On the ground in France

ON THE GROUND IN FRANCE…. There’s been a fair amount of domestic coverage this week about austerity measures being debated in France, and the ensuing protests from workers who’ll bear the brunt of the cutbacks.

Stephen Hill, in Europe for a 20-city tour, published an item for his Washington Monthly project yesterday, reporting from Paris.

The headlines are ablaze with reports of strikes in France, and the strikes are getting increasingly intense. As the date arrived for the Senate to vote on the legislation to increase the retirement age (the lower house, the National Assembly, already had passed it), things began coming to a head.

Protesters blockaded Marseille’s airport and strikers shut down fuel depots which in turn caused a quarter of the nation’s gas stations to run out of fuel. More young people joined the fray, barricading high schools and taking to the streets nationwide. Some of them were masked and hooded, raising fears of a replay of the banlieue youth riots back in November 2005 in which 10,000 cars were burned. Vehicles have been set on fire and overturned. Police turned to teargas and helicopters to try and control the situation as the Senate vote loomed (update: the Senate passed the legislation on Friday October 22, but the unions, students and other protesters say their direct actions will continue). […]

The media has been reporting that the French are protesting the increase of their retirement age from 60 to 62, but this is only part of the proposed legislation. It also raises the age for retirement with FULL benefits from 65 to 67. Most of the French retiring early do so with only partial benefits. This is an important distinction, yet most media outlets have stubbornly refused to report it. It seems that they have decided that the French are whiners and complainers — come on, is 62 years old for retirement really such a bad deal? — and want their news audiences to think that too. But that’s not the entire story, many French effectively are having their retirement age increased to 67, not 62 as widely reported. It’s amazing to me that the media can’t get this simple distinction right. Perhaps they don’t want to.

It’s a helpful take on recent events and the larger context. Take a look.