Friday, May 05, 2006

France: The Children's Hour

Over a month of demonstrations by French students, workers, and would-be workers have delivered a devastating blow to the government of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, which was forced to withdraw its new law meant to increase employment opportunities for young people lacking formal qualifications.

All this activity was intended to force the withdrawal of a minor change in the French government's employment legislation, which mainly would have benefited the young people in the ghetto suburbs who last fall were rioting nightly and burning thousands of automobiles in outrage at their "exclusion." The scale of the affair has been grotesquely out of proportion to its ostensible purpose. Yet it has turned into a symbolic event of high significance. The protests became a challenge to a certain model of capitalist economy that a large part, if not most, of French society regards as a danger to national standards of justice—and, above all, to "equality," that radical notion which France is nearly alone in proclaiming as a national cause, the central value in its republican motto of "liberty, equality, fraternity."

As the students themselves know, a globalized world won't stop turning because French students have taken to the streets. They are not looking for the "beach beneath the paving-stones" (a 1968 slogan: Sous les pavés, la plage!) but for security. A former cabinet minister, Luc Ferry, who began his studies in 1968, has said that while his own generation had been ready to demonstrate for practically anything, it would have thought a demonstration to save its as yet nonexistent pensions "frankly surrealistic." French students did just that last year.

Read the complete article here


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