French youth revolting, but real strikers are fewer
Gavin Mortimer, our Paris correspondent, brings the guillotine down on the Frog-bashers
It's anarchy, it's mayhem, it's the Revolution all over again! At least that's how the British media is gleefully reporting the state of France as the country endures a sixth general strike in as many weeks.
Nearly all the London newspapers have splashed across their pages photographs of cars in flames or police confronting workers blockading oil refineries, alongside dire accounts of a country paralysed by a population who have downed tools to protest at government plans to raise the age of retirement from 60 to 62.
Lazy, good-for-nothing French is the gist of the articles, another opportunity for Fleet Street to indulge in one of its favourite pastimes – Frog-bashing.
Well, from where I'm sitting – in Paris - the reality is that France is actually functioning pretty well. Clearly the blockade of the country's fuel depots and oil refineries poses a serious problem for the Sarkozy government, but at least the President can draw comfort in the fact that elsewhere the strike, far from gathering momentum, seems to have stalled.
The Paris metro is running a near normal service today, two-thirds of TGV express trains are operating to schedule, 90 per cent of post office workers have reported for work and only 13 per cent of teachers are striking. In total, 11.5 per cent of civil servants are on strike, down from 19.2 per cent during the general strike on October 12.
It's the young causing the most disruption, which is ironic, because the pension bill due to come before the Senate tomorrow (reports suggest it might now be Thursday) are being carried out for their sake - to ensure they don't endure an old age of penury.
But the French youth have a proud tradition of protesting for the sake of protesting, although increasingly it appears that this generation's earnest if misguided principles have been exploited by rent-a-mob or, as Sarkozy once famously called some rioting Parisians, the racaille [rabble].
On Monday gangs of hooded male youths rampaged across various French towns and cities, from Lyon to Le Mans to Paris, burning down schools and torching cars. And they are it again today, vandalising property and blockading roads.
One wonders what Segelone Royal makes of it all, the famously fragrant Socialist candidate who unsuccessfully contested the 2007 presidential election. Last week she called on the young to take to the streets to protest against the reforms, and now the young are exercising their democratic right to wilfully destroy anything in their path. Early on Tuesday morning a 15-year-old girl in Paris was badly injured when a burning scooter exploded in her face.
In short, millions of Frenchmen and women are fed up with the strikes and on Sunday they found an unlikely leader in the portly shape of Gerard Depardieu. Referring to the wave of strikes, France's most famous actor tore into the protesters, saying: "What's happening today in France is ridiculous. The people are being manipulated by the unions." ·
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