Like every Thursday, when I came home from work this afternoon, I found the latest issue of L'Express in my mailbox. And like every week, the currently hottest topic in French socity was presented on the front page in bold letters. Today, the title read: "Faut-il donner raison aux jeunes?", asking if the youth might be right in protesting as they have over the last month or so.
I wonder this myself, the distant observer that I am. Distant because I have not gone on strike nor participated in any manifestation or even stood by watching. I've lived my life as if nothing had happened. With the next big day of action called for Tuesday, I'm seriously considering whether that should change. Should I spend the day in downtown Grenoble following all that unfolds from close range? It might be a good opportunity to take some memorable photos providing it finally stops raining, but I doubt I'll go on strike for that. In that case I would lose a day of pay, and my pictures are certainly not worth it. Maybe I'll take the day off to get a better impression of what's currently shaking France.
As it is, these days the social and political situation is highly volatile. The demonstrations have reached an unprecedented amplitude, and all in the protest movement are firmly united in their goal. They want Dominique de Villepin, the prime minister, to shelve a recently signed law designed to curb youth unemployment by making hiring and firing more flexible. For the unions and students, no negotiations are acceptable. Details don't matter. The thing must go. With the strange dynamics that large movements often exhibit, the "must go" cry is now on the verge of being directed at the prime minister himself.
Absent from most discussions and from all banners that are being carried through French cities are alternative strategies for improving the staggering youth unemployment rate in France. And L'Express completely misses the point as well in the posing question that got me started today. The answer can obviously only be, non, il faut leur donner du travail. Work is needed. So far, de Villepin seems to be the only one with any plan.