Bread and Roses

Why They Fight

Greetings from high above the streets of Paris, where the biggest labor battle in a decade is taking place.

As I strolled the streets last night you could feel the tension in the air. The strike had begun, across the country transport workers were walking off the job. At many of the nation’s universities, students barricaded themselves in. And on the streets, people talked into mobile phones about how they would get to work tomorrow and things to pick up at the store today in case tomorrow it is too complicated.

The issue at stake: the French government’s plan to alter the pension plans for public sector workers, decreasing benefits and increasing the minimum retirement age.

Of course like most of his fellow leaders, president Sarkozy says the country must do this in order to survive and cut spending. We’ve heard similar stories throughout Europe, it is the conventional wisdom of our time. Even when citizens have tried to resist, the result is usually only a delay in what has become an inevitable practice of cutting spending and reducing benefits for workers.

While I’m certainly not an economist, I can completely understand the actions of French unions in an effort to resist these reforms. If they hope to retain any significance when it comes to decision making and rights in the years to come, now is the time to make their stand. Unfortunately as in many western countries, it almost feels inevitable that the unions will have to cave-in to the big machine known as the global economy, which thrives on eating up benefits and job security and spits out anyone that still clings to these ideals.

And so it is day 1 of the strike, time to hit the streets, and hope for the best.

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