Today’s chaos in France evokes vivid memories of President Charles de Gaulle repressing the student and worker rebellion of Paris, May 1968.
As you may or may not know, French President Emmanuel Macron used Article 49.3 of the French Constitution to ram a bill through the National Assembly without giving the Parliament the right to vote on it. That bill forced Macron’s extremely unpopular retirement-age bill onto the French people, hiking the retirement age from 62 to 64.
Opposition to Macron’s bill, and how he made it law, has set off huge protests all across France. Hundreds of thousands of people are marching in the streets to demand the resignation of President Macron; they’ve lost faith in his ability to govern.
To stop the disobedient hoi polloi, Macron let loose thousands of heavily armored riot police, who beat and gassed the French people. Liberté, Égalité, and Fraternité passed out in the choking tear gas—but they’re not dead yet. As I write this on March 22, 2023, the French people are preparing for a national strike against Macron and his administration.
The French remember Sept. 1, 2020, when Macron visited Beirut, Lebanon to pressure the government into making major reforms. He told the Lebanese officials: “a revolution does not invite itself… it is the people who decide it.” However, on March 22, 2023, when interviewed by French TV channels TF1 and France 2, Macron said of the “49.3” protesters: “The crowd has no legitimacy and cannot defeat the representatives of the people!” Evidently, as a schoolboy Macron skipped class when they taught about the French Revolution.
While looking on Twitter for news and videos about the historic mobilizations, I found an anonymous photograph on Twitter. The March 20, 2023 photo documented a graffiti found on a Parisian fountain, the words were simple:
“Tu nous 49.3, on te mai 68”
Translated into English it means: “You give us 49.3, we give you May ’68.”
A papier-mâché 49.3 set on fire by the crowd on the Place de la République in Le Mans. Video: Laurent Gayme/Twitter.
I’m not the only one to see the echos of Mai ’68 in the cataclysms of today’s France. In May of 1968 some 10 million Parisian workers went out on a general strike to demand higher pay and better working conditions. The students and faculty of the main art school in Paris, the Ecole des Beaux Arts, not only went out on strike in solidarity with the workers, they founded the Atelier Populare (Popular Workshop). Their posters, an intrinsic part of the May ’68 upheaval, were wheatpasted on walls all over Paris.
The ’68 poster titled Salaires Légers Chars Lourds (Light Wages-Heavy Tanks), joked that workers labored-tirelessly to manufacture the weapons that, in the end, would be deployed against them by society’s rulers. The irony today is that the Macron governments is sending AMX-10 light wheeled tanks to Ukraine, while raising the retirement age of the workers that produce them.
This Atelier Populare poster is titled A Bas Les Cadences Infernales (Down With The Infernal Cadence). It is especially pertinent to the raising of the retirement-age for French workers. The silkscreen excoriates long hours, speed-ups, and low pay with a wonderful abstraction—a dazed and overstressed worker whose outstretched arms blur into six in order to keep up with the hellish pace of work.
The ’68 poster titled Presse Ne Pas Avaler, pictures a black bottle reserved for poison bearing a label that reads, Press, Do Not Swallow. What was true yesterday is still true today.
The untitled ’68 poster showing a goggle-eyed riot cop carrying a shield, and swinging a truncheon at your head, appeared all over Paris after riot police violently attacked protest marchers. On March 16, 2023, I watched videos posted on Twitter by Parisians that showed the exact same scenes—except today the riot cops in combat gear were beating anti-Macron protesters in the streets.
French polls show President Macron’s approval rating hovering at around 28%, the lowest since the Gilet Jaunes (Yellow Vest) protests began in 2019. Some 69% believe Macron enacting Article 49.3 was a denial of democracy. If he manages to survive this national meltdown, he will have four more years as President… at the moment that seems unlikely.
From this moment on, the French people will be chanting: “Il n’y a plus de règles. Rendez vous avec l’histoire! (There are no more rules. Rendezvous with history!)
Indeed… are you listening Macron?