Monday, April 03, 2006

Protests Here, Protests There, Protests Everywhere

Student protests in France, in the United States, and global economics are all sweetly linked in a piece by
Jim Hoagland of the “Washington Post.” The theme is generational conflict.

The opening is a meditation on French street politics; the world’s most dramatic over the past 1000 years or so. “The French and protests go together like horse and carriage, love and marriage and other natural partners.”

Indeed. Their democracy is one of the best. Here, millions march in the cities in opposition to the war and the (p)resident commends himself on allowing them to “speak their minds.” In France, the deal is tacit. “You get enough people in the street, for long enough, you win. We pull the law you don’t like."

Of course, these things tend to get violent which is the only time there’s real movement, and French protestors come to play. They have a deep tradition in barricades. It is too bad, that leaders should permit things to develop dangerously. The state monopoly on violence comes with a responsibility. Misuse it and you lose it.

“France has moved into one of its periodic dangerous seasons, in which a conservative government has acted as if its fate and the chances for the country’s future economic growth depended on facing down or outlasting massive street protests. Both 1789 and 1968 remind how such calculations can misfire in France.

“Protestors have filled the streets this spring to define themselves and their nation more clearly and aggressively than most of the world would ever care or dare to attempt. The young rebels follow the Cartesian rigor taught in the universities that they are boycotting: I protest, therefore I am.”

For all its Frenchness, the writer sees in the protests over a new employment law, a link to what’s happening here on the immigration front. “In all developed countries, the forces of globalization are changing the rules and even the nature of work – just as demographic patterns are forcing a re-examination of the implicit social contract between young and old.”

There is, Hoagland continues, a “looming conflict between the economic interests of the young, who are just starting careers, and of their elders, who are in or moving into retirements that almost no industrialized country has set aside the funds to finance.”

A point requiring interjection from highwayscribery: There is a lot of talk about pensions and how the western democracies somehow can’t afford them. There is less about how the situation arose.

Those pension promises were based on a different model of industrial employment. When everything became lean and mean, subject to the daily and changing wind of electronic-age Wall St., the number of employees thinned with mature workers being bought out and their jobs left vacant and attributed to attrition. They called it “downsizing” and it remains a common outgrowth of all those mergers you read about. Somebody’s marketing department has got to go, you see.

The point is don’t blame the pensioners. Their resistance can be attributed to self-preservation and money, yes, but also to a sense of outrage at how badly things have been screwed up.

Anyway, the point is, the lines are drawn and there is a battle to be avoided for youth must be served.

Hoagland concludes:

“It is time to forge new global and generational social contracts to recognize and mitigate the inequities that a new world of change fosters.. By raising their voices, France’s young and America’s migrants have called attention to that need.”


Elsewhere, the editor of “Zeta” newspaper in Tijuana, Jesus Blancocornelas, has decided to step down. He has long been at war with corrupt local officials and the drug trade in that dangerous NAFTA city. His partner was killed a number of years ago by bodyguards of the present day Mayor Jorge Hank Ron, whose ascendance may have had something to do with the editor’s departure. Or maybe at 69 Blancocornelas was just tired of driving around with bodyguards. You have to wonder if he’ll ever be truly safe, especially with his son succeeding him.

These are extremely brave journalists. Their daily commitment to saving what shreds of civil society remain in Mexico is a daily date with death, too. They kill reporters in Mexico and they don’t do it nicely. the scribe would not strike such a battle. He’s a product of preexisting rights. Take them, lose him, which is more common than what Blancocornelas has been up to.

The “San Diego Union-Tribune” ran a piece on the top ten protest songs.

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