“Black Thursday: Organize Your Carpooling!” That was the headline Wednesday afternoon on French newspaper Le Figaro’s website, in advance of a trade union strike set to hit Thursday.
Which industries? Anything government run — from teachers and transport workers to Air France and the court system. This, despite the fact that center-right President Nicolas Sarkozy just handed down a stimulus plan worth 26 billion Euros, and even promised 600 million Euros to French newspapers in the form of government advertising and a free subscription for every 18-year old in France…who probably haven’t read non-electronic forms of news in their lives. What do these socialists want, as they threaten to hold the country for ransom? More money. Naturally. A consumer bailout — which, if you think about it, is redundant when you’re already double-fisting from the government trough.
Still, the strike is set to move ahead, all while former Socialist Party leader, Segolene Royal, swans around promoting her new book in true capitalist form, complaining that Sarkozy once offered her chocolate and flashed his watch (the socialist equivalent of indecent exposure).
Because to leftists in France, offering a woman something as sexist as chocolate, and flashing watches is uncouth — and it doesn’t seem to matter what Sarkozy does, or what reforms he tries to enact, he’s forever hamstrung by this nonsense of symbolism and of having to balance every meaningful act of reform with useless appeasement. Symbolism still matters more than substance in France — and overcoming that is Sarkozy’s biggest challenge.
For example, with Sarkozy’s recent Cabinet shuffling — and his hardcore former Immigration Minister, Brice Hortefeux, being moved to Labor in order to play some much needed “bull-in-a-china-shop” in light of this strike — the media has found the mere introduction of a new minister enough of an excuse to drag the issue of DNA testing African immigrants to France back up to the surface.
How racist, right? Well, no. It’s hardly the Sarkozy government’s — or anyone else’s — fault that so many immigrants from these former French colonies in Africa have some version of “Mohammed” somewhere in their name, and that any forensic artist asked to draw them based on verbal description would come up with an image of a single person – and he would be correct.
This isn’t a bar we’re talking about — it’s a country. And, “Yeah, I’m totally related to that guy. He’s my brother. See? We look like twins! And we both have the same last name: Mohammed!” doesn’t fly. Which is why DNA testing is an obvious practical necessity.
But for every one of those hardcore, practical measures that causes French newspapers to bleed ink and clear cut entire forests, Sarkozy has to do something silly and symbolic. Like give out 26 billion Euros in bailout funds, foolishly thinking that it would be enough to appease the unions, Socialists, or various other varieties of leftists that plague the country. Or he feels the need to preach “climate change” to the European Union, when polls have recently shown — just shortly thereafter — that with the new economic crisis, and the world now having real issues to worry about beyond fairytale junk, “climate change” is the last thing anyone cares about at this point.
Then there was his appointment of two ethnic minority women to his Cabinet — which was done to show France how not to be racist. How do we know this? Well, because Sarkozy had a press conference for the announcement of one of these appointments, in which he highlighted the ethnic women in his Cabinet, and explained that America had a couple of these, too: Condi Rice and Colin Powell. I’m sorry, but …man, that’s racist.
Sadly, Sarkozy obviously felt the need to try so hard to be symbolically non-racist that he was lining them up like Fashion Week at the United Nations. Last I checked, the French weren’t suffering from a collective eyesight problem, and probably don’t need to be told, “Here’s a black one, here’s an Arab one…” Next time, just let them figure it out, okay?
As a political strategist, I typically advise politicians to conduct their most jarring reforms at the very outset of their mandate, so that by the time the next election cycle kicks in, the results are obvious and the anger has dissipated. But what Sarkozy is doing is akin to sinking into an ice bath one centimeter at a time. It’s a much different strategy, and only time will tell if it will work. Certainly it has served to stabilize his popularity at around 50%. But bold results require bold actions. And this isn’t the first time these unions have held the country hostage during Sarkozy’s tenure — they did so in 2007, bringing the country to a standstill over pension issues. Nor will it be the last.
What would I advise him to do with public workers striking en masse this week? Easy. Fire them — or pass Thatcher style anti-union legislation. He certainly has the parliamentary numbers. That’s what majorities are for! Use it or lose it.
This is an old, classic blockbuster movie with two installments already — previously starring Ronald Reagan (a former Hollywood actors union chief who went on to fire 13,000 striking air-traffic controllers), and Margaret Thatcher, respectively. France would be a great location for yet another sequel.