Alberta Politics
General strikers in France (Photo: Found on Facebook/The Ragged Trousered Philanderer).

France is in turmoil and all we hear is crickets — what gives?

Posted on January 14, 2020, 11:28 pm
8 mins

France is in turmoil and all we hear is crickets. What gives?

The government of President Emmanuel Macron has introduced a scheme to overhaul pensions and retirement benefits for many workers, done as usual in the name of reform, rationalization and simplification. For most French workers, though, it will result in a significant reduction in pensions and loss of retirement security.

French President Emmanuel Macron (Photo: Andrea Hanks, the White House).

Among the changes, a higher statutory retirement age, although still lower than Canada’s. Also, pensions for workers in high-risk and athletic occupations would be based on their earnings over time instead of the terms negotiated by their unions that recognize the danger they face, limits on their careers, and the contribution to society they make. Again, this is already the norm in Canada. There would also be reductions in negotiated early retirement benefits, and so on.

“The proposed change would thus, in practical terms, be financed on the backs of workers, who would be expected to work longer with less pay and security, rather than being paid for by increased taxes on corporations or the wealthy,” writes cultural theorist Gabriel Rockhill in Counterpunch.

French workers have responded by pouring into the streets, organizing massive demonstrations and paralyzing the entire country through a series rotating general strikes.

The disruption is severe. The danger in the streets is real, given the vicious response of the militarized French police. Indeed, the Government of Canada recognizes this, warning Canadians in a detailed travel advisory updated last month under the heading “General Strike” that “a large-scale general strike is ongoing across the country since December 5, 2019.”

“This movement could continue for an indefinite period,” the advisory continued. “Demonstrations and significant service disruptions, including to transportation, are to be expected.” Indeed, at one point the Paris Metro was shut down, with only a few automated trains operating.

Moreover, the Global Affairs Canada advisory goes on, “demonstrations take place regularly. Even peaceful demonstrations can turn violent at any time.”

And yet, in Canada there is virtually no news in mainstream media on these significant events in a modern, Western European country. If you want to get a sense of what’s going on, you’ll have to dig deep, seek alternative news sources, some of them pretty sketchy, and even then there’s not much information.

Cultural theorist Gabriel Rockhill (Photo: Villanova University).

One would think news of a nationwide disruption over pension policies would be of interest here in Alberta, for example, where the provincial government is hatching its own dangerous pension schemes and popular opposition, already significant, is growing. Instead, nothing but crickets.

The only point at which the ongoing general strikes and resulting nationwide chaos in France have even caused a ripple of attention in Canadian media was when President Macron’s government introduced a “compromise” a few days ago to try to placate the nationwide opposition. If Dr. Rockhill’s analysis is right, the changes in the compromise are not very significant. A few stories appeared, disdainful in tone when they mentioned the general strikers’ positions, and then the curtain fell again.

At a glance, it would appear this phenomenon is not quite as severe elsewhere in the English-speaking world, although coverage is nevertheless sparse. The New York Times published a piece yesterday, mainly based on the oddity that in a Paris, even ballet dancers are on strike. Memo to the Times News Desk: professional dancers are workers too, and like pro hockey players, they have short careers due to the limitations of the human body. The BBC publishes an occasional story.

In Canada, however, the blackout is almost total.

What gives? For those with a conspiratorial turn of mind, it would appear at least it’s not the government of Canada, which is after all prepared to warn tourists of the danger and state the basic reason for it.

Is the problem finding news about this because there isn’t any being written, or does it have to do with the organization of major search engines, like Google?

And why is there such a dereliction of duty day after day by Canadian media, private sector and state owned alike? Is it because they think we won’t be interested because we’ve mostly already lost, or never had, the benefits French workers are fighting to retain?

Or do they think we’re better off not knowing? Having worked many years in the newspaper industry, I find it hard to believe local managers would think thoughts like these. A riot’s a riot, as far as most of them are concerned — or used to be, anyway. But then, times have changed since I left, and the focus of the Canadian news business is more ideological, resources are fewer, and analysis is shallower.

The goal of the strikers now seems to be to bring down the government. If they succeed, will that be reported?

I certainly don’t recall media refusing to cover major upheavals in Western Europe in the past. Newspapers were full of reports of similar violence in France in 1968, for example. But that was a long time ago, of course.

