Vive le strike, vive la France

French transport workers are facing off with the French government.

French transport workers began an open-ended strike Wednesday in retaliation to pension cuts proposed by President Nicolas Sarkozy. The strike has severely crippled public transportation throughout the country, and is a monumental standoff between public-sector workers and the six-month-old Sarkozy government. Sarkozy is unwavering in his position, and France might see a victory for the government.

Analysts are relating this “battle of wills” to Margaret Thatcher’s squash of the miners’ union in Britain and Reagan’s win over the airline workers’ union in the ’80s. Both resulted in a shift of power, asserting the leaders and governments position on striking as stern and unwavering.

Striking seems to be a raison d’être for the French, and they are hardened veterans to the inconveniences that arise as a result. They are no strangers to the strike, and the French understand the tremendous power that citizens possess when they band together in opposition. When French workers strike, it usually produces results. In 1995, the last time a government tried to reform pension plans, a strike ensued that all but shut down the country for three weeks, forcing them to abandon the reforms.

The idea that the government is afraid of the people seems to be the fading magic of the semisocialist France and of a true democracy.

Perhaps what is so fascinating about the French strikes is that the situation is so vastly different here. The American government isn’t as afraid of us as much as we are afraid of them. Our government operates on a fear-control model; they want us to be afraid of authority, debt, health, crime, terrorism and employers – which makes for a much more manageable public.

Whether the pension reforms proposed by Sarkozy are in the best interest of France is up to the French to decide. However, let’s hope the people of France don’t lose their power over this battle. They are a good testament to the power of action and the kind of change that can come about when citizens unite in protest.