Archive for the ‘Anticapitalism’ Category

30,000 Gather In Strasbourg, France To Say ‘Destroy Nato, Yes We Can’

April 15, 2009

30,000 Gather In Strasbourg, France To Say ‘Destroy Nato, Yes We Can’

Published in english at: http://othersideofacoin.blogspot.com/2009/04/to-say-destroy-nato-yes-we-can.html, http://www.wikio.co.uk/international/europe/france/strasbourg, http://tangibleinfo.blogspot.com/2009/04/german-french-people-protest.html, http://alienationshop.blogspot.com/, http://euraktiva786.wordpress.com/2009/04/10/30000-gather-in-strasbourg-france-to-say-destroy-nato-yes-we-can/

And in french at: http://toulouse.indymedia.org/spip.php?article39600, http://nantes.indymedia.org/article/17576

En Français: Tandis que les manifestants commencent à construire des barricades et mettre le feu, le pont de la frontière franco-allemande déborde de CRS blindés.  Les gens se côtoient, échangent des tractes, regardent des dizaines de bateaux de police sur le Rhin, et font l’allée-retour entre le terrain du meeting à 400 mètres de là.  L’atmosphère est crispée.  Les flics entourent l’île qui est le port de Strasbourg, mais pour le moment sur l’île même les manifestants ont carte blanche.   La destruction est dans l’air.

Le jeudi précédent a déjà vu les 1500 du black block déclenchent des ravages dans la partie sud de la ville, brisant des fenêtres au siège de la police et une base militaire, en taggant tout au long de la rue.  La répression policière suivait par une invasion du village des 10.000 manifestants et 140 arrestations.  Plus tard le jeudi, une tentative d’invasion du camp a été repoussée après que la police a lancé des bombes de gaz lacrymogène dans les quartiers résidentiels environnants et les manifestants ont allumé le feu sur des barricades et ont répondu avec des cocktails Molotov.  Le vendredi a été une journée “légère” durant l’anti-congrès de l’OTAN avec de grands orateurs comme Tariq Ali et Noam Chomsky, bien qu’à la suite des conférences il y ait encore une fois des échauffourées à la périphérie du camp.

Cependant, samedi était le premier jour officiel du sommet de l’OTAN à Strasbourg qui a accueilli tous les dirigeants des pays de l’OTAN avec l’annonce de leur “nouveau concept stratégique pour le 21ème siècle”, dans lequel l’OTAN  a l’intention de remplacer l’ONU en tant que dirigeant de la politique internationale.  Ce “concept” prolongera sans doute la trajectoire post-1989 d’encercler la Russie à la poursuite des bases militaires dans les Balkans et en Europe de l’Est, et de son bouclier de défense anti-missiles en République tchèque et en Pologne, malgré que l’opinion populaire soit massivement contre le projet.

Toutefois, le motif le plus évident de Barack Obama et de sa délégation américaine est la “stratégie globale” en Afghanistan.  Son intention est de poursuivre l’occupation mise en place par l’administration Bush et son intensification continue – entre 2004 et 2007 le nombre de bombardements aériens a augmenté, passant de 86 à 2926 – par l’ajout de 21.000 soldats aux 38000 déjà sur le terrain.  Etant donné  que le pays est déjà divisé en secteurs occupés, comme l’Allemagne ou l’Autriche d’après guerre, par des Italiens, des Américains, des Français, des Allemands, aussi bien que le secteur contrôlé par les Néerlandais / Canadiens / Anglais, l’intervention poursuit une guerre qui n’a guère cessé depuis 30 ans avec 8000 morts en 2007, où 260.000 Afghans ont fui le pays, et où ¼ de la population manque de nourriture et d’eau.   En outre, seulement 15 milliards de dollars sur 25 milliards de dollars de l’aide de l’OTAN promise a atteint le pays, avec 40% de l’aide accordée aux entreprises européennes et américaines par contrat dont l’objectif est de maintenir l’occupation et, par conséquent, l’aide ne parviendra pas à la population affectée.

La situation est désespérée.  46.000 Afghans sont déjà morts d’un décès qui aurait pu être évité pendant les 40 premiers jours de la présidence d’Obama.  Et si Obama prétend qu’il désire une perspective plus globale en appelant à l’aide d’autres dirigeants du monde, il exige aussi plus de “responsabilité” de leur part pour les guerres de l’Amérique dans le monde musulman.  Un mois avant le sommet de l’OTAN, le président français Nicolas Sarkozy a annoncé la réintégration de la France dans le commandement militaire de l’OTAN après 40 ans d’absence.  Cela avait de l’intérêt: ne serait-ce à dire que la France – et d’autres pays européens – va envoyer plus de troupes pour combattre dans la guerre illégale en Afghanistan?  Et cela pourrait-il compromettre l’avenir de la France et sa capacité de contester les guerres illégales américaines comme ils l’ont fait en Irak?

