Youth at the barricades

How young people in France now have political clout of peasants, successfully taking on the governme

If my school friends here in France are typical—and I’m sure they are—they are a curious mixture of what looks like radical Conservatism.

Last year, the French government proposed a new law to allow young workers to be fired more easily, a sensible move to the Anglo-Saxon mind with youth unemployment so high.

The French mind doesn’t work like this. Young people — who perversely are currently voting with their feet in thousands to emigrate to no-holds-barred London (often mainly to escape claustrophobic parents)— believe that a place at one of France's prestigious grand écoles will guarantee them a well paid job and security for life. They are not prepared to sacrifice that for a short-term fix.

Thousands of us took to the streets last year and it works. Only the year before, plans put forward by the then education minister François Fillon were abandoned after prolonged strikes by young lycéens in the spring of 2005.

Last year’s student strikes also worked, forcing the government to abandon their plans for hiring and firing, virtually ending the political career of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin. Youth in France these days seem to have stolen the political clout of the peasants. Many young people in France are keenly interested in politics and regularly argue about the previous night’s presidential debates with passionate divide between left and right. And yet it is all rather materialistic.

Many students simply want a good education system that will see them through to a high earning job and a comfortable life. The current presidential race is instructive. Sarko clearly appeals to the intolerant right (nearly as much as Le Pen but hardly anyone admits ever to have voted for him, but a lot obviously do) but he’s scary and too Anglo-Saxon for many. He may do somewhat less well than predicted. Sego is a bit naïve and not convincing enough for the young. Bayrou looked very good for a while but he doesn't seem to be strong or realistic enough in his ideas. No one seems to think much will change even if Sarko gets in. The proles are just waiting to take to the streets (AGAIN).

Unlike the Anglos, the French always side with the strikers.