Mar 24 2009

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From the midst of the grève

(by guest blogger Marc Cogan)

Last Thursday’s general strike and supporting march were big successes, both from an organizational perspective, and as spectacle. Even the weather had already chosen sides, as the newspaper Libération, said, and it was sunny and warm throughout France. The weather swelled the crowds and buoyed their spirits.

The parade was much longer than at the equivalent march in support of the January strike. The organizers were a little cannier, too. There’d be a lull in the marchers, and you’d think, “Ah, that must be the end of it.” But no, all of a sudden new marchers would appear, in large numbers and dense ranks. Parade marshalls were stopping marching groups and holding them while others turned up, concentrating their numbers, and giving a new impetus to the line.

There were groups of every sort, and for every interest and taste, from the always present Lycée Darius Milhaud, to the Cinémathèque nationale, which may not have had the best sign, simply a hand-scrawled ‘Cinemateque francaise en grève!’, but had its own marching band.

There were marchers from Radio France International, protesting cutbacks and ministerial incomprehension of their mission of teaching languages, and especially of spreading France throughout the world.

And then there was a most unlikely labor unit, the public statisticians. Energy levels were high, and I was struck by how much these young people reminded me of the revolutionaries in Delacroix’ Liberty Leading the People as young marchers swept through the Place de la Bastille passing in front of the July Column commemorating that very revolution. Over it all, the Genie of Liberty seemed a benign inspiration, accompanied by this cheerfully low-tech balloon leaflet distribution system.

But behind the public display, there was an edge to this manifestation that had been missing from the January strike and demonstration. The world economy has worsened, and France is coming to recognize that as budget cuts hit home. The unofficial slogan of the January march—worn as a sticker by a good two-thirds of the marchers—was the punning and almost hippy-ish “Rêve générale.” At Thursday the 19th’s march the all-but-official slogan (it appeared on full-size posters as well as on stickers worn by the marchers) had a new, bitter edge. It was Sarkozy’s comment from last year’s agricultural salon to the man who said, when Sarko was working the crowd and extended his hand to be shaken, “Don’t touch me.” Sarko replied, without any hesitation: “Casse-toi, pauv’ con”—“Bugger off, you sorry asshole.”


Permanent link to this article: http://www.escapetoparis.com/2009/03/from-the-midst-of-the-greve/

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