Néanmoins, le moment s’est avéré comme un cri de ralliement pour le mouvement anti-guerre et les quelque 30.000 manifestants qui se sont réunis à Strasbourg pour dire non à l’OTAN.  En dépit de la provocation initiale de la police de sécurité empêchant les manifestants d’atteindre le point de rencontre pour la manif,  les grands groupes ont commencé à se regrouper dans le quartier résidentiel du port de Strasbourg, à environ 13 h samedi.  Les contingents se sont pointés vers la frontière allemande où la police a constitué un obstacle redoutable pour les 7000 manifestants allemands de l’autre côté – on leur a menti en disant qu’ils pourraient se joindre à la manif – et, par conséquent, de mettre le feu au bureau de la douane.  Les hélicoptères au-dessus foutaient le camp, leur vision obscurcie par la fumée. Bureaux sortaient de l’immeuble à alimenter les barricades en flammes.  Graffiti gribouillé sur les murs proclament “la guerre sociale”, “pour les Afghans”, et “contre l’OTAN, contre le capitalisme.”  Marchant vers le terrain du meeting, les manifestants commencent à démonter des panneaux publicitaires, des caméras de sécurité et des distributeurs de billets.  La manif n’a toujours pas pu se démarrer tant que la police bouclée la zone, en empêchant plus de manifestants d’y entrer et ceux déjà présents de partir, alors la destruction commence à incorporer de nouveaux éléments.  Une banque, une pharmacie, à l’instar du bureau de la douane, sont en flammes alors que d’énormes vagues de fumée s’envolent dans le ciel.  Stations de bus sont défoncées avec des barres en fer, des pavés sont jetés sur la barricade naissante, et les églises environnantes ont des portes taggées avec des citations des Lumières.  La prochaine cible est un hôtel 4 étoiles qui est pillé et brûlé.  Peu de temps après, l’arrivée de la police avec des bombes de gaz lacrymogène obligent les derniers manifestants de partir vers le terrain du meeting.  Un nuage de gaz lacrymogène commencent à envelopper la zone entière, et atteint les 30.000 manifestants réunis à seulement 100 mètres de là.  Des milliers de personnes toussent et s’aspergent du sérum dans les yeux pour soulager la sensation de brûlure.  La majorité écrasante condamne les actions policières contre la foule.

La manif commence finalement à près de 15 h lorsque la grande masse fait son chemin le long du port jusqu’au pont à l’entrée de la ville.   Des milliers de policiers anti-émeutes bloquent le passage, forçant la foule de tourner à droite et se pointer vers le quartier dévasté.   En arrivant à la voie ferrée qui représente l’entrée dans le quartier, le passage est à nouveau bloqué.  La police commence à enfermer les gens des deux côtés, bombardant la foule avec des tirs de flashball, du gaz lacrymogène, des grenades assourdissantes et un canon à eau.  Les bureaux autour sont encore une fois brisés, un bureau de poste saccagé.  Les cailloux de la voie ferrée pleuvent sur la police qui réagit avec plus de gaz lacrymogène.  La violence des flics atteint son sommet quand ils reprennent le contrôle de la voie ferrée et acculent un groupe de pacifistes contre un mur, les aspergeant de gaz lacrymogène.  Ils finissent par diriger le troupeau de manifestants, sans défense et fatigués, hors de la zone portuaire en arrêtant toute personne habillée en noir.  En fin de compte, environ 300 sont arrêtés – bien que seulement 12 restent en garde à vue – avec près de 50 blessés – dont un quart de la police.

Bien sûr le consensus dans les médias a été le choc et la condamnation le lendemain.  La seule perspective intéressante était celle des résidents dans le quartier populaire ravagé qui ont dirigé leur choc et colère contre les autorités qui “ont permis leur communauté d’être sacrifiée.”  Alors qu’ils étaient confus et humiliés par la destruction de leur quartier, ils ont compris que la ville qui accueille un sommet de l’OTAN dans le contexte actuel ne sortira pas indemne.  Au contraire, une ville qui accueille le 60 e anniversaire de l’OTAN et la célébration de ses crimes de guerre doit nécessairement payer cher.  Pourtant, ils étaient les seuls obligés d’assumer la charge.

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Anti-NATO protest in Strasbourg

April 6, 2009

On arriving in Strasbourg, police block our passage, encircle us, and search us one by one.Hundreds of them escorted our group of 50 or so out of the area as we all 'baaad' like sheep.Wall of anarchist organizing center.Early scufflesEarly scuffles

As protesters begin to build barricades and set them on fire, the Franco-German border bridge is brimming with cops in full riot gear.  People are milling about, exchanging flyers, watching the dozens of police boats zip around on the Rhine, and walking back and forth from the large meeting ground 500 yards or so away.  The atmosphere is tense.  Police surround the island that is the Port of Strasbourg, yet on the island itself protesters have free reign.  Destruction is in the air.

