Discontent in a free society

Today is May Day, a public holiday here in France. It has added significance this year, with 300 marches expected as part of a mobilisation exceptionnelle against the Government's move to raise the pension age from 62 to 64.

Friends in Australia have seen media images of the sometimes violent protests. They've expressed concern that I may be affected. As it happens, I have kept away and only heard them in the distance.


I have witnessed just one orderly procession, two weeks ago in Avignon. But it is impossible to avoid seeing the damage to public and private property, such as burned rubbish bins and cracked glass.

I assume most foreigners are unsympathetic because they don't receive the pension themselves until around 67. Many would see it as an arguably dignified but unattractive display of a French sense of entitlement.


I agree. But it's what you get when you have widespread discontent in a free society that values the right to protest.

I have read about of the struggles of working class families in northern France, in the autobiographical novels of the young contemporary author Edouard Louis. He sees President Macron representing the privileged classes, and wrote a New York Times op-ed a few years ago with the title 'Why My Father Votes for Le Pen'.


In selecting when to travel outside Paris, I've had to mindful of the protest days that have occurred roughly once a week, with reduced rail services.

I decided to purchase a Eurailpass for this two month stay in Paris, and have been travelling to cities in France including Amiens on Saturday, and Tours, Avignon, Lille and Chartres earlier. I've also been to the Netherlands, Zurich for my first visit to Switzerland, as well as Liechtenstein and Innsbruck in Austria.


Amiens in particular offered a view of the two faces of France. There was the beautiful Cathedral, canals and grand buildings that tourists love to see, but also evidence of the ordinariness of the lives of many people in a large city not far from the town in which Edouard Louis grew up.