) not to provoke anything. This has nothing to do with humanitarian sentiment, a quality lacking in most governments and certainly not one of Sarko's salient characteristics, as was amply demonstrated by his violent response to the unrest in immigrant housing projects and, more recently, in his Reich-like deportation of gypsies.

No-- the government is treading lightly because the polls show that 70% of the French people continue to support the strike action. The government is sitting on the proverbial tinderbox -- or, perhaps more acurately, doesn't know that it isn't.

This is an astonishing figure. There can be no doubt that the strikes have inconvenienced the rest of the French population; and yet despite that, the people still support the strike.

What a difference an ocean makes! The French are not afraid of revolution. They know that revolutions are at times the only way to rectify organized injustice and that, despite the temporary pain, society survives and improves.

It is a canard that revolutions leave things worse off than before or that they do not change anything. Revolutions can never change human nature; but while they usually fall short of their highest goals, they just as usually do result in corrective change. For a people that have the courage, stand up for their own interests the gains are worth the risk.

It remains to be seen what the denouement will be. Much depends on whether the 70% holds. The government will do everything it can divide the people before marginalizing "disruptive radicals" and, it must be said, governments have a good record at doing precisely that.

But the contrast remains. Americans like nothing more than thumping their guts and sneering at the supposedly "cowardly" and "effete" French; and yet, when successive state and federal governments propose cut backs to social security, medicare and social services, make college education a road to debt peonage, allow illness to become the road to bankruptcy and plunder the country by shipping jobs overseas and rewarding corporations for investing their capital in foreign countries, the response of the American so-called "middle class" is so enfeebled as to make Calvin Coolidge look like an activist.