News from the riot zone

18 October 2010

You will probably have heard by now that there is social unrest in France. It’s not just strikes this time, but proper riots: Lycéens in Lyon are taking to the streets in their hundreds, smashing windows, burning cars and having battles with the police. Great. Why? Because of the government is trying to raise the retirement age. And this is p***** me off big time. No, not the fact that the government is trying to reform their policy on retirement. I am all for it, I think it is absolutely necessary if the state is planning on continuing funding a pension scheme. If there is no reform of the system now, how on earth are our children going to pay for the millions of people from our generation if they retire at 60 (or earlier, if they are on special retirement plans) if we can expect to live well into our eighties? I don’t know. And I wouldn’t want to land my kids’ generation with that sort of legacy either. What I am really miffed about is that these teenagers who surely don’t actually care about this take the current situation the as a free ticket to go about town and vandalise other people’s property. They also physically threaten or verbally intimidate other students (and teachers) who want to go to school in the mornings and just get on with their lives. I am sick of this. The same goes for the strikes. Sorry, I don’t have any sympathy for the cause. Public transport is severely disrupted at the moment, petrol stations are quickly running out of petrol and I really feel for those people who
a: live right in the centre of town and have to put up with rioting teenagers
b: for people who are reliant on public transport or their cars to get to work or to school.

It’s one thing going on strike for a worthwhile reason, though I don’t like the strike culture. Personally I think that strikes are too ubiquitous in France to really make a splash, they more or less seem to be a way for people voice their opinions as part of everyday life. It’s yet another thing to start rioting. I am really fed up with this, though we’re not too badly affected at the moment. We can get to and from school/ work by bike, we can do our shopping by bike and although we would like to go on holiday to the Côte d’Azur next week, we can change our plans and either stay in Lyon or go to Italy (where there is petrol…) instead. So it’s interesting times we’re living in. We’ve had the no-petrol situation twice during our time in England, I am sure we will survive this one too.

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2 Responses to “News from the riot zone”

  1. Sabine Says:

    Sorry but I need to leave a comment about that, as I don’t completely agree with you. Specially on the reasons of the strike. I think that the majority of the people on strike know and realise that a reform is necessary about the retirement but the reform the government is doing is very unfair and it’s not because it’s necessary that you have to accept a bad reform. Secondly, the government did not explain and discuss with his partners about that reform so it’s maybe not well understood. And there is a lot of people who are not going to take their retirement at 60, it’s much more complicated than that. It would only be people who started ti work very early and have very difficult works…
    The other thing as well is that the strike is also a way for people to tell the government that is really fed up with its politic and a lot of people are not happy at all.
    Maybe we do too much strike in France but is it better not to say anything to the government and accept everything without a word as it happens in England ? Now, ok about the riot, some people will try to make the most of a movement without good reasons and it’s not deserving the strike at all.
    Hope it just gives another point of view…
    I’ll sent you an email soon.

  2. birolilu Says:

    Hi Sabine, I have read your comment yet I still beg to differ. The strike culture in France just seems to be part of a game (which comes at a huge cost to the economy). What I have seen so far and what people have told me is that it is not accepted to question those in a superior position to you. This starts in school, students don’t question their teachers and goes on into adulthood: employees, as individuals, don’t question their employer’s decisions.This can make life easy: people do not have to take responsibility for their actions, because they just carry out orders given by their managers (and there you go, people in shops don’t need to provide good customer service because they have not been instructed to exchange this faulty item, but they won’t ask their boss either. The customer has to go into strike action in the shop and sit there until the boss grants an audience.) Likewise the government plays the ‘nanny role’, like a authoritarian parent it takes decisions BEFORE any public consultation takes place. When this point is reached, the naughty child that is your public, throws a tantrum i.e. puts on strike action. This is the one and only way for people to say ‘stop, we do not accept this decision’. However, how effective is this? Strikes are something the government expects to happen, just part of a game and a power struggle that gives people the illusion to be in a position of power. I think the rioting that has followed suit in this case just plays into the hands of the government, it is a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate power by a heavy-handed response. It also gives reason to say ‘look, we are not safe here, there are riots in town, we need yet MORE police…’ and there you go more power in the hands of the state, less power to the people. And there is no discussion the government will only talk to you once you have staged a nice impressive strike.
    To me the strike culture in France is a sad indicator of a lack of collaboration and discussion within society (and I experience this at all sorts of levels). But I know, I am certainly not the one to change the French culture, I just live here and learn and watch the game being played as an outsider looking in.


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