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A ‘snapshot’ from France

Ilana Radwinter captures a precious moment of French ‘democracy’ and shares with us her experience of encountering striking teachers.

Well, most of the people demonstrating are teachers — and not too many of those either — but they are trying to engage others and actually managed to do a lot of damage by disrupting the end of year examinations as well as gross acts of vandalism.

Last Monday, I was driving my children to school at about 8 o’clock. On the way to the centre of Perpignan, just before a large roundabout, we hit a huge traffic jam. I saw a lot of cars turning back in front of me but I decided to continue. Eventually, the cars in front could no longer turn easily and I spotted some men holding banners. Ah, the strike! I had the choice of staying put or getting off the road and driving on the grass.

All around me there were people who were meekly waiting to be able to turn back. I could not believe it. Why couldn’t we all shout and rev our engines and hoot and call them names and go past?! Haven’t these people ever been to a football match?! After all, these were not the burly, tattooed hunks we saw last year during the truckers’ strike! They were the normal, testosterone-depleted, round-hipped western males as seen putting the rubbish out on Monday mornings.

I chose the way forward and soon I found myself in front of the eight men who were stopping all the traffic. They pounced on my car and forced me to stop. It was just me, a petite middle-aged woman, dressed in pyjamas as mornings before school are too hectic to allow for any grooming, and my three children (11-year old girl and 7-year old twin boys).

I rolled the window down and I asked why I am not allowed to go where I needed to. I said that I respected their right to strike, I lied but I was not in a position to start fight, so a bit of politeness was probably wise, but by the same token they should respect other people’s right to go about their business. After all, I was neither the government nor another teacher trying to cross the picket line.

They gave me leaflet and told me they were actually fighting for my children’s future. Then, I really lost it — I can’t stand people using my children as an excuse for their anti-social acts. I told them that on the contrary, they are fighting for my children’s ruin as in the future they will have to work for next to nothing to pay for their pensions. As anger tends to exacerbate a foreign accent, they realised I am a ‘foreigner’ and told me to go back where I come from. I retorted that they should go as they are the ones who clearly do not like their country as they were rebelling against a legitimate government. I suggested North Korea as a possible destination.

My 11-year old daughter was crying — she had been crying all morning because her elder sister was going back to London — and the boys at the back were speculating who was going to win, Mummy or those old men.

Sometimes during the argument, the bullies took their hands off my car and, quite unexpectedly, started to back off. It transpired that they were not in charge, just being big mouths. The real ‘master of ceremony’ was someone else, who kept quiet during all this. As they backed off, a nice woman approached me and said that many demonstrators did not approve of such methods.

A group of teachers just wanted to slow down the traffic, smile and hand out leaflets. So there were two camps: those who wanted to allow us to pass and those who did not. In the end, we were allowed to go…

Ilana Radwinter, Perpignan, France

16 comments to A ‘snapshot’ from France

  • This is the famous French doctrine of ‘solidarite’, right?

    I rather like the idea of governments, unions, and other organisations buying something like third-party car insurance to compensate those they inconvenience by obstructing trade? Probably impossible to enforce, I know….. Would any group that voluntarily bought such insurance enjoy a competitive advantage somehow? Ideas anyone?

  • Uncle Bill

    Screw competetive advantage, pass a law.:-(

    No insurance, no job – just like no insurance no auto registration.

    Oh well, it would be nice.

  • France sounds a lot like Britain in the 1970s, only without any decent prog-rock.

  • I wonder if things might get bad enough in France to inspire the French to vote in a Thatcherite?

  • Pete

    They’ve got it too easy. Where are the strikebreakers with pick-axe handles when you need them?

  • Tony H

    As strike-induced inconvenience goes, this one didn’t seem too nasty – I’m glad for Ilana’s sake. A couple of commenters sound much more scary than the strikers: “Screw competitive advantage, pass a law” ?? “Where are the strikebreakers with pickaxe handles when you need them” ??
    With libertarians like these, who needs authoritarians…

  • Tony, is it possible those lines were typed with sarcasm, facetiousness, or intentional irony?

    I’m still trying to figure out if I’m a “round-hipped western male”.

  • Tony H

    Kevin, I’d like to think so, but I didn’t get that impression.
    Yeah, just been worriedly examining my own hips in the mirror – still look pretty lean to me, despite some added mass in the midriff…

  • You are forgetting Ilana lives in France, so most men she encounters nowadays are the cheese-eating surrender monkeys and round-hipped males. 🙂

    For Anglo-saxons it is more round-bellied, anyway… 🙂

  • So, in France it is perfectly legal for protesters to block traffic? I would have been screaming for arrests.

  • David Mercer

    For a high profile scoffer who’s now blogging, see boingboing.net, where John C. Dvorak is now guest blogging in the right hand sidebar!

    He pooh poohed them HARSHLY in print, and has now eaten crow.

  • David Mercer

    That last post was menat for the comments in the “floggers…the future belongs to us” post.
    Got it in the wrong spot in a fit of madness or something!

  • Uncle Bill

    Thank you Kevin –

    I worry about some of the commenters here.

  • Tony H

    Sorry Uncle, for misinterpreting you – perhaps Kevin had an advantage in being acquainted with you previously. Having suffered myself from others failing to appreciate irony – which doesn’t travel well on the Net, especially trans-Atlantic – I tend to assume that others mean literally what they say. Especially across the Atlantic. Mea culpa.

  • Larry

    These French strikers could take a lesson from the USA. When the going gets touch, some of our unions resort to the traditional beatings and shootings.

    As good union members, the police seldom get involved. Due to special provisions in US law, union terrorism is protected from Federal prosecution

    Fortunately, we’re in a down cycle of labor activism. But wait — as Corporate leaders legally loot their way to riches, accompanied by continued layoffs and general incompetance, an upsurge seems likely in the next few years.

  • Pragmatic Heretic

    Drive the kids to school in this, Ilana.