Thursday, February 08, 2007

where to go part 3

This isn’t about the strikes in Guinea (which look like they may begin again, incidentally). It’s about the strike happening here in Marseille, with a parade of protesters marching at this moment down the Boulevard d’Athènes and the Cours Julien, starting from the train station, and going presumably all the way to Castellane, if not further. I would have remained entirely oblivious to it had I not gone out to do some errands this morning. On my way back, I noticed the strange traffic flow and the red flags with yellow symbols flying and the early rumblings of a voice on a loudspeaker. So instead of taking a shortcut home, I walked up to the Place des Capucines, where the head of the parade was just about to get underway.

Protest rallies are great places to obtain flyers about all sorts of causes. I got four, and I don’t think I got everything available. The principle one is entitled 8 février : Toutes les raisons d’être dans l’action et la grève (All the reasons to be in action and on strike). The umbrella organization in this activity is the CGT (Confédération générale du travail) of the Bouches-du-Rhône. You can find “Toutes les raisons” as a Word document on their website. Today the call was sent out to all public employees to join in the strike and demonstrations. And, as you can see from the pictures below, many different groups are represented.

If you go to the main CGT page for all of France, you find that this is in fact a nation-wide campaign. The complaints are both that salaries are insufficient (the demand is that the minimum be raised to 1500€, presumably per month) and that jobs are being destroyed, not created, while the population (especially here in Marseille) is growing. The unions are addressing the European Commission, seeking increased security, increased salary, and increased availability of public services.

You might also notice what is marked on those red flags that caught my attention. The Jeunes Communistes took the occasion to make an appearance, which is where my second flyer came from. The header on one side declares “Avec les communistes : unir, lutter, vaincre!” (“With the communists: unite, fight, vanquish!”) I was particularly interested by their discussion, in a single sentence, of contemporary French politics: “By imposing, with incessant propaganda, the rivalry between Nicolas Sarkozy de Naguis-Bosca and Marie Ségolène Royale as the political issue, they leave us to believe that we will have no other solutions except to choose between a dangerous reactionary and a pale conservative. LIE!!!” And they present their candidate, Marie-George Buffet, along with their demands: the sharing of wealth, power, and information. Not a bad presentation, overall. Sufficiently and simultaneously indignant and informed.

The third flyer came from supporters of Roland Veuillet, a teacher and active union member who has been on a hunger strike for 47 days. From what I can gather, in 2003, during a proctors’ strike in Nimes, he “opposed” the school’s (apparently illegal) practice of placing older students in charge of watching the exams. (I haven’t found exactly by what means he opposed this.) Soon afterwards, he was sanctioned by the minister of education De Robien, and was relocated to Lyon. I’m taking all this information from the materials of Veuillet’s supporters, so I have no idea what the other side of the story is, but the hunger strike is real. Several students and other teachers have joined this strike in solidarity at one point or another.

The remaining flyer was less ambitious. Just half a page, printed on one side only, it declares, “Housing is not just the problem of the homeless!” Then it speaks of drawing on public funds to build “social housing” (“logements sociaux”) and improving rights of tenants. The language of this flyer catches my attention; they use the phrase “Exigeons” rather than “Nous exigeons”—that is, “Let us demand” rather than “We demand”, effectively supporting their claim that solving this problem shouldn’t be left to those we’d like to believe are the only ones it affects.

Strikes are painful. They wouldn’t really be effective if they weren’t. France is well-known for frequently having strikes of one form or another. Somehow, in the States, we’ve avoided most of the pain of these events in recent times. (I’ve heard some opinions on why this is the case, but I don’t think I should bring them up here.) I know I’ve been traveling at times when some part or another of an airline’s necessary workers were striking (I think it was the luggage handlers), and I hardly noticed any difference at all—the main thing was the flyers that appeared. But a well-managed strike can bring everything to a standstill. They’re a method of either asserting power or trying to grasp it. Such power may well be merited, and I suspect the causes are usually just. I doubt I’ll ever be in a situation where I’ll have to go on strike with a union. Before today, I hadn’t thought about it. But I believe if the time came, there are conditions under which I would join in approvingly, either for the sake of ameliorating the state of my fellow workers or in protest of an outrageous policy or action. I wish these times weren’t necessary. But that goes back to how the world doesn’t really change, injustice remains, and we have to keep fighting collectively and individually to stamp it out.

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