I suppose some combination of laziness, inattention, lack of intellectual curiosity, herd instinct and a bureaucratic turn of mind, all of which plague modern Canadian media corporations, private and public, is the simplest and most likely explanation. It’s also true that there have been some other, very big stories in the past few days.

Still, I have trouble imagining a similar demonstration this week or next in Russia, say, or Hong Kong, would pass with so little notice.

And yet, we hear … rien. This is bizarre. What’s going on?

13 Comments to: France is in turmoil and all we hear is crickets — what gives?

  1. Laura Shutiak

    January 14th, 2020

    Hi David;
    Interesting post. I would agree that the news about the strike is pretty scarce here. We were in France over the holidays for two weeks. While the metro was down, we were fortunate to be staying right near the automated train route that was running. Other tourists we spoke to said they were simply walking – or renting scooters for longer routes. Our day trip to Tours on the train was cancelled, and we had to book taxis to get from Annency to St. Gervais, but our hotel arranged it all quite easily. The worst of it was a the two-hour taxi trip from the airport upon arrival. But we’d paid for a flat rate, as many visitors do, so wasn’t a big deal – and we really didn’t know it should have only been a 30 min drive. I’d suggest that perhaps the issue is that tourists aren’t being inconvenienced too much, and that’s why it isn’t hitting the NA papers. Parisians, on the other hand, are struggling. We’d booked a guide for a walking tour, and he had a 90 minute bike ride each way because the trains weren’t running. He said it was barely worth his time to do the tour. Cheers. Laura

    Reply
  2. Just Me

    January 15th, 2020

    The strength of the French republic is built on the notion that the state fears the French citizens; and the French citizens recognize, regardless of the potential for confrontation with the state, there exists a social contract between the powerful entities of citizens and the state that assures the survival of both. Macron (or as I like to call him Little Jupiter) has decided that the longstanding social contract is not worth maintaining, because it gets in the way of his reforms, as well as his own enormous ego. So, Little Jupiter has decided to, in an imperious fashion that would be the equal of Napoleon I, to impose his will upon French workers, breaking hard fought for reforms and promises that assured the creation of a commonwealth that other nations envy.

    French workers have taken to the streets and have declared war on Macron. And Little Jupiter, in a fit of pique, as put his palace guards onto the boulevards and avenues, to wage war against the French. The battles of the Commune have returned, and the French may turn to populist forces that may defend the social contract, but will certainly appeal to the darker side of nationalism.

    Reply
  3. Andy Marshall

    January 15th, 2020

    You’ve nailed some of the reasons for the lack of coverage. I would add: A certain systemic lack of empathy for France; the sense we’ve seen so much protest in France over the years; and, most important of all, the strength of the anti-union sentiment in Canada. C
    C’est dommage.

    Reply
  4. Bill Malcolm

    January 15th, 2020

    The coverage on France on MSM is non-existent, as you say. Well, the international neoliberal elite serving the rentier billionaires’ media holdings hardly want to point out the resistance to their rape of society, do they? The news might spread. We normal people pay taxes to keep the rich happy, because those folk pay virtually none, or get a rebate, like Amazon. Luckily, I read the alternative press so have some idea of the France situation. The biggest point most often made in the last six months is that Macron’s storm trooper police set out to injure protesters on purpose, while the Hong Kong police have been exceptionally mild with protesters there by comparison. Yet who gets the coverage and criticism? China gets it in the ear.

    And then there’s Macron himself, a Rothschild wunderkid who came almost out of nowhere to be president. And for Alberta readers who do not know, the pathetic yellow vests of Alberta are 180 degrees out of sync with the real Gilet Jaunes of France – if there was ever a more cynical grab of a name to advance Kenney’s interests, stealing a progressive name and giving it to staunch UCP supporters with Sem-Eyes is hard to beat.

    A recap is also in order. The Gilet Jaunes came into being when Macron hiked gas/diesel prices, drastically REDUCED speed limits on rural highways used by the working poor to get to work meaning less sleep time, and to really beat citizens over the head, simultaneously allowed the private companies running the already super-profitable French toll roads to hike tolls which could reduce travel time. That put people between a rock and hard place. No salary increases were allowed until after a few weeks Macron relented for a few Euro per week following the initial protests. Thus, many Fench workers were beset on a fundamental level by this nastiness, to go along with reduced vacation times, screwed pensions and increased working hours. No wonder they rebelled. And are still doing so. If you search you can read about workers driving vast distances to protest each weekend – this is not a Paris thing in the main. It’s your average French person fed up to the teeth with government.

