We will not negotiate with the disturbers of the peace! Let us defend the principle of the paying user!
In spite of what my previous post may have suggested, Montreal was not actually a haven of peace when I visited a few weeks ago. In fact, I found myself frequently reminded of the fact that protesting, street strikes, and unruly and unrepentant students are quintessentially French. After all, even if Occupy Wall Street made some inroads into American culture over this past year or so, it can not compete with the well-established Gallic tradition of demanding
privileges rights via belligerent energetic street gatherings.
My first encounter with strikes the French way was before I ever came to live in France. I was scheduled to start my semester as an exchange student in Montpellier at the beginning of January 2008. The semester started a whole month later thanks to a bunch of unruly, or should I say principled, students who abounded at my artsy ‘fac’ (the French word for university and yes, it did provoke lots of laughter with native English speakers. If those French students had been more linguistically inclined they could have played on words to come up with an alliterative slogan expressing their desire to damn their institutes of higher learning, but as profanity is
usually not used on this blog, I’ll leave it at that). Montpellier III, as opposed to the science and law (and order) Montpellier I or the medical Montpellier II, had a large population of philosophically-aware (and bored) students who were willing to put their joints academic careers on hold long enough to protest.
What exactly they were protesting I never figured out because the strike ended before I got there (not without trouble involving ticket rebooking to a later date). But friends told me it was an all-out war, with the student union issuing a warning to any professor who dared try to teach or any student who dared show up to class. Of course my Polish pals were counter-revolutionary (aren’t we always) and found it to be loads of fun to barricade themselves in classrooms with lone professors and hold class in whispers. By the time I arrived on campus, the revolutionary fervor had died down and visibly consisted of unkempt youths with straggly beards wearing potato sacks as pants (sorry, never understood that fashion) sitting on the grass in the midday sun, smoking ferociously, putting out cigarette butts in plastic coffee cups, and growling revolutionary (so I presume) slogans towards each other. I have a fond memory from that time of walking by a youth adding yet another layer of spray paint to the graffiti-covered walls. Bewildered, he turned to me to ask whether the participe passé he was about to use needed an ‘e’ tacked on at the end or not. ‘Tis a fine principle to adhere to: When in doubt about the passé composé, trust a foreigner for a better grasp of French grammar…
That was my first introduction to Revolution a la Francaise, but certainly not my last. Over the years I was subjected to: mass transit strikes on Lyon’s biggest tourist holiday during the winter, smaller-scale transit strikes throughout the year (usually staged at exactly the time when I was lugging a huge suitcase or two to the airport), air traffic control strikes (always staged at the time when I was trying to leave/return to Lyon OR better yet, whenever I was organizing an event in Lyon), strikes of city bicycle maintenance people, strikes of cooks who didn’t want to thoroughly fry the steak I had ordered, and finally, strikes related to the raised retirement age. (Only one of the former is
entirely somewhat made up. I have a strange aversion to meat that is still half alive and bleeding).
I wrote last year, and my opinions haven’t had reason to change since then:
Today, 2000 ’students’ took to the streets of Lyon to add the crash of smashed store-window glass and the giddy cries accompanying stealing purses to the voices of the labor unions, crying out for weeks already in protest of government plans to raise the general retirement age.
The strike movement has been going on for a few weeks (or is it months, if you count breathing spells?) by now but only recently have labor union leaders and failed presidential candidates had the brilliant idea of strengthening their ranks with hormone-rocked teenagers.
In a way, that the movement should reach young people is not surprising. French people protest everything. Or rather, a minority of French people vocally protest something that goes against their personal interests, and the rest of the population tolerates them, all the while complaining about the disruption. Complaining is a national hobby of the French, as they themselves are first to admit, and as far as I can see most strikes here nowadays aren’t motivated by terrible working conditions for children in coal mines or anything that might have originally motivated protest a hundred years ago. Workers retire at 62, or even earlier (if they work for state-owned corporations – ie for the SNCF, which has gone on strike again now, the average age is 52). Strikes by now are just a social pastime, a hobby, a certain way of life, a way of complaining.
Historical background aside, inciting bored kids and teenagers to join ’social movements’ which consist of yelling and spewing hatred is a retarded idea. They’re not excited about the issues at stake; they don’t even understand the issues at stake. Right now, it’s about throwing rocks under the pretext of ‘common good’. They will protest a lost soccer game with the same vehemence if given a chance, and given grownups’ blessings. A reporter caught a young girl sporting the “CGT” sticker and asked her if she could tell him why she was protesting – she didn’t even know what CGT (Confederation Generale de Travail, one of the oldest and largest trade unions) stands for.
How is this relevant to my weekend jaunt in Montreal? Well, I’ve already shown you the building neighboring my hotel:
Restons fort! Let’s stay strong! Merci de ne pas lacher! Thanks for not giving up!
What, you may ask, has incensed the youth of Quebec so strongly? Who are these evil forces they must stand strong against?
The evil, wicked, bad, fat, and ugly government which after 20 (!) years of debate is increasing their college tuition by $350 per year. Apparently, “tuition fees in Quebec have been all but frozen since the days following Expo ’67, and that the “intolerable” 75% increase proposed through a phasing-in would raise basic undergraduate tuition fees to only $3,792 a year.”
Oh the injustice!
I would certainly resort to smoking weed, walking around in my underclothes, and putting traffic cones on historical monuments were I to be subjected to something this awful.
There! That will teach them!