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Violence dominates labor protests in France

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Over at the Guardian‘s “Comment Is Free” blog, I have an article about the recent trend of violent labor protests in France. Last month workers at an auto-supply factory threatened to blow up their plant if their demands for higher severance pay weren’t met.  Then, a little over a week ago, workers at a transport company theatened to pollute the Seine river for essentially the same reason. In both cases, workers told the press that violence was their only option. Such reasoning not only flies in the face of the labor movement’s long and successful history with nonviolent protest, but also many recent actions by layed-off workers around the world. My article delves into the latter, citing two recent factory occupations—one in the US and the other in the UK—that exemplify why nonviolent tactics work and why they are more effective than violent ones.

None of this is to say that all French workers have resorted to violence when protesting. On a lighter note, Reuters reported last week that “Workers at a crisis-hit boiler factory in France have stripped off for a nude calendar in a bid to save 204 jobs slated for redundancy.” The proceeds from the calendar will go toward funding a protest at the parent company’s headquarters in Italy. It may not be the greatest of ideas, as it seems like a bit of a distraction—not to mention the fact that they don’t need to travel to wage an effective protest. But it is certainly creative.

Also last week, Time magazine wrote about a new youth movement in France that isn’t “just winning support for their various causes — they’re challenging the very social and economic pact that has defined the country for the past 60 years.” By using “creative and often wickedly funny new ways to focus attention to their issue,” says Time, they’ve “discovered the type of protests that have been used in places like the U.S. and Britain for years.” This is certainly positive news, as it means alternatives to violence are already in place and hopefully ready to become the dominant trend.