Thursday already saw the 1,500 strong black block wreak havoc in the south part of the city, smashing windows at the police headquarters and a military base, graffiti-ing all along the way.  Police repression followed with an invasion of the 10,000 strong protesters’ camp ground and 140 arrests.  Later on Thursday, an attempted invasion of the camp was fought back as police launched tear gas into surrounding residential neighborhoods, and protesters lit barricades on fire and responded with Molotov cocktails.  Friday was a “lighter” day as the anti-NATO conferences went ahead with big speakers such as Tariq Ali and Noam Chomsky, though following the conferences there were once again skirmishes on the outskirts of the camp. 

Saturday however was the first official day of the NATO Summit in Strasbourg hosting all the leaders of NATO countries and the announcement of their “New Strategic Concept for the 21st Century” in which NATO, in effect, intends to replace the UN as the deciding international body.  This “concept” will undoubtedly continue NATO’s post-1989 trajectory of encircling Russia by pursuing military bases in the Balkans and Eastern Europe, and its missile defense shield in the Czech Republic and Poland despite massive popular opinion against the project. 

However, the clearest motive of Barack Obama’s American delegation is the “comprehensive strategy” in Afghanistan which intends to continue the occupation’s escalation by the Bush administration – between 2004 and 2007 the number of air strikes increased from 86 to 2,926 – by adding 21,000 troops to the already 38,000 plus on the ground there.  As the country is already divided into occupied sectors of Italians, Americans, French, Germans, and Dutch/Canadian/British like post-Nazi Germany or Austria, the current intervention continues a war that has hardly ceased for 30 years with 8,000 dead in 2007, 260,000 having fled the country, and ¼ of the population lacking adequate food and water.  Additionally, only $15 billion of the $25 billion in promised aid from NATO has reached the country, albeit with 40% of the aid given to European and American companies contracted to maintain the occupation there and thus never actually reaching the population. 

The situation is dire, as 46,000 Afghans have already died avoidable deaths in the first 40 days of the Obama presidency.  And while Obama claims he desires a more global outlook by reaching out to other world leaders, he is also demanding more “responsibility” on their part by fighting America’s wars in the Muslim world.  Just one month before the NATO summit, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced the full reintegration of France in NATO’s military command after a 40-year absence.  This peaked people’s interest: would this mean that France – and other European countries – will send more troops to fight the illegal war in Afghanistan?  And could this compromise France’s future capability to challenge illegal American wars as they did in Iraq?

Regardless, the move proved a rallying cry for the anti-war movement and the roughly 30,000 protestors who gathered in Strasbourg to say no to NATO. 

Despite initial police provocation preventing protesters from safely reaching the meeting point for the protest on Saturday, large groups began to amass in the residential area of the Port of Strasbourg around 1 o’clock.  Contingents made their way to the German border bridge where police had formed a formidable obstacle for the 7,000 German protesters on the other side – who were emptily told they could join the French protest – and consequently set fire to the customs office.  Helicopters zoomed overhead, their view obscured by the smoke.  Desks came out of the building to fuel the fiery barricades.  Graffiti scrawled on the walls proclaimed “social war,” “this is for the Afghans,” and “down with NATO, down with capitalism.”  Walking toward the meeting grounds, protesters start dismantling billboards, security cameras, and ATMs.  With the protest still unable to start as police cordoned off the zone preventing more protesters from entering and those inside from leaving, the destruction begins to take on a new element.  A joint bank-pharmacy, like the customs office, goes up in flames sending huge waves of smoke into the sky.  Bus stations are obliterated with crow bars, street signs are thrown on developing barricade fires, and church doors are graffiti-ed with quotations from the Enlightenment.    The next target is a 6-story hotel which is pillaged and set on fire.  Shortly after, the police arrive with tear gas, forcing out the last protesters.  A cloud of tear gas envelopes the zone, reaching the assembled 30,000 protesters just 100 yards away.  Thousands are coughing and spraying serum into their eyes to alleviate the unbearable burning sensation.  Nevertheless, the speeches continue with the overwhelming majority condemning the police actions against the crowd.

The protest finally begins at roughly 3 o’clock as the large mass makes its way along the port to the entrance bridge into the city.  Thousands of riot police block the passage, forcing the protest to turn right and circle its way back into the embattled neighborhood.  Arriving at the railroad crossing over the entrance back into the neighborhood, the passage is once again blocked.  Police begin to close people in on both sides, shooting rubber bullets, tear gas, deafening grenades and spray from a water cannon.  Offices are once again smashed, a post office ransacked.  Rocks from the train tracks rain down on police who respond with more tear gas.  Police violence reaches a peak when they regain control of the tracks and corner a group of pacifists against a wall raining tear gas down upon them.  They consequently herd the defenseless and weary mass out of the port zone arresting anyone dressed in black.  In the end, roughly 300 are arrested – though only 12 remain in custody – with around 50 injured – ¼ of which are police.

