The Legitimate Motives of the Legitimate French Strikers

With some of the photos and video coming out of France this past week, it would be easy to dismiss the current and widespread strikes in the country as the work of 'thugs,' to borrow a term from the French government. It is indeed apparent from some of the images being beamed around the world that many of the 'protestors' are involved merely for the thrill of burning things, tipping over cars and scrapping with the police.

It has also been observed that many of the protestors, both among the peaceful and the radical, are on the younger side, including many students. Many of these same observers feel that it is absurd that 17 and 18 year olds should be able to paralyze a nation in an attempt to derail reforms which won't impact them for another 40+ years. If reports are to be believed, even grade school aged children have involved, which lends an even more farcical element to the situation.

However, beyond the anarchists and those who might, in reality, be protesting nothing more than going to class for the afternoon, there could be more than meets the eye to the current situation in France. For example, one commentator suggests that among folks who are actually gathering peacefully and purposefully, one thread of solidarity is a general dissatisfaction with the government and how it has handled the reforms. Therefore rather than merely dismiss the protests as the work of anarchists, lazy students and socialists, perhaps the situation is worth a more exploratory look.

Indeed, it may be the handling of the situation, rather than the situation itself which has caused the most anger among certain individuals. Some folks who might otherwise understand the need to make long-term changes to solve long-term problems are instead upset by the Sarkozy administration's lack of communication through both the process of proposing the reforms and the resulting backlash. This includes a refusal by the leadership to even acknowledge that protests were occurring initially. This can be contrasted with the approach being taken in England right now. People are predictably unhappy with cuts, but the recently elected leadership explained that cuts were needed all along, and is now in the midst of a series of town halls and events discussing the state of affairs with the electorate.
Of course there remains no excuse for the anarchists and troublemakers of any age who are utilizing the cover of a striking nation merely as an opportunity to live out what would otherwise be described as sociopathic fantasies. It doesn't help the cause they are ostensibly representing to break the windows of shops owned by innocent and hardworking citizens. Neither does throwing rocks at police officers make the government any more likely to listen to what are otherwise logical arguments made by the real protestors. Taken to a logical end, all such actions do is provoke the government, cause confrontation, and take the voice away from legitimate protestors and instead put the eyes of the world on more colorful and disturbing scenes. In short, it leads directly to their end goal of promoting anarchy, and not the more noble goal of standing up for the rights of a society.

Additionally, this is in no way intended to support the idea that reforms are unnecessary. Indeed some of the reforms that have been proposed are critical. France works less hours than its economic peers, retires earlier, and is less productive. Its government is facing some of the same budgetary problems as its continental neighbors and is trying to deal with them in a responsible manner. Much like their European neighbors, the French will have to learn to deal with some budget cuts and changes to pension rules. The latest word is that the government is set to pass legislation putting such changes in place. At least on that front, it is doing its job, and the French citizenry it represents will eventually need to accept the results.

However, if anger goes deeper than that, if there is more deeply rooted dissatisfaction about the way a government is being run, if there are secrets which lead to mistrust, citizens should be allowed to voice their concerns. A people should be commended when peaceful protest is the chosen vehicle for doing so, and the French should be congratulated for being able to pull such concerted action off.  And if this action leads to improved lines of communication between a citizenry and an administration that is seemingly working with indifference toward its people rather than for them, that, and not bullying the government out of needed reforms will be the true measure of success. As Patrick Henry said, "The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them."

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