    For one example of his sell-out, Macron’s role in privatization of public assets started as a junior minister, and he was pathetically useless at it, perhaps on purpose:

    https://dissidentvoice.org/2019/12/macrons-achilles-heel-the-toulouse-airport-privatization/

    A Swiss author’s description of an Air France light a year ago:

    https://dissidentvoice.org/2018/12/macron-and-the-air-france-experience/

    Then stuff like this from last Spring:

    https://www.greanvillepost.com/2019/03/27/globalisms-last-disgrace-the-army-vs-the-yellow-vests/

    Perhaps it’s little old cynical me, but the reason we don’t get to read about Macron’s subjugation of France is tied up with the billionaires of this world approving his stance in getting those French to work harder to fill their personal pockets. France is also home to huge Muslim ghettos ringing Paris and other major cities wherein live people with no hope whatsover. They get to watch Macron deal with native Frenchmen with violence and are under no illusion as to their fate if they get uppity.

    The Alberta connection is that Kenney is trying to pull off a Macron there, and Alberta is a very juicy cow to milk. Per capita income is high among the employed and there is a fat teat to squeeze. You already have the corporate tax cuts meaning reduced salaries for government workers, those not laid off that is, the pension grab is in full swing, Wexit means having one’s own police force to keep the poorer in line, and government services are reduced to “balance” the budget. Life gets worse. Luckily for the super wealthy, many Albertans have bought the Kenney BS hook, line and sinker, about like the proud rural poor in the US, who are super patriotic and Bible thumpers to boot. They seem to actually enjoy being screwed, their brains a mush of neoliberal/patriotism and Jesus, where they think they are sacrificing for the “good” of the nation. Many Albertans seem to have caught the same disease. So from the War Room to Kenney pronouncements of cuts for the common good, complete intellectual bilge is accepted in Alberta by so many oherwise normal people it amazes me, and worse they feel hard done by the rest of Canada. So, “we the people” cannot have coverage of normal people physically rebelling against this stuff for well over a year in France, now can we? Expect no coverage of Macron versus the people in France in case anyone makes the connection to the ruination of Alberta and secondarily Canada — Trudeau and Morneau are just a brand of less hostile neoliberals. And as for First Nations’ rights and objections to pipelines, phuh, not a hope. The Mounties have guns, too.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      January 16th, 2020

      One small quibble, Bill. The residents of France’s banlieues are not without hope. Islam gives them hope. A century ago, Communism gave people in the same places the same thing. I leave it to readers to decide if the complete adoption of the neoliberal economic agenda by the mainstream parties of the Left in Europe and elsewhere in the West has been a good thing. DJC

      Reply
  5. ronmac

    January 15th, 2020

    There’s been steady ongoing protests in Chile too.

    Reply
  6. Political Ranger

    January 15th, 2020

    As to the silence in ROC, my explanation is, well … crickets!
    But here, out on the flats, where the buffalo used to roam and the boneheads still do and where nary is heard a contrary (to the given narrative) word, it’s pretty clear, at least to me, why there is no news; no one gives a damn!
    Other than your loyal following David, there is not likely more than a few thousand souls in this part of the world who have spent more than 5 minutes following politics or world affairs. It’s so much easier to whinge and whine about how badly one is being treated. To say nothing of the cognitive dissonance created in one’s fantastical beliefs of petroleum economic nirvana when one attends to actual worldly affairs. Our dear neighbours and fellow citizens would have their heads explode if they pulled them outta their arse and had a look around.

    My understanding of France in recent times, not in any way based on deep or extensive knowledge but only gained by grazing through international editions of various online MSM’s, is that the population and the society, like many European neighbours, is in extreme flux and disarray. Just the migrant flows from other EU countries 10-15 years ago was a social shock. Now, over the last few years there have been 10’s of thousands of migrants from Arabia and the Levant, none of whom have modern employment skills if even a pot to piss in. The homeless problems on the streets are a nightmare; the drain on the very generous social safety net is enormous; the countries economic and logistical resources are being bled dry.
    Given the state of global financialization it is easy enough, and cheap enough, to pile on the national debt. But the risks are enormous. And due in very short order.

    I really wonder just how a North American journalist, let alone a local small market writer would frame such a story. Yes, there are people rioting, but who?, and why? I don’t think the readership here has the wherewithal to comprehend or digest the details or the background of this social disruption nor the inclination to understand the follow-on effects.