Of course the following day the consensus in the media was shock and condemnation.  The only interesting perspective was that of residents in the ravaged working class neighborhood who directed their shock at the authorities who “allowed their community to be sacrificed.”  While they were confused and afflicted by the destruction of their neighborhood, they seemed to understand that a city which welcomes a NATO summit in the current environment will not come out unscathed.  To the contrary, a city which welcomes the 60th anniversary celebration of NATO’s war crimes must inevitably pay a heavy price.  Yet, they were the only ones forced to shoulder the burden.

Protest In France By Michael Galvin

March 22, 2009

Protest In France By Michael Galvin

Also published at: http://shiftshapers.gnn.tv/headlines/19939/French_Universities_Occupied_Against_Neo_Liberal_Reforms

French Universities Occupied Against Neo-Liberal Reforms

March 14, 2009

French Universities Occupied Against Neo-Liberal Reforms

Also posted at: http://www.guerrillanews.com/headlines/19939/French_Universities_Occupied_Against_Neo_Liberal_Reforms

The Money is the Matter – published Fall 2007

March 11, 2009

Note: This article was written shortly after a strike led by Students for a Democratic Society that attempted to shut down Macalester College for the Iraq War Moratorium.

Following the strike a couple Fridays ago, I was listening to WMCN [the college radio] and a kid was talking about what a success the strike was but simultaneously how he just didn’t understand why students at Macalester would strike.  He used the analogy of having an expensive magazine subscription and then just throwing out one of the issues in protest, to make the point that not going to a(n expensive) class at Macalester for the strike is just like throwing money away.  There we find a deeply rooted problem.  Time and education are seen in an apolitical light, in terms of the cents per moment, hundreds of dollars per hour, thousands of dollars per week that we pay for the privilege of educating ourselves at an elite private American college.  We are not here to make demands, we are not here to think about what things are done or how they are done, but rather, we are here to be grateful that we are granted private access – one of the select few to have a guaranteed future as a certified “global citizen-leader.”

Shift to France: In the last few weeks thousands of students have taken to the streets, shutting down classes, occupying buildings, massively resisting recent reforms by the newly elected right-wing government to begin privatization of the university system there.  Currently, the higher education system is almost fully funded by the state, open to all and almost universally free.  Students, teachers, and the supporters around the country have come out en masse to resist the new threats toward education as a public space – the educational commons.  Direct democracy, they claim, is a central tenet of the system that allows people to maintain their capacity to make demands, raise complaints, and demand educational justice to their government.

The new Pécresse laws which will massively reduce government funding to universities thereby encouraging private corporations to fill the gap (à la the American system), threaten this openness.  By allowing private corporations to pay for education instead of the public, universities will begin large scale competition with one another to attract the most lucrative offers.  Consequences include the institution of tuition fees, a significant decrease in access to all who seek education, a downsizing of departments considered less marketable, and a large gap emerging between funding for select Parisian schools and universities elsewhere in France.  In effect, there would be a fracturing effect in which access would emerge for a select few while leaving the rest of the population behind.

Yet, this system is not yet in place and thousands are mobilizing against it.  During the peak period of strike activity, a majority of France’s 84 universities were striking with students occupying and blockading more than two dozen.  High school students around the country are also mobilizing to resist measures rendering their futures more precarious.  In one of the hundreds of videos posted on the internet, thousands of high school and university students march and occupy the streets of Toulouse chanting “Students, Workers, Solidarity!” referring to the rail union strikes taking place around the country; however, through the American gaze, it seems as if they are highlighting their very possibility of solidarity with workers throughout the country.  This explicitly stated solidarity – and its tangible scale – is something unimaginable between students and workers in this country.  The ubiquitous democracy in the social and political resistance movements in France are obvious to anyone who cares to look.

Back in America, our education system is already fully and pervasively privatized and we are currently waging a disastrous war and occupation on a foreign country for the 5th year.  Yet, opposing the latter (or the former) seems an entirely overwhelming task – who do we talk to?  What do we do without a democratic means to express our discontent?  It is at this point that we begin to see the intersection of all of our problems.  If the French system facilitates democratic intervention on a mass scale against the beginning of privatizations, while our system allows an illegal war to begin and continue with ne’er a peep, how can we begin to sort out where one problem starts and another ends?  For one, realizing that STRIKING and stopping business as usual by disrupting your daily life in solidarity with millions of others around the country on the day of the Moratorium is more important than “wasting a couple hundred dollars,” is a start.

