For those of you who don’t follow international current affairs too enthusiastically (or are not in any way familiar with French culture), last Tuesday 7th September saw Sarko‘s Republique take to the streets in mass nationwide protest. Their gripe lies with ol’ Saint Nic’s plan to raise the national retirement age from 60 to 62. Over 200 separate protests nationwide, more than 1.5 MILLION protesters, and all for an measly 2 additional years in a country where asking someone to work on a Sunday is like asking a builder to keep the tea-breaks in the single figures. It just ain’t gonna happen folks!
Still, the French love their traditions and, at a time when Sarkozy is getting hammered on all sides, the thought of a pension policy put in place by the revered Monsieur Mitterand being mutilated by their current Public enemy No.1 provided the people with hedonistically ample opportunity to partake in La France’s favourite past-time - STRIKING. On Tuesday it was mainly rail networks affected, but in the past we’ve been witness to bemusingly impressive truck blockades, fishing boat lock-downs, the whole shebang. No-one dared mention that Germany recently raised its retirment age to 67 without half the fuss, the Brits not far behind with plans to bump it up to 66 and the ever-reliable Irish will soon be set to work towards a whopping 68 years of age before packing it in (an attempt at a Celtic Tiger re-incarnation, perhaps?). I know there are a good few Romanians who’d jump at the chance of 2 years work as cogs in the Big Bad Gallic Machine, but Sarko’s on such a roll now that he seems quite unstoppable in his quest for assassination (political assassination of course, HA ha…… hmmm).
All of which had me playing ever so gently with the novel idea of a strike right here in the Legion. I mean, surely we’d have significantly more gripes (significant gripes an’ all) to warrant dusting off of the placards and taking to the streets. Low pay, unappetising food, antiquated materials, severe lack of gender equality (that’s to say, there’s only the one there, like). Add to the list illegal (yes ILLEGAL) imprisonment for breaches of discipline and I think we’ve got ourselves at least half a dozen "What Do We Want?" chants to challenge the passing car horns on a busy weekday morning. Imagine if every legionnaire and his family took to the streets in defiance of the derogatory, undignified status quo forced down our throats on a daily basis and we’d have……. well, feck all really.
The Legion’s total force today is a mere 7,699 honourable and brave men. About half of these are either grizzled NCOs or elitist, prissy little officers who would immediately team up AGAINST our poor, toe-trodden band of rank-and-file rabble, haranguing us endlessly with laments to the Legion of old, and how our own atrocious "Generation Playstation" have it too easy. What about the ickle lickle Legionnaires’ families though? Ah, well numbers WOULD be swelled IF the majority of families actually knew where their darling babies were (it appears we didn’t all have a massive going-away party in a city-centre bar before heading off to lay claim to our destiny…….). So, the strike’s been well and truly struck down then. Shame, but I suppose it could be worse. It could always be worse, so I guess I’ll stick with pretty crap for now. After all, who’d want to be forced to work in a normal job until the ripe ol’ age of 62!!?
I’ll leave you with an interesting little Legion fact, poking through to the surface after light-hearted (HA ha….. hmmm) references to assassination earlier. Today, the French Foreign Legion regiments based in mainland France are all situated in the south of the country. "Pourquoi?" I don’t quite hear you ask. Well, following Charles De Gaulle’s signing of the proclamation of independence for Algeria in 1962, a militant wing of the Legion mutinied (as you do), with advanced plans almost coming to fruition regarding the continuation of armed conflict in Algeria, a parachute drop on Paris itself and even an assassination attempt on De Gaulle. A legion sniper had reportedly been arranged and, but for a last-minute change in one of the former president’s parade routes during a national celebration in Paris, who knows? De Gaulle - genuinely spooked by rumours of said attempt - nonetheless decided to stick with the Legion and continue its repatriation, but ensured that those crazy foreign bastards stayed as far away from Paris as possible. Today, with blistering sun and a private hotel on the beaches of Marseille for the holiday season, no one can complain too much. Unless, of course, you’ve got milky-white skin like mine and manage to sunburn watching old Baywatch re-runs. Honestly, the money spent on sun-creams is extortionate. Maybe that’s another thing I could go on strike about.
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