The Occupy Movement has taken on a certain ampleur around the United States and in a few European countries such as Greece, Italy, and Spain where there have been mass demonstrations. That hasn’t happened in France though. Different magazines and newspapers here have asked the question of why it is so feeble in France and have given different responses or theories.
At most there have only been a couple of thousand or a few hundred occupiers. These small numbers have made an intelligent change of plans. Before, they protested in traditional central Parisian sites, like the Place de la Bastille in the eastern part of Paris. Now they have moved their attempts to a more symbolic as well as real site: the business and financial district just to the west of Paris called La Défense. Many multi-national companies have offices there in tower blocks. The center of it is a large esplanade of concrete which is amenable to an occupation. If they wanted, they could also occupy the subterranean area which is a hub of subway, bus, and train traffic.
It all depends on their tactics and numbers. Their first attempt by a few hundred people at the Place de la Bastille resulted in 80 arrests. 11 were just tried and acquitted of vandalizing a police vehicle. They also tried to occupy the space around the former stock market, known as La Bourse. The next time they went to La Défense. The police quickly intervened and you can see the results here:
It’s a video, so you don’t have to understand French, there’s not much commentary. As I mentioned above, if they become more radical, they might literally go to the underground, transport that is. Another site that gives information, in French or in German, is the television channel ARTE. But as we all know, every picture tells a story, so you can get an idea of the movement in various countries.
As I am writing this, there has been another attempt at occupying La Défense, but once again the police acted quickly to remove the protesters. Once again, the numbers were small. Apparently occupiers are considering going to the largest street in Paris, Les Champs-Elysées. There are very large wide sidewalks on either side for installation, so it doesn’t necessarily mean blocking traffic.
Two important reasons the press gives for the lack of mobilization is one of course the police repression. That can only be countered by having much greater numbers as the tens of thousands in Greece or Spain for example. Another reason is that students who have spent years in the university, or even trades schools, and got their diplomas can still find jobs, which is not the case in the countries with mass demonstrations.
At last there has been criticism of the role of the financial notation agencies like Moody’s in noting governments. The European government in Brussels is investigating their methods and there is a proposal to stop the agencies from giving notes to countries in financial difficulties. Why should private companies with perhaps conflicts of interest be allowed to evaluate government finances?
In France, President Sarkozy is probably the worst economist in the country. In the early 90’s when he was Minister of the Budget, the French deficit and debt started to rise dramatically. Under the Socialist Prime Minister, Jospin, both were being reduced steadily. Then the right came back to power and in one year as Minister of the Economy, Sarkozy doubled the deficit left by Jospin. That amplified under Sarkozy’s presidency.
Stéphane Hessel, an author I have mentioned before, said in an interview, «It doesn’t mean to say that we live under a regime as bad as national socialism or even Vichy…We are not in the same situation. But if we have adversaries who are not as clear as Pétain, Laval, or Hitler were, these adversaries exist: it is necessary to know them, decode them and resist them with the same energy, even if these adversaries don’t have the same violence.»
Question, «Who are you thinking of?»
Answer, «Sakozy, the current government, current Europe. Because I think it means not only resisting what is going wrong in France, but also in Europe and in the world.»
People who defend Sarkozy and his government tell me it is because of the «conjuncture». However the war in Iraq had nothing to do with a conjucture, and the banking and financial crisis in 2008 had nothing to do with a conjuncture either. It was the result of years of the ideology of deregulation of the financial sector which allowed the financial companies to create and sell junk investment products that they knew were at least losers and even worthless. Why was the Lehman Brothers forced into bankruptcy but not Goldman-Sachs? Because since the Reagan years there has been a revolving door between the U.S. Tresory, White House cabinets, and Goldman-Sachs, whose men have had a certain influence on running the economy. They weren’t about to let their mentor go under.
This has arrived in Europe. The new head of the Central European Bank, Mario Draghi is ex-Goldman-Sachs, as is the new leader of the Italian government, Mario Monti. In Greece, Petros Christodoulou also an ex- has responsibility at the National Bank of Greece. Others who have had government or national banking responsibilities are now with Goldman-Sachs: Peter Sutherland(Ireland), Otmar Issing(Germany), Lord Griffiths(UK), Charles de Croisset’France). Marc Roche, a journalist at the respected newspaper «Le Monde» has written a book, «The Bank: How Goldman-Sachs Runs the World». He said, «All the people of Goldman-Sachs that I have encountered remain very attached to the bank.»
It is no longer the case that «the more things change, the more they remain the same», but «the more things change, the more they get worse».