Wednesday, January 28, 2009


The big news today is that there will be big news tomorrow, or so many people would like to think. Tomorrow will mark the first general strike of the Sarkozy presidency, and even Sarko seems a little worried, for hasn't he said, as Françoise Fressoz reminds us:

"la France n'est pas le pays le plus simple à gouverner du monde". Il rappelle que "les Français ont guillotiné le roi", qu'"au nom d'une mesure symbolique, ils peuvent renverser le pays". Il parle de la France comme d'un "pays régicide".

All strikes are to some degree unpredictable, so, indeed, there may be dérapages tomorrow, and the television cameras, hungry for images de choc, will make the most of them. But the image of a "general strike" itself derives its potency from another era, when a paternalist bourgeoisie, which liked to think of the working class as its dependents, could be sent into panic by the sight of organized batallions of workers whose message was that in fact les patrons were dependent on them.

At this moment, however, we're all dependent on economic forces we only dimly comprehend, so the organized batallions risk looking more like group therapy sessions than conquering armies. If they conquered, what would they do? File a motion of censure against the government, as the Socialists did on Monday? Et après? Turn to Washington, like everyone else, and wait to see what Larry Summers et al. have come up with.

Of course there's no harm in expressing ras-le-bol from time to time. It keeps the guardians on their toes. But the French bowl has been scraped so often that the wood is deeply scarred. The general strike has become one more spectacle in a society of spectacles, another lieu de mémoire for the political theme park, filled with monuments attesting to a certain nostalgic fondness for the grand gestures of the past, which may have failed in their own time but then at least carried the conviction of as yet untested possibility.


kirkmc said...


In addition, I wouldn't even characterize this as a strike. It's people going out to demonstrate. They're not "striking" against a company, but demonstrating against general policies. It abuses the "droit de greve" by calling it a strike.

But, hey, it's the most popular sport in France.

David in Setouchi said...

Kirk, in France, large-scale strikes are never against a company but against the government, and they're usually the best way (if not the only one) to be heard.

Also, nobody calls a demonstration a strike (well, some people do, but they shouldn't) these are two different things. Of course, they're linked, but one can be on strike and not protest, or the other way around.
I'll be out protesting tomorrow (for the first time in 9 years), but I won't be on strike.

-Art, sure the paternalist bourgeoisie doesn't exist as such anymore and strikes and protests don't have the same purpose as they used to have. What still exists though is the condescending bourgeoisie and the current government is exactly that.
I'm the first to say that French people protest too much, but sometimes, it's valid, especially when the government disrespects the people so much.

And as far as what can strikes and protest achieve, they can achieve a lot.
Not this one, not yet.
Just wait a few years, when mass umployement will be there, when more and more people will even have trouble to feed their family, heads may roll... Literally... And with the current crisis and the way the government deals with it (or rather doesn't), it could happen sooner than we think.

Anonymous said...


I don't think that the mood is even close to the "rolling heads" level. Of course there is some frustration with the current government, particularly in the public sector (or companies that were public not so long ago).

In the end it's the same old groups that go on strike: RATP, SNCF, Education Nationale, La Poste and to a less extend air controllers and municipal employees.
I would be surprised if much of the private sector actually goes on strike (or prostests if you prefer). According to Le Monde most surveys show that public opinion is "sympatique" to movement (
From my personal experience, after a day in hell in the public transports on a strike day, your level of understanding goes down

So far this morning, my collegues with children where more angry at the "mairie" because there was no " service minimum" organized than giving thumbs-up to the demonstrators.