French Universities Occupied Against Neo-Liberal Reforms – Photos of Protests

March 11, 2009

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Marseille 23/2/09Marseille 23/2/09Marseille 23/2/09Marseille 23/2/09

My friend Pierrick calls me Tuesday afternoon with the news that the general assembly of students at his university voted for an occupation and blockade of academic buildings in reaction to the recent application of the Pécresse Law.  When we got to the auditorium of IEP (Institute of Political Studies, in Toulouse), students were mulling about, talking, chain-smoking and preparing the chains and barricades of tables and chairs for when the last classes of the day let out.  As soon as that happens, everything gets thrown up against the exits closing the institution off from the outside world while politicized students rule the halls of the interior, debating, holding meetings, eating and drinking as life goes on as normal on the outside.  According to Pierrick, this is only the third time that his university has ever been occupied – as it is adjacent to the right-wing law school – the previous time being in reaction to the passage of the Pécresse law last year when half of the universities in France were occupied and shut down by mobilized students for a period ranging from weeks to months.  Therefore, this is a movement that effectively began last year when the law was voted, went into a brief hibernation, and is now being revived in conjunction with the law’s application by the right-wing Sarkozy government’s minister of higher education Valéry Pécresse.  

Generally speaking, French universities are meticulously organized and highly democratic places.  For example, during mobilizations last year in only a two week period, there were over 48 general assemblies organized around the country with the vast majority having over 500 students in attendance.  Such massive organization of young people and ideas toward political ends is something that is unparalled in “public” institutions in the United States for example.  While the realization of such mobilization is largely due to the very open and militantly public and popular – in the literal sense – nature of French institutions of higher learning (in fact an often heard chant in protests is “For a critical and popular university”), many denigrate the fact that some French universities risk being blockaded for several months out of the year by certain ‘leftists’ preventing others from being able to attend their classes and actually get an education in the formal sense.  Yet the fact is that these occupations are organized and enacted democratically giving French students the possibility to understand how democracy works, take part in their system, and feel like they have a say in not only the democratic process that is higher education, but in the application of government policy as well; in other words, the experience is very educational.

This all may change however as the French government’s application of the Pécresse Law threatens the very root of these ideas.  In fact, the most amazing and scary thing is how strikingly American the changes appear.  Under the rubric of “Autonomy” and “Professionalization,” the Sarkozy government intends to liberalize the functioning of university administration and funding.  In terms of “Autonomy” the law calls for less funding from the state while pushing universities to take ownership of their own individual properties, and create foundations through which private money can fund or develop programs, which essentially means that the hand of the private sector will firmly take control of the current public system of education; and of course, these private funders could not go unrewarded.  By restructuring the university administration, diminishing the power of professors in choosing administrators and replacing these decision-making bodies with corporate board-like entities, the private sector interests will easily gain their foot in the door to affect not only the functioning of the institution but also curriculum.  This moves perfectly into the government’s “Professionalization” theme which strives to provide students with “orientation and professional insertion;” in other words, an education that will provide them with direct professional insertion into the marketplace, and preventing them from studying “unproductive” subjects like history or the humanities.  In fact, not only will there be large budget cuts in which less “useful” department and faculty will be axed, but there will be an increase in inscription fees, tuition, as well as increased competition between universities to create the best educational brand in order to attract the most desirable students.  All of this seems to foreshadow leaving the French in precisely the same predicament in which the American university exists today as even so-called public American universities are, on average, only 30% financed by the state with the rest coming from quintuple digit tuition for students, and “investments” from private corporations pushing their own research goals and profit interests, killing all possibility for an education that takes into account the situation of the society, its history and the collective interests that its individual citizens within it represent.  For me, the last few years has made this more and more clear.

Two years ago, while in the throes of the Bush administration and some of the worst moments of the war on and occupation of Iraq I wrote an article for an independent publication on the differences between American and French university protest movements entitled, “The Money is the Matter” (you can read the whole article up there ^), I was intensely frustrated by the insane discrepancy between the massive movement in France concerning the passage of a law that would begin privatizing the higher education system there, and the total lack of any movement within the already fully privatized higher education system in the United States after seven years of a bloody, imperialist and illegal war in Iraq.  However, the point of the article not only connected those two dots but argued that it was precisely this privatization and the social deformations that it engendered that allowed such exhorbatantly absurd atrocities to be committed without the slightest reaction.  The two went hand in hand; and in fact, no American universities were occupied due to the war. 

Nevertheless, the French seem to understand the American model and fortunately can learn from it – or rather, to avoid it.  The head of the prestigious Sorbonne in Paris recently wrote that “professionalizing higher education would be devastating.  Adapting to the needs of private corporations is not a good solution, because in a world of perpetual change, the needs of corporations are always changing thus leading to an education that after only a short time is outdated and useless.”  A major French newspaper Libération also recently ran an article in which four French professors with experience working in America commented on the neo-liberal American model and its application in France.  They write that such a system “claims to have confidence in the market but instead only serves to reinforce hierarchy.  The current reform, in reality, impoverishes the forms of solidarity that are effective in our societies.”  Thus, while the left is holding firm on the claim that the government should revoke the new law without any conditions, Sarkozy and his ministers are working to split the movement by seducing professors with compromises in an attempt to isolate the student movement.  While such backhanded efforts have succeeded in forcing past legislation and repressing popular dissent, the current atmosphere appears positive as more and more universities are erecting the barricades against the imported neo-liberal policies that strive to kill the very possibility to collectively organize to express dissent.

