World News

Does France face "risk of revolution?"

PARIS (Reuters) - The signs are alarming in the country that virtually invented modern popular revolutions and where street protests have a long and successful history of forcing authorities to bend.

Over the past few weeks, angry French workers have taken bosses hostage, pelted others with eggs, trashed a public office building and raised the spectre of the kind of social unrest that has torpedoed a succession of previous governments.

“There is a risk of revolution in France,” former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, whose own government was fatally wounded by urban rioters in 2005 and street protests over a youth labour contract the following year, declared recently.

But how real is the threat that popular anger over the economic crisis will create serious social fracture in the euro zone’s second-largest economy?

“We’re not there in France at the moment,” said Guy Groux, a specialist in labour and social relations at the Sciences-Po institute in Paris.

“I’d even go further. The situation today is a lot less violent than it was not so long ago. We saw clashes with workers in the 1980s in the steel sector that were a lot more violent than this,” he said.

That said, the economic crisis and its daily tales of corporate greed, reckless banks, plant closures and distressed households has fed into a latent French suspicion of “ultra liberal” deregulated free markets.

With memories of past industrial protests and the violence of the 2005 riots in the poor urban “banlieues” ever present, the dramatic nature of many protest actions has certainly grabbed the headlines.


Television viewers witnessed dramatic scenes this week when workers from German tyre company Continental, which is closing its factory in Clairoix in northern France, smashed windows and equipment at the plant and at government offices in the nearby town of Compiegne.

Well over a dozen company executives in different parts of the country have been locked in their offices for as much as 40 hours in a spate of “bossnappings” that have summed up the fears of workers who face losing their jobs in the crisis.