No one does a good riot like the French. But is this really just 1789 all over again?
In the last ten years, this medium-sized country has rioted about police harassment and brutality, class frustrations, rising unemployment, and even unpaid internships. During the riots of 1968 French students put their Columbia University counterparts to shame by tearing up cobble stones and creating makeshift barricades to use against anti-riot police forces—the violence escalating until it eventually caused the collapse of the De Gaulle government. Yes, rioting seems to be an intrinsic element of the Francophile consciousness, with modern France built on the backbone of those protesting unjust leadership during the French Revolution.
However, France today isn’t overthrowing a monarchical caste system but rather the hegemony of class and wage. Yesterday, such anger and frustration at the current economic situation in France came to a head as Francois-Henri Pinault, chairman and CEO of PPR (whose subsidiaries include Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, and Bottega Veneta among others), was held captive in his taxi for almost an hour by a group of disgruntled employees unhappy at the recent announcement that PPR is planning major layoffs in the upcoming months.
This comes hot on the heels of an incident on Tuesday where four directors at a major French employer were blocked from leaving their offices by employees demanding improved conditions. While it would be easy to say that workers shouldn’t be targeting their rage at ‘helpless’ employers who are looking to stave off bankruptcy—and their own unemployment—the fact is that what these protestors are asking for are rather simple requests, like being able to support their families, plan for the future, and keep their jobs. Though many of the rioters tactic’s may be dubious at best, the real question isn’t “why are they rioting?” it’s why aren’t we?