 

 

Original Quotations:

 

http://lafauteadiderot.net/spip.php?article143 ; The President of the Sorbonne:
« professionnaliser les études initiales serait dévastateur. S’adapter aux besoins des entreprises en travaillant à leur fournir une main-d’oeuvre hyperspécialisée n’est pas la bonne solution, parce que dans notre monde en perpétuel changement, les besoins des entreprises évoluent très vite, vouant à très court terme toute formation hypertechnique à être périmée. »

http://sciences.blogs.liberation.fr/home/2009/02/universits-le-v.html
Quatre enseignants-chercheurs français travaillant en Amérique proposent leur regard sur le « modèle libéral »; « il prétend faire confiance au marché alors qu’il ne fait que renforcer la hiérarchie. La réforme actuelle entérine en réalité la paupérisation générale des formes de solidarité qui affectent nos sociétés. »
 

2.5 Million Protest Government Response To Global Economic Crisis In France On ‘Black Thursday’

January 31, 2009

2.5 Million Protest Government Response To Global Economic Crisis In France On ‘Black Thursday’

Also posted at: http://guerrillanews.com/forum/thread.php?id=34097 and http://dprogram.net/2009/01/30/25-million-protest-government-response-to-global-economic-crisis-in-france-on-black-thursday/

Old Things New Things, Part 2: Capitalism

January 29, 2009

Americanization as a controversial subject in the francophone world, granted, is not new.  Jean-Luc Godard was obsessed with the subject treating it heavily in his films in the 1960s.  The film ‘Two or Three Things I Know About Her,’ for example, revolves around criticism of the American capitalist invasion and its effect on the speed and color of life.  More directly, ‘Made in the U.S.A.,’ an early imitation of the American conspiratorial thriller that took off most notably after Watergate, creatively blurs the boundaries between the two societies showing an Americanized world in France where car horns, planes and gun shots interrupt actors; money, blood and politics are equated; American corporate labels and consumerist images are rife, relative to the period; and the death of liberty and the left are represented side by side with the hunting and killing of communists.  For Godard this was a combat against an imperialism waged by foreign corporations intending to spread their advertisements everywhere in the public space, denegrate ideas and access to them, box people up in cars on big highways, and separate the political from the everyday.

Nevertheless, he would be even more disappointed today.  Not that any such invasion is complete, far from it; rather, it has just made more headway.  Looking around today, one sees suburban-American ‘banlieus residentielles’ sprouting up just beyond the tower blocks of the communist influenced ‘banlieus rouges’ of the 1950s and 60s.  Even in militantly anti-assimilationist Corsica, the concept of the modern American suburb has taken hold as communities 15 minutes from the sea have turned to the to-each-his-own-pool model.  This being a structure fully at odds with public transport, cars have taken over.  In turn, highways expand, take over new fields and farms, and necessarily produce cultural and gastronomic monstrosities alongside them like the seemingly omnipresent chain of Buffalo Grills.

 

Outback à la française - Boo-fah-lo Gah-reel

Yet, changes to the landscape are only the beginning as new anglicisms are constantly entering the vocabulary.  A short list after jotting words down for the last few months or so would be: fun, timing, speed, fast-food, cool, shit (meaning hash), spliff, weed, trip (in the acid sense of the term), low-cost, discount, business, leader, meeting, merchandising, (stock) trader, planning, marketing, lobbying, jogging, gym, footing, shopping, parking, star, designer, people (but only used for the rich and famous ones), fashion, hype and look.  English is considered, in a bourgeois sense, what is modern, efficient, and fashionable; in other words, everything having to do with Hollywood fashion magazines, drugs, business school, or exercise routines in which you wear a special outfit and run through parks in urban areas and/or on treadmills. 

While there are certain strains of criticism that go back to critiques of America during the McCarthy period etc., the most searing reactions nonetheless stem from the political changes in the 1980s.  Two books on the political history of France from this period answered a lot of my questions as to why France doesn’t just seem more to the left but actually is more of a socialist – if not even communist in rare instances – society.  Coming out of the two oil crises in the early and late 1970s, the world was – as the story goes – in crisis.  America and Britain, both fearing the idea of society living or dying as a whole, voted for a new politics in the form of Margaret Thatcher (1979) and Ronald Reagan (1980).  The story is well-known now: the neoliberalization of the markets, increasing inequality of wealth, and not only an end to social services (with a decrease in funding of said departments by 80% in the US) but the death of the social: the idea that people live together in a society, that politics and philosophy have meaning, and that everyone can and should have a say in the direction of our collective destiny.*

