I know, politics is boring and I don’t know anything about it, but in a week dominated by strike action in France and the budget review in the UK I can’t ignore it completely. I think the most interesting thing about the situations in France and the UK at the moment is surely the way the respective populations are reacting to similar news….
In France the proposal to raise the retirement age by a couple of years has led to blocades, protests and rioting followed by the country grinding to a halt as petrol runs out, trains are cancelled and rubbish remains uncollected in some cities.
Meanwhile in the UK the news that 490,000 jobs will be lost, and the retirement age increased sooner than expected, appeared to generate a few grumbles but little else.
I can’t begin to imagine the level of strikes and demonstrations we would see in France if that level of job losses was on the cards – although France is said to have three times as many government employees as the UK. It is also said that more than 50% of the population of France support the current widespread strike action against their own changes.
It is easy for Brits to say that the French aren’t accepting the reality – that living longer inevitably means working longer. Likewise a French person might be baffled be the resigned acceptance in Britain that what the State says must be right and there’s no point protesting about it.
Assuming there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but rather a ‘difference of opinion’ I wonder how two countries so geographically close can react so differently. When the BBC interviewed various people in France about the situation the responses were mixed (see here), including someone who said:
‘English people might say nothing but the French always will go to the street to say it. And sometimes I think all the European countries are looking at France and thinking that we say the things that they don’t in their own countries‘.
Do people in the UK really wish they could take to the streets and show their discontent? Or would most French really prefer just to get on quietly with their jobs? Similarly in a local newspaper here someone said:
‘we voted in Sarkozy to make changes but not so many changes, or so fast‘
I found this surprising since I thought changes seemed a bit slow coming…is it that the French are more resistant to change? Or simply more willing to fight for what they believe? Someone (French) told me yesterday he thought the French were very naive when it came to matters of government finance, but I don’t really understand why the average French person ‘in the street’ would know any more or less about state finances than the average Brit.
Perhaps the French have the legacy of the Revolution at the back of their minds, while the Brits turn instead to the legacy of the Thatcher Years?
I’d love to hear any ideas or comments on how or why such differences have come about or insights into whether Brits would prefer to be taking to the streets. I’ll read them later when I get back from the the petrol station – word is that a tanker has been seen delivering diesel, so I can’t hang about now, it might be weeks before another one turns up…