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French Strike Shows Resistance to Austerity

Amitabh Pal

 by The Progressive

The French are again leading the resistance to globalization. For this, they deserve our applause, not derision.

They’ve been down this road before. Back in 1995, when another
rightwing president, Jacques Chirac, tried to convince them of the
inevitability of suffering as part of the free-market process, they put
their foot down.

“After a quarter of a century of an ideological swing to the right,
here was a movement mocking the blackmail: there is no alternative,”
Daniel Singer, longtime Europe correspondent for The Nation, commented.
“Its message, frightening for the preachers of the establishment, was
plain: if this is the future you are offering to us and to our children,
then the hell with your future!”

They’re back at it, fighting the same battle again, this time pitted
against another arrogant conservative leader, Nicolas Sarkozy. In
response to his proposal to up the retirement age, French unions brought Paris to a halt on Tuesday.

In doing so, they have followed the lead of their counterparts in other countries such as Greece, where massive demonstrations have greeted austerity measures in response to the economic crisis. l

Some in the U.S. media have been scorning the Europeans. Both NPR and
the New York Times have spotlighted the relatively low retirement age
in France, and the inconvenience caused due to the strike.

But the global crisis that has brought all of us to this stage has
been caused by oversmart whiz kids in the financial sector, not the
average worker pining for a decent retirement. The wrong people are
being made to suffer.

The derision of the American media for “spoiled” Europeans has a long
history. In his enlightening defense of the continental model,
“Europe’s Promise: Why the European Way Is the Best Hope in an Insecure
Age,” Steven Hill has a number of such examples.

“The truth is, just as the American media misreported Iraq, weapons
of mass destruction, the housing bubble, and an imminent economic
meltdown, the crystal ball gazers in the U.S. media have a terrible
track record when it comes to Europe,” he writes.
“As a result of this substitution of national myth for reality, news
traveling across the Atlantic has failed to keep up with actual
conditions on the ground.”

And the same fate as Europe is possibly upon us. President Obama has
appointed a “bipartisan” commission to examine possible cuts in Social
Security and Medicare. The fact that one of the co-chairs is former
Republican Senator Alan Simpson, a known scoffer of the social safety
net, is no comfort. Plus, the Republicans have been busy scapegoating
public employees for their supposedly generous retirement packages.
Again, the wrong segment of the population is under attack.

“The reason that millions of people are suffering is a combination
of Wall Street greed and incredible economic mismanagement,” writes economist Dean Baker.
“If people want to be angry at someone, the multi-million dollar
bonuses going to hotshot traders at Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan might
be a better target than a retired school teacher’s $3,000-a-month
pension.”

We all need to recognize who’s actually at fault for our misfortune.


© 2021 The Progressive
Amitabh Pal

Amitabh Pal

Amitabh Pal is managing editor of The Progressive. He has interviewed the Dalai Lama, Mikhail Gorbachev, Jimmy Carter and John Kenneth Galbraith for the magazine.

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