However, on the other side of the Channel the French elected François Mitterrand, a socialist, in 1981.  To say that there were clashes between the three governments would be an understatement.  Mitterrand once stated that the only reason he even dealt with America was due to its undeniable geopolitical prowess.  Relations were tense.  One of the books shows dialogue from three meetings between Reagan and Mitterrand in 1981 and 1982 in which the two are at each other’s throats.  In 1982, Reagan even tried to force France to break relations with the USSR as he considered Mitterrand to be an agent for international communism during the beginning of his presidency.  While Mitterrand maintained relatively close relations with the Soviets, visiting Moscow often during the 15 years he was in power, he did not consider himself a Marxist.  He does however talk at one point about appreciating Marx, thus the inspiration for his campaign theme ‘socialisme à la française.’

Consider this profound difference though: during 15 years of socialist governance, France largely saved itself from the enormous physical, social, and economic destruction that the US underwent, and forced on large parts of the world.  Though the pressure on Mitterrand to crumble under the weight of immense neoliberal international forces, he largely held his ground.   The effects of this are palpable as people commonly use words like solidarity, the collectivity, strikes, unions, the left, anticapitalism, antiglobalization, Marxism, and even communism (in a positive light). 

Today this was all put into action as an estimated 2.5 million French people took to the streets in a national general strike demonstrating their disdain for the government’s reaction to the economic crisis, giving 360 billion euros to banks and large corporations, and pursuing their ‘reforms’ in the pillage of social services, most notably health and education.  In Toulouse there was an estimated 80,000 strikers – or a tenth of the population – filing together around the city for most of the afternoon and evening, carrying banners, shooting fire-crackers, distributing flyers, chanting, talking, and graffiti-ing the windows of the multi-nationals.  It was not only a day of action in which people confronted the right-wing Sarkozy government’s policies, but one in which people showed that solidarity with one another is more important than another day of pursuing one’s career and personal goals, and that our collective reaction to this crisis can affect the future course of the world.  If only more around the world would take notice of the French example, stop their daily routine, and take action against neoliberal government bail-outs giving billions in public funds to the prime capitalist offenders, we would actually be able to construct a new and better world in the ruins of an unjust and imperialist capitalist one.

*Ronald Reagan however did not give a shit as evidenced by such famous quotations as ‘There is no such thing as society, only individuals and their families’ and ‘Government cannot solve our problems, government is the problem.’

On a tract distributed at the strike: “Two centuries of capitalism and business nihilism have left us at the extreme of absurdity, for oneself, for others, for the world.  The individual, this fiction, has decomposed at the same speed that he has come to be realized as such.”

An SDF on politics and religion

December 9, 2008

The verb flâner in French literally means to stroll around a city for the hell of it.  It makes sense they have this verb here because the cities are amazingly beautiful just to look at and be in.  For this reason I have gotten into the habit of exploring on off days.

Passing by one of the large World War I statues honoring the dead ‘pour la gloire de la France’ which you find everywhere here, I saw what appeared to be a homeless man waking up from an afternoon nap.  Surrounded by a grocery cart filled with plastic bags, 2 dogs and a pot of spaghetti, he looked up at me and smiled.  I approached him on my bike, dismounted, and thought I’d ask him if he needed money for food or something to break the ice.  Though it seemed like a rather condescending question since he wasn’t there asking anyone for anything, I knew he’d hear my accent and forget to think twice to judge me.  This was one of the few moments where being a foreigner seemed advantageous.  Not only did I know he wouldn’t immediately judge me, but I also knew that I could ask him stupid questions and generally be nosy about his life situation without offending him, playing it off, at best, as intercultural curiousity or, at worse, ignorance.  The latter being the case in this instance, my first idiotic question after handing him the 2 euro piece was, ‘So, you sleep in the street all the time?  You must not like it.’  I realized I had to say something else when he gave me the blankest of blank stares.  ‘Uh, it must be really hard.’  That was better I guess ’cause he said, ‘Yeah, it’s hard.’  I then played the wildcard and said, ‘Oh I’m sorry, I’m from North America and I don’t really know how anything works here.’  This seemed to change his mood.  From now on he could teach me a thing or two and I could just stand and listen.

Over the course of the next few minutes Marcel introduces himself and his dogs Bozo and Daurade, two beautiful and shockingly clean specimens who he referred to as his children.   Marcel has lived in the street for 33 years.  My mouth was gaping when he told me this.  When I asked him how that was possible his response was confused.  It just seemed to be comme ça.  Yet, Marcel hasn’t always slept on the same corner.  He has traveled, living on the streets – and sometimes in the woods – all over France and even going to Rome once.  I asked if he spoke Italian and he laughed.  I asked how it was possible for him to live on the street in a non-French speaking country and he laughed again.  He just spoke French to people apparently.  I suppose that’s not as strange as I thought at the time.  Frequently when I see what appear to be homeless people on the street in France they have the appearance of coming from somewhere else.