    Best just to pretend. That it’s not happening. That pumping more oil will bring back the glories of the Klien era.

    Reply
  7. Keith McClary

    January 15th, 2020

    I see this all the time. A few hundred demonstrators in Iran are given more coverage than hundreds of thousands last week. The protests in Chile were ignored. Coverage of Israel/Palestine is non-existent unless it is unavoidable, such as when a Canadian doctor is shot (and that quickly disappeared down the memory hole). They were all over Libya 24/7 before the invasion, but then crickets.

    Reply
  8. HV

    January 15th, 2020

    This is why we read The Guardian online (by subscription). Lots of gilets jaunes in there.

    Canadian media, or the pallid ghost thereof, gives the impression Europe barely exists. And when it does, no nuance is reported, only novelty stories. (European climate change is scaring everyone there, but do Canadians know it?)
    I agree 100% that Post-bias filters the kind of stories they report.

    Par contre . . . . Canada barely exists in Euro media, so there ya go.

    Reply
  9. Bruce Turton

    January 15th, 2020

    Two thoughts come to mind with this article: Firstly, on the most ‘common’ media platforms, their basis of “knowledge” is that they do not so much as tell us how to think, but tell us what to think about. The parametres of allowable ‘thinking’ is constrained to the current novelties rather than any forms of analysis of social realities. (Think of the CBC’s constant (dog with a bone style) story line of some royals, who need so much of our taxes to live an independent life, being so very ‘good’ for us!). Sorry, but not being a reader of current daily “news” publications, I have no idea if this is the same ‘bone’ in Postmedia outlets.
    However, and as an attempt at some sort of deeper analysis, I quote Ivan Illich from his book Unschooling Society, that “School is the advertising agency that convinces you that you need society as it is”. This, to me, is the root of our dilemma as a society, whether as citizens (god forbid we should actually be active agents within our society!), mere consumers (as is the normal want), or even most journalists (who need jobs rather than pursue broad reportage and analyses of the world around them).

    Reply
  10. Dave

    January 15th, 2020

    It is kind of odd not to hear more about this. I think I read something about it sometime in early December, but nothing after that. I had just assumed the issues causing the strikes had been somehow resolved.

    Of course there has been a lot happening in the anglo-saxon world in December and since then. First of all the big Brexit election in the UK in early December which dominated headlines then and for a bit after that. Second, all the stuff around the US impeachment debate, which is ongoing and third, the whole US/Iran conflict more recently.

    The US, like most big countries is somewhat self absorbed, even at the best of times, and that tends to affect coverage in Canada, even more so when big stories like impeachment and the US/Iran conflict dominate.

    As it has been said by otheres, Trump does somehow manage to often suck up most of the oxygen in the room. I don’t think the media has necessarily found the right balance, between covering the latest Trump outrage sufficiently, while still covering important events elsewhere in the world.

    Maybe the strikes in France are just seen as a continuation of the unrest there by the mainstream media and not a sufficient escalation to warrant more attention. However, I do agree they deserve more coverage and it is an example of how the mainstream media sometimes fails in its coverage for whatever reasons.

    Reply
  11. January 15th, 2020

    Lest Canadian workers follow the lead of the French, I’d wager.

    There is very little coverage outside French-speaking media generally, including BBC and Al Jazeera. I found this in the Guardian, but had to dig for it: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jan/14/the-guardian-view-on-macrons-pensions-retreat-one-step-forward-two-steps-back?fbclid=IwAR0_aaevO5i0cbdmtG5I2H0wHC7YFP9lyHeVTICE8C_WYSa25Y9rYoqQ2wU

    French media has lots of coverage naturally, and interestingly, so does Le Devoir here at home.

    Reply
  12. TC

    January 17th, 2020

    With the example raised in Hong Kong, I can understand why for two reasons. One, if the scale of protests there for the last seven months happened elsewhere, it’d either end in a brutal government/military crackdown or a successful overthrow of the government, without needing seven months to reach those scenarios. The current stalemate in Hong Kong intrigues western media.

    Two, the causes of the yellow jacket movement in France, as well as the strike mention in the post, are policies in which harm the material interests of the people protesting. Protesting in France may lead to not paying a fuel tax or not having one’s retirement benefit reduced. But protesters in Hong Kong (mainly young people) won’t materially benefit from blocking an extradition agreement with Mainland China.

    Reply

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