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The Progressive

French Strike Shows Resistance to Austerity

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.

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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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