Blog post

“Red Hot France; Tepid Britain”

Clara Heyworth20 October 2010

In his article for Counterpunch, oh-so-aptly titled "Red Hot France; Tepid Britian," Tariq Ali praises the French for taking to the streets in protest again Sarkozy's pension reforms while lamenting the British aversion to organized mass demonstration in the face of the harshest cuts in 60 years—set to hit the poorest hardest.

The French—students and workers, men and women, citizens all—are out on the streets again. A rise in the pension age? Impossible. The barricades are up, oil supplies running out, trains and planes on a skeleton schedule and the protests are still escalating. More than three million people a week ago. Hundreds of thousands out this week, a million yesterday, and more expected this weekend. And what a joyous sight: school students marching in defense of old people's rights. Were there a Michelin Great Protest guide, France would still be top with three stars, with Greece a close second with two stars.

What a contrast with the miserable, measly actions being planned by the lily-livered English trade unions. There is growing anger and bitterness here too, but it is being recuperated by a petrified bureaucracy. A ritual protest has been planned, largely to demonstrate that they are doing something. But is this something better than nothing?

Visit Counterpunch to read the article in full, or, noting Ali's point that 

These islands have a radical past, after all, that is not being taught in the history modules on offer

pick up a copy of The Verso Book of Dissent and remind yourself of such dissent as this:

Men of England, wherefore plough
For the lords who lay ye low?
Wherefore weave with toil and care
The rich robes your tyrants wear?

Wherefore feed and clothe and save,
From the cradle to the grave,
Those ungrateful drones who would
Drain your sweat—nay, drink your blood?


Sow seed—but let no tyrant reap;
Find wealth—let no imposter heap;
Weave robes—let not the idle wear;
Forge arms—in your defence to bear.

["Song to the Men of England" by Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1819]

Shelley, the English poet who was much maligned in his lifetime for his radical views, famously wrote in "The Masque of Anarchy" (as quoted by Ali in his article):

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you—
Ye are many—they are few.

Ali's article also ran in the Guardian under the title "Why can't we protest against cuts like the French?"

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