Following this, our rapport seemed to sink into a certain comfortability.  He got out some photos and newspapers clippings.  There was Marcel on the street holding a small child… a friend he says.  There was Marcel on the street with someone dressed up like Santa.  The clippings were more intriguing.  One clipping with him looking like your standard raving-mad-homeless-man in the picture (whose online article can be found at http://www.ladepeche.fr/article/2007/12/18/420055-Un-SDF-qui-creve-dans-la-rue-ils-en-ont-rien-a-foutre.html) was on the subject of SDFs (meaning sans domicile fixe or lacking a fixed address) who die of the cold in the street.  The title, ‘Un SDF qui crève dans la rue, ils en ont rien à foutre !’ meaning ‘Homeless people are dying in the street and nobody fucking cares!’ was a direct quote from Marcel.  He was very proud.  In the article he goes on to say that nobody cares about the homeless, ‘not social workers, not firemen.’  He says he has asked for an apartment but was always refused, government employees even making fun of his request.  ‘Why are there all these fucking empty apartments everywhere?  They could at least let us sleep inside them.  Is that too much to ask?  We aren’t born to live in shit our whole lives.’*

Marcel’s ferocity intrigued me.  It is absurd what he has gone through.  The article mentions problems with alcohol as well as emotional ups and downs that led him to the street in the first place.  Despite a government plan creating 100,000 – a rough estimate of the number of SDFs in France – new accomodations in shelters beginning last winter, it is not so easy for him to find a place because of his dogs.  However, I can’t but be amazed at the fact he was in the newspaper in France with his photo, tirades, and all.  American newspapers would never spotlight the life and concerns of someone so utterly powerless.  In fact, over the last month as the weather has gotten colder and colder, there have been seemingly constant news coverage of dying SDFs.  Recently, a 6th homeless person was discovered dead in their unheated caravan near Paris.  This seemed to spark a national debate.  The poorest of the poor were dying in the streets and people were paying attention; the press was paying attention; the right-wing government was discussing policy, and the president’s 4 or 5 minute speech on the subject was broadcast on the radio in full.  I heard it at least twice.

Nevertheless, following Marcel’s appearance in the press last year, blasting ineffectual government, he was finally ‘dealt with’ by the authorities.  Marcel said he was put into a ‘psychiatric hospital’ and not allowed to leave for one month.  My mouth gaped even wider this time.  How is that fucking possible?!  How can they just lock you up like that, I said.  He sorta shrugged, and said after a month he just left the place.  After looking into it, it turns out that according to degree n° 2006-556 made law on 17 May 2006, the French state is allowed to take homeless people deemed pathologically incapable of rationally making decisions on the status of their shelter – or lackthereof –  into custody for a period not to exceed two months.  ‘Lits Halte Soins Santé’ or Halt Bed Health Care centers are places where these SDFs are put into state custody for mental health care as well as a social accompaniment – presumably for reinsertion into society.  However, considering that common practice in the United States is to criminalize homelessness outright, thus putting the homeless in jails and prisons as criminals and consequently destroying their record and possibility for a later smooth re-entrance into society, the French solution no longer appears entirely irrational and inordinately inhumane.  Nevertheless, Marcel’s insistance that he was held against his own will for an entire month in a government institution tarnishes the ideal of the perhaps well-intentioned social services that exist for people in precarious social positions.

Following this discussion, which I felt was illuminating and surprisingly politicized, our conversation went slightly downhill.  Marcel made me hold the prized cross around his neck.  He talked spiritually about what the horse shoe, the big A, the fish and the other thing on it meant.  I didn’t really follow but it sounded a bit crazy.  He then started giving me all this Catholic literature, prayer cards, a sheet with “La Prière de St. Germaine de Pibrac” on it, and some other junk.  He then offered to show me some knives.  I felt like the conversation was going on a little bit too long.  I didn’t feel threatened, just more in the mood to continue on my way than to look at his knives.  I said I’d pass by later though.

When I saw Marcel later that night, he was in the same place cooking a small piece of meat on a small gas grill.  He seemed to be crying.  I excused myself for not passing by sooner in the day and he said, ‘No No, It’s fine, it’s no big deal.’  He told me he usually sleeps on my route into town so we’d see each other soon, and we wished each other a good night.

* original text: “Même pas les pompiers, même pas les assistantes sociales : j’ai demandé un appartement. Refusé ! Les gens se sont toujours foutus de ma gueule. Pourquoi ? Et pourquoi y a des putains d’appartements qui sont vides, là ? Au moins qu’ils nous laissent dormir dedans. C’est beaucoup demander, ça ? J’ai tellement les glandes… On n’est pas nés pour vivre dans la merde.”