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Vive la Grève!

January 30, 2009

I should ask Denis Boyles to write for the French Cowboy’s Plains:

Paris — I would have written this yesterday, mes amis, but, as you know, we in France were on strike so working was out of the question.

It’s a figurative “we,” since I identify completely with people who work for the government in jobs that can go unfilled for a day or a month and nobody really notices.

Our complaints? Things cost too much. The economy is shrinking. People are getting laid off. We are afraid of the future. We work too much. Our solution? We quit working. Our goal? To bring that semi-capitalist semi-swine, French president Nicolas Sarkozy, to his little, knobbly, Hungarian knees.

Normally, strikes are about something. We want more money! More benefits! More lunchrooms! More lunch! More urinals! (Well, okay, maybe that’s not a French issue.)

But, in keeping with European tradition, specificity of grievances wasn’t really the idea Thursday. Big European strikes, and especially the French variety, don’t come with well-defined goals in mind, unless you count heckling as a goal.


The unions, whose might exists mostly in newspaper stories and not on shop floors, had called for a general strike, but didn’t even get a good regional one. The AP’s idiotic headline “Nationwide French strike shuts down public transportation” was a blatant lie, as this 20 Minutes report (and every other report) observed. In Paris, the strike couldn’t muster more than 60-70,000 people—a football match crowd, not a world-stopper. But it was a nice day, a consortium of unions unfurled their May Day flags, and there were free balloons for the kids. “Strikers” wandered around for a while, then went home to watch TV. Unions claimed 2.5 million strikers nationally; the Interior Ministry guessed half that. The old days of shutting down a nation in order to give voice to vague crankiness is over.

In fact, the most telling story about France’s big strike day was this item in Le Nouvel Observateur, in which a strike leader explains his demand that Sarkozy come up with some specific ideas.

I suppose “shut up and get back to work” is too specific, even for Carla Bruni’s boytoy.

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