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Letter from Paris - May Day Parades

Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, attends the massive May Day parades there - an "on the scene" account with six photos. As this is both commentary and photography, it has been cross-posted at the commentary site.  See also - Saturday, April 28, 2007, Letter from Paris, and the archive of Ric's previous columns from Paris can be found at The International Desk.

PARIS – TUESDAY, MAY 1 – Only a few days before 44 million French voters will trudge back to their polling stations to finally choose the next president of France next weekend, several hundred thousand of them gathered in Paris and other major cities today and took to the streets for the traditional May Day marches and parades.

The police and the UMP candidate's former interior ministry guessed that the demonstrators were half as much as they were, while news organizations estimated that they were twice as many as for the editions of 2005 and 2006. My impression was that many more turned out today in the beautiful weather but my memory isn't what it was, which wasn't very good.

I caught up to the CGT's version of the event by arriving in its path from the place de la République around 14:45. The sky was glass clear and honey blue, there was a slight breeze and the temperature was about 25 degrees. A vendor of beer had a sound machine making a hellish noise, possibly thinking that the Technoparade had started two months early.

The racket continued for a half hour until it was drowned out by the first wave of marchers, who were led by the goon squad, clearing the way. They have pushed me off my street–middle pedestal before – this being my eleventh or twelfth May Day. I don't hold it against them, no hard feelings at all.

Paris, May Day, 2007

Often these affairs are apolitical. But this year there is a situation that working folks and their labor representatives cannot ignore. Throughout the campaigns to elect France's president the labor movement has been still, keeping its council, lying doggo. Volunteers have been hacking around for the parties and their candidates, but the unions have been playing it cool.

However, today is the workingman's day. They are allowed by law to walk in the streets, sing in the streets, let off railroad flares in the streets, and eat grilled sausages in the streets. And there is no law preventing them from carrying banners, waving flags, handing out tracts and illegally pasting stickers and posters on all the bus shelters and advertising panels. They can beat drums and play trombones too, which they do.

So, before the security goons arrived, we were treated to smaller groups representing dissatisfied protesters, trying to attract attention to the situations in Sri Lanka, Cuba and Nepal, plus another side group that wanted to protest, 'NON à l'immigration jetable.'

With the warm-up out of the way the bulk of the parade arrived for a couple of hours. Without a vantage elevation it was impossible to estimate the beginning, the end, and the middle lasted for ever. It was apparent, from before the beginning, that many wished to display their unhappiness with one of the current presidential candidates.

Paris, May Day, 2007

Earlier, somewhat to the west, Jean–Marie Le Pen gave a talk to 3000 of his faithful Front National supporters. On the steps on the Opéra, overlooked by gilt, he suggested that they abstain from voting next Sunday. He said that France is in peril, but refused to be responsible for it. The first–round voters had agreed to let him remain irresponsible.

The rightist UMP's candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, spent part of the day visiting sailors. He said he was saluting, "The France that works." Then he returned from the coast to work on his debate notes for tomorrow's confrontation with leftist candidate, Ségolène Royal.

On the boulevard Voltaire this afternoon there were a few posters and buttons promoting Madame Royal, but they were next to nothing compared to the signs, banners, posters, leaflets and stickers – as well as chants, slogans, whistles and hoots – against Monsieur Sarkozy.

For one thing he has got himself up a collective nose by running down the effects of May '68 on the French. The headlines said, "Sarkozy rejects the lessons of May '68." On TV tonight he said, "When there's no authority – where's the respect?"

It is obvious that different folks had different experiences with May '68. Many French thought it was time to throw over the old guard – many of them holdovers from before the war – but France didn't have a revolution in 1968, it just let in some new ideas. It is a bit late 39 years later – two generations – to say it was all nonsense.

Well, Sarkozy is like that. He likes to think that he is provocative. There was another bomb that went off in Corsica the other day and Sarko was down there campaigning. He made a law–and–order speech without mentioning how he failed to stop the bombers while he was minister of the interior.

Paris, May Day, 2007
Paris, May Day, 2007

Kind of obviously, he was the star baddie of today's CGT parade. Less obvious was the heavy police presence, lurking just off to the side. In the past there were usually a few officers along, usually coordinating traffic – the unions have their own security, the ones I call the goons. Did the police think the parade might be attacked by the homeless, or the paperless? They, like everyone else, were in the parade.

Then to be really mean, the CGT dropped its neutral stance and suggested everybody vote against Sarkozy, according to tonight's TV–news. Meanwhile in another part of town folks were filling up the Stade Charlety for three hours of free entertainment by singers and musicians who support Ségolène.

Granted that Sarkozy filled up Bercy for his free show for his conservative supporters a few days ago, but the stadium's capacity is probably double that of Bercy. It just goes to show that anything the right wingnuts can do, the lefty twisties can do better – instead of having Johnny Hallyday, Ségolène got Renaud and Yannick Noah.

Tomorrow night the two candidates will show up on TV, both in the same studio specially constructed for the occasion, with two TV newspeople who will act as umpires. Other than these two and the cameramen, the contestants will be on their own for this grand oral – in the great tradition of the debates between Giscard and Mitterrand and the later ones between Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac.

Paris, May Day, 2007

If today's weather exceeded the forecast – brighter, warmer – the same may be true for the coming days. Expect it to be mostly sunny until and including Friday, with the high temperatures running about 23 degrees before dropping to 22.

- Goodblognight from Paris

Paris, May Day, 2007

Text and Photos Copyright © 2007 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis

[Paris, May Day]

All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 - Alan M. Pavlik