The Economist     December 7, 1968

The price of the franc

M. Couve de Murville this week began to pay the political price of President de Gaulle's franc. It is France's workers who will pay the economic one, and the prime minister's meetings with the trade unions were unhappy. The socialists of the Force Ouvrière were no more than critical on Monday; the communists of the far more significant Confédération Générale du Travail on Tuesday declared themselves flatly hostile. They are not going to stop defending working-class living standards, to help de Gaulle defend the franc, they said.

The three major union federations--FO, CGT and the Confédération Démocratique et Française du Travail, which in May was the leftest of the lot--joined forces to back the token strike on Thursday of Renault's 100,000-odd workers. The leaders of the left-wing students' union offered their help too. They were politely asked to stay away. Yet Wednesday's meeting between the students' union and the CGT may have been significant. The two leaderships were barely on speaking terms after the collapses of the May-June disorders. Then, the students were "disruptive extremists" and the CGT leaders "allies of de Gaulle"; this week a CGT boss discovered that "the students are allies of the wage-earners" after all.

Meanwhile, order--unaided by President de Gaulle's threat that it would be vigorously restored--has only slowly returned to the universities. Most of them have now got back to work, though in Paris some faculties will not only reopen next week, and some courses not even then.

The next step, due by December 31st, is designation by the education minister, M. Edgar Faure, of the list of departments making up each university, and then the exceedingly complex elections, by all concerned, of representatives who will draw up statutes for their departments and choose delegates to do the same for the university as a whole.

By and large, the far left, both among students and teachers, is prepared to take part in this process, preferring to be in a position to push the process beyond the intentions of the government, or to sabotage it, rather than boycott it. But the disease of left infantilism, familiar to the marxists, has not run its course.

At Nanterre, origin of the March disturbances, an oral examination of a thesis was interrupted last week by fifty-odd revolutionaries whose enthusiasm for a discussion with the acting dean of the faculty led them to strike him to the ground. A similar event at the Sorbonne was broken up with rhythmic laughter, singing of the Internationale and chanting of such slogans as "in 1971 the workers will be in power and the bourgeois in forced labor camps" by 20 horny-handed sons of intellectual toil.

Questioned about the Nanterre incident, M. Bernard Herszberg, secretary-general of the furthest left teachers' union, replied blithely that "in the event, the violence was useless." Indeed it was. While M. Herszberg is very pertinently asking M. Faure how he reconciles government economy with the necessary expansion of higher education, the public may have found itself more in tune with the general who, handing over some ex-military buildings to a university faculty at Toulouse, remarked with soldierly tact that it was time for the students to stop playing babies.