Saturday, June 4

More Of The Same

It looks like I'll finally be in one place for a few months.

I've taken an apartment here in Paris, mostly because it's irritating as hell traveling in the summer.

It's incredible how many more tourists are wandering around this time of year. This means that hostels are almost always fully booked several days in advance, as are trains. I really don't like having to plan my travels in advance. So staying put for a few months not only gives me a chance to wait out high season, but also take advantage of it and find a job. And of course there are worse places to spend a summer than Paris.

So far I've already had one job, which I was hoping to keep. But unfortunately, some things don't change, and like the other jobs I've had here in France, this one went downhill quickly. This job was in a restaurant, and although not as bad as the other that I had a few months ago, I was being shouted at all the time. Although I was working and running as fast as I could [my feet felt like they were going to burn up by the time I went to bed], it was never enough. I also had to work late almost every night, for little or no pay, as it was technically illegal for me to work that much in a week. After just a bit over a week, things came to a head. I'm not sure if I was fired or if I quit, but I'm beginning to wonder if there are _any_ decent jobs in this country.

The irony that I see here is that the same people who campaign for worker rights so vigorously [for themselves and their unionized friends] treat their non-unionized employees like shit. The number of strikes in this country is disgusting. The employees of the train company go on strike about every three months for pay raises. And those same employees refused to work an extra one minute a day for a charitable cause. That's no exaggeration, it was in the papers here.

On a slightly less bitter note, the last time that I was in France [in 2002], I arrived just in time for a big uproar. Here's some background. French presidential elections are designed to take place in two rounds. In the first, many parties present candidates. The two with the most votes go into the second round, from which the president is chosen. Because of the fracturing of the left in the first round [there were twice as many socialist parties as conservative] the two parties that made it to the second round were conservative [Chirac] and ultra-conservative/neo-Nazi [the Front National]. What followed were massive protests and demonstrations from the left. The majority of the country was ashamed that someone who openly campaigned to expel all non-white people from the country had made it to the finals.

This time it seems to be something even more serious. Currently, the European Union is trying to bring a constitution into effect, which would make the relations between European countries more fluid. The E.U. would become more like one large nation. To come into effect, the constitution has to be ratified by all the member states. Some chose to do the ratification directly through parliament [i.e., the elected politicians are the only ones to vote on it], others were pressured into calling referendums.

France [one of the founding countries in the Union, and along with Germany, was one of the two most influential] had such a referendum. The French are a funny lot, and are very disgruntled with how things are going in their country. A lot of it is just paranoia. For instance, a lot of people are afraid that workers from the newly admitted countries in the east are going to steal their jobs. They had the same worries when the Union was first created, but then it was fear of the Italians. In the end, nothing ever happened, and it's unlikely to happen now either. There's also a large movement against globalization, which actually has very little to do with the constitution and more to do with the W(orld).T(rade).O(rganization). But again, try telling them that. Or that the odds of being able to stop globalization at this point are pretty much null. And of course, there was a large chunk of people that thought by voting against the constitution, they were voting against their president, Jacques Chirac. Instead, they were really voting against Europe.

So the French rejected the constitution. And another of the founding six countries of the Union, Holland, did the same two days later in a referendum of their own. Now Europe is in a bit of a crisis. Not because the Union is likely to dissolve, as some paranoid types are predicting. But more so because any progress is likely to be halted for quite some time to come. The Euro plunged in value (the Canadian dollar rose four cents in two days against it [which is of course good news for me]). And the French have lost a large chunk of their credibility in Europe, as most other countries don't think very highly of the French rejection. As near as I can tell, what was being voted on the most was whether to keep a lion's share of influence in Europe. Now it looks like Germany alone will take center stage, at least for a while.

The reason that I say that the vote on the constitution itself wasn't so important is that the British also scheduled a referendum for next year. Although not an original member, they are one of the major financial contributors. But they always keep the rest of Europe at an arm's length, and would almost certainly vote to reject the constitution. So it likely wouldn't have been ratified in it's current form regardless of how the French or Dutch voted. But a French rejection shows much more serious rifts in Europe than would a British.

The weirdest thing is that most of the votes against came from the younger generation. It's strange that those who would be expected to be the most open minded seem instead to be those most afraid of change.


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