Thursday, October 21, 2010
What do you do when those entities that were meant to look out for you, protect you, take care of you, fail in their duties? In France, they're blockading oil refineries, airports, and highways; they're burning tires; marching in the streets; shouting (a lot of shouting) and demanding. The strikes in France are on the brink of some pretty massive economic and social disorder, and the government is "fighting back" (I'm not sure what that means) in dogged determination to pass pension reform and raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 (and access to full benefits from 65 to 67). I had been ready to mock this slight rise in age when rumblings began in the spring, but I had to rethink my smug stance when José talked about it in terms of rights to a better life that had been hard-won by a past generation of activists and politicians. And then yesterday, I learned from Mac that it's the French who instituted the paid vacation (back in the 1930s, I believe he said), and it's them that we need to thank for even the little breathing room that we get in American work culture. What makes me squirm is the paralysis of the country through the strike (and there's a harrowing tale that awaits the telling from David who made it out of France most improbably). What I can't help but admire is the position, the core belief, that a government should take care of its people. That there is enough to go around, and that it's the government's job to spread the wealth so that you can sit under a tree and have tea, read all of Baudelaire, travel hither and yon, and actually talk to your grandchildren. There's a simple logic to this that I know is scoffed at by some economists, but, it's the one the protesters are holding to. Now, things are complicated (bien sûr) and there are dastardly hoodlum elements at work, and the unions have to read the public (which in the last poll was 71% behind them), and the government has to do the same, and somehow this all has to make sense within the global economy, but for now, I watch the tires burn on the news and think of overturned statues and everybody holding their breath for their justice.