French morons are at the moment blockading oil refineries, disrupting fuel supplies and bringing the country to a standstill.
The riot police are trying to disperse the mobs with tear gas and water cannon, but so far without much success. As pumps run dry, police are trying to protect petrol attendants from the wrath of stranded motorists.
One such man was hit on the head with a baseball bat, an implement that sells in hundreds of thousands in both France and England, even though no one plays baseball in either country.
Every poll shows that the majority of the French support the rioters and not the government. Alas, it’s the wrong kind of people disapproving of the government for all the wrong reasons.
So what’s the fun? – as Dickens’s Mr Jingle once asked. Well, you see, noticing that France’s economy is going to the dogs under his socially inspired tutelage, my friend François asked some of his trusted advisers what could be done about it.
They wisely didn’t mention the EU, which in France is off limits for criticism for anyone other than the kind of people who, given half the chance, would expel all the Jews. Such reticence is lamentable.
French manufacturers used to be able to compete with the Germans, but on price only. If a Peugeot costs the same as a BMW, no one will buy the French car. If, however, a Peugeot costs half as much, people may go for it.
Hence French manufacturers traditionally tried to keep unit costs under the German levels. That being a national concern, the government obliged by devaluing the franc at regular intervals.
When the EU introduced the euro, the deutschmark in disguise, that option became no longer available, and any regular visitor to France can see the results for himself. If, say, 15 years ago most cars on French roads were French-made, today one sees a predominance of German marques. The same goes for all sorts of manufactured goods.
A Frexit seems like a logical way to go but no Frenchman this side of the National Front will let such a blasphemous thought cross his mind. Hence François’s advisers focused on another fatal flaw of the economy: the growth-stifling labour laws.
One such law makes it hard to lay anyone off, turning every job practically into a lifetime guarantee. Alas, when employers can’t fire, they won’t hire: the risk is too great.
Hence France’s horrendous unemployment rate, twice as high as ours. But their actual unemployment is even higher because of another asinine labour law: the 35-hour week. Even when employees are willing to work longer hours for extra pay, the law says they can’t.
That’s why my local hairdresser can’t handle the demand around Christmas time because her only other haircutter isn’t allowed to work longer hours, much as both she and her boss want her to.
Also, the unions in France have the kind of power British unions used to have before Maggie Thatcher sorted them out. Another example from my personal experience: a two-man business a French friend of mine started some 20 years ago.
Since then he has built the company into a market leader, with 200 fulltime employees. Yet he’s no longer the boss (incidentally, few French words match patron for offensive power).
He’s obliged to have union shop stewards on his board, two 23-year-olds who know nothing about the business except the workers’ right. The pimply youngsters have the power to countermand my friend’s measures, and there’s nothing he can do to override their veto.
Such are the labour laws that the government tried to change, however timidly. What followed was a public outcry, forcing François to water the reforms down to a point where practically nothing solid remained. But it was too late.
The morons smelled blood and pounced. Union thugs, anarchists, even François’s own socialists went into action. Students and pupils rioted violently, air traffic controllers, railway workers, tube drivers and post-office workers held one-day strikes. And now the morons of the world have united to paralyse the country by blockading the oil refineries – to the masochistic cheers of most Frenchmen.
The situation is pregnant with didactic value. First, contrary to what my EU-loving French friends say, France’s political and legal traditions aren’t just different from Britain’s but are incompatible with them.
We’re law-abiding because our tradition of just and stable laws goes back to the millennium before last. The French have no such tradition, and what they do have is of recent provenance. Hence they generally hold the law in contempt, a feeling successive French governments reinforce by their contemptible policies.
This also explains their proclivity for settling political issues with riots. Alas, it’s only the morons who come out: one doesn’t see too many manifs with slogans like Down with the EU. Nique la France (f*** France) is much more popular.
Bad politics can destroy even great countries, and historically few have been as great as France. But it was one of their cherished past tyrants who pointed out the short distance separating the sublime from the ridiculous.