Stormy days in the city of light
Maybe it`s because the end of the year is approaching, but recent news headlines have sent me eandring down memory lane. Yesterday Zimba...
Maybe it`s because the end of the year is approaching, but recent news headlines have sent me eandring down memory lane. Yesterday Zimbabwe, today Paris. The phrase that caught my attention, was "Spark in Athens. Fire in Paris. Insurrection is coming."
The words were scrawled in French, on the side of a cultural institution under attack by demonstrating students, soon to be joined by professors and trade unions.
Could this be a flashback to the 60’s when France was literally closed down for weeks on end while workers occupied factories. students battled daily with the CRS (French para-military units).
Students and were protesting against the policies of President Charles de Gaulle, seeking greater sexual freedom, including access to girl’s dormitories, and an improvement in access to education, at the head of a long list of demands. The students were led by a German-French anarchist, Known because of his politics and matching hair color as Danny Le Rouge (Danny the Red) who in later life went on become a leading light in the Green Pary movement in Germany.
My first intimation that things were heating up came one night on the Left Bank, when I was stopped by machine gun toting copy who were blocking the road while Jean Paul Satre was speaking at in a nearby Arts center. I didn’t give the right answers to some rapid fire questions, and was hustled off with other to a police wagon and transported to the Prefecture, where I was treated politely, but made to wait for hours for my brief interrogation.
It opened with the statement, framed as a question, that I was a student. When I denied it, the interrogator said I looked like a student , and where was my work permit to prove I wasn’t. (The permit was tied up somewhere in the bowels of the prefecture after months of form filling.) I was politely told to “sit over their and wait a while”. The while became hours, and when I was finally released my night on the town was over.
Soon after, the great occupation began. From a small factory in a Paris suburb, where the manager was locked in his office while the workers took over, the occupations spread across the country, factories, ports, airports, and France ground to a halt.
The occupations were orderly. A golfing companion who headed Sopalin, the French division of Kleenex, said that the factory had never been so clean, and the unions maintained order and ran soccer leagues, while making sure there was no hanky panky between male and female workers.
The students continued their battles across France. In Paris they occupied the Odeon, and ran round the clock speech sessions, open to all. Medical students acted as para-medics to attend injured students and cops, as pietons (road paving stones) were hurled as a counter to tear gas grenades, and old ladies dropped flowerpots from balconies on the hated CRS
The workers initially despised the students as "sons of the upper bourgeoisie"... "who will quickly forget their revolutionary flame in order to manage daddy's firm and exploit workers.”.
But as police brutality increased, workers and students joined forces and a general strike was called.
As the country headed to anarchy, tanks moved into Paris, and De Gaualle stage managed a gigantic parade of Gaullists trucked in to the Place de La Concorde, led by veterans in wheelchairs and tricolor slashed deputies.
He dug a long forgotten phrase out of the grammar books to describe his opponents as chien lits (roughly, bed-wetters) The revolution was over.
Will history repeat itself as the financial crisis deepens?