Let’s say you lead a union with a grievance. What are you going to do about it?
If you’re in France, the answer is as simple as things of genius always are. You tell your members to do a spot of rioting. You know, block a few roads, burn some tyres, overturn a few cars, take a few swings at cops, smash a few car windows with baseball bats (these are in plentiful supply even though no one plays baseball).
The government caves in, bends over backwards to satisfy your demands – and Robert est ton oncle, as they don’t really say in France.
I’m not indulging in theoretical contemplation. This chain of events is exactly what happened yesterday, when after a day’s rioting by the taxi union FTI, the French foreign minister Bernard Cazeneuve declared a ban on the low-cost taxi service Uber.
Uber is illegal, explained Mr Cazeneuve, because it indulges in unfair competition (compétition déloyale). Meaning it provides a better service at half the price, thereby threatening a monopoly – as it does all over the world, including London, where black-cab companies are taking the Mickey with their outrageous prices.
It has to be said with some chagrin that in France just about any compétition is regarded as déloyale. Contrary to what the philologically challenged Dubya once opined, the French do have a word for ‘entrepreneur’, but it means – or at least implies – something entirely different.
For les contemptible anglo-saxons, an entrepreneur is a chap who has made a success of a new business by satisfying a market demand and creating wealth not only for himself but also for his employees, suppliers and, incidentally, the tax services. A good thing all around, in other words.
In France, an entrepreneur, usually referred to as a boss (patron) is un anglo-saxon in disguise – a materialistic bloodsucker out to do a Robin Hood in reverse by robbing the poor and giving to the rich. Not a good thing at all, let’s put it like that.
Hence the broad popular support enjoyed by the unions, the more violent the better. Hence also the supine position typically adopted by the French government whenever the unions are out to have their fun with baseball bats.
Just the other day a French minister said, at the risk of being summarily lynched, that what France really needs is a Margaret Thatcher. He’s thinking in the right direction, but I’m afraid things have gone a bit too far for a Maggie Mark II.
What France really needs isn’t another Thatcher but another Napoleon, who in 1795, when still a newly promoted general, used grapeshot-spewing cannon to disperse rioters in Paris.
The unfortunate upshot of that decisive action was that the revolutionary government got a new lease on life. But, on its own merits, the Nappy way of dealing with violent unrest sets a useful example to follow.
As it is, France lacks not only Nappy but indeed even Maggie – as witnessed by the US pop singer Courtney Love. The aging blonde had her car ambushed, attacked and pelted with eggs by irate unionists as she left the Charles de Gaulle Airport.
Old Courtney poured her heart out in a Tweet, eschewing capital initials as one does: “they’ve ambushed our car and are holding our driver hostage. they’re beating the car with metal bats. this is France? I’m safer in Baghdad.”
Miss Love solved the problem in the typical way of les anglo-saxons: with money. “paid some guys on motorcycles to sneak us out, got chased by a mob of taxi drivers who threw rocks, passed two police and they did nothing.”
I have an idea: perhaps those aesthetically minded unionists recognised Courtney Love, and their subsequent action was a form of musical criticism.
Oh Nappy Bony, where are you, when la France needs you so badly. Bring out the grapeshot, I say.