‘Be realistic, demand the impossible!’

‘Be realistic, demand the impossible!’

This week, 50 years ago, France was going through the biggest labour strike in its history. Two-thirds of its labour force were out in the streets demanding better working conditions. Workers had taken control of factories, set up barricades, organised sit-ins and fought off attempts by the police to disperse them. Thousands of students who had rebelled against conservative university administrations had also joined them.

By the end of the week, French President Charles de Gaulle would disappear from Paris, seeking support from the French army for a military intervention against the strikers.

Tanks, however, would not roll down the streets of Paris that year. De Gaulle would decide instead to dissolve the parliament and call for general elections. Although the crisis would subside by June, the events of May would have a major ripple effect in space and time.

Today, 50 years later, we can honestly say that what happened in May 1968 – from Paris to Prague, and from Mexico to Madrid – was the most significant political development that took place in the West during this tumultuous decade.

The 1960s witnessed the emergence of the second chapter of the civil rights movement in the US, the re-radicalisation of the labour force throughout Western Europe, women’s rights, and gay rights. But the political scene in the 1960s was marked above all else by the Vietnam War and the protests of 1968 against political elites, authoritarianism, and the bureaucratisation of everyday life.

They were spontaneous, explosive protests of rebellious spirits that changed fundamentally the political, social and cultural landscape of entire nations, although no revolution ever occurred

The May ’68 protests had the most dramatic impact in the country that had experienced one of the greatest social upheavals in western history, the French Revolution. 

And it all started, as most challenges to the status quo do, by the youth.

French students who came of age with politics and philosophy normalising resistance and personal responsibility (Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist-Marxism reigned supreme throughout the 1960s) rebelled against a highly traditional and even archaic educational system, but their protests soon developed into a fight against the capitalist system and the whole bourgeois model, resting on a “patriarchal-authoritarian sexual order” came under attack.

The student protests in France actually started in 1967, at Nanterre University, against restrictions that prevented male students from visiting female colleagues at their dorm.

A series of events that followed in the first months of 1968, including the arrest of several students over the explosion of an American Express office in central Paris, helped to further radicalise the youth. The protests spread to other universities after Nanterre University was shut down by its dean in a desperate attempt to prevent the further escalation of protests.

When the Sorbonne was also closed following clashes between students and police, a major march was scheduled for May 10 which led to the Night of the Barricades.

What followed is well-traversed territory by journalists and historians alike.

Thousands of students clashed in the early hours of May 11, with hundreds of riot police who used tear gas and beat students with truncheons. By the time the sun came up, hundreds of students had been hospitalised and some 500 had been arrested.

By then, the battle was not merely over sexual repression and educational reform. It was about a demand for deep social transformation and that demand was accompanied by inexorable anger over the hypocrisy of a conservative, authoritarian system, the legacy of the Algerian independence war, and, yes, even the legacy of collaboration with the Nazis during World War II.

The French student protests of May 1968 were indeed about producing a national catharsis in the context of a rapidly changing world. 

As such, the slogan that best captures the spirit of the May 1968 protests was the one that first appeared mainly on the walls of Paris and read as follows: “Be realistic, demand the impossible.”

A few days after the Night of the Barricades, millions of workers walked off their job and joined the nation-wide strike. The French Communist Party and its allied labour union organisation, the Confederation Generale du Travail, did their best to keep workers apart from students and to block any potential path to a revolution.   

Indeed, like all potential revolutions, this one was also betrayed from within.

To the surprise of many at the time, the May 1968 protests ended in early June when the trade unions accepted a government deal which included generous wage hikes and a shorter work week. Soon afterwards, the student protests also fizzled out.

Nonetheless, the May 1968 protests changed France in fundamental ways.  

For starters, the rage behind the protests led to an end of Gaullism, a highly conservative, state-oriented ideology, and converted the country into an open, tolerant and secular society.

Thanks to the spirit and the aims of the May ’68 protests, women became socially liberated (before, French women could not even wear pants at work and had to have a husband’s permission to open a bank account), while worker militancy secured better conditions of life and work.    

It is of little surprise therefore that conservative political leaders in France (and elsewhere) continue to this day to blame the legacy of May 1968 for the overthrow of conservative norms and values.

This spirit of change and openness, however, has not really survived to present times. Today’s France has turned inward, resisting change and embracing xenophobia. French democracy has plunged into crisis.

Students and workers remain politically active, but they lack the rage of their predecessors and are in need of a new vision for the future.

Does this mean then that the legacy of May 1968, like that of the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, is now just a memory? Perhaps. But the course of history has fooled us before, and it can fool us again. 

In a world of dire need for radical change and social justice, the May revolts of 1968 could still become a source of inspiration. All that it takes is a new generation of rebellious spirit, bold enough to say “Be realistic, demand the impossible!”

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

Trump to demand an investigation into suspected FBI surveillance of his 2016 campaign

Trump to demand an investigation into suspected FBI surveillance of his 2016 campaign

President Donald Trump said on Sunday he would demand an investigation into whether the FBI had placed surveillance on his 2016 campaign — and whether such activity was ordered by members of the Obama administration.

Ramping up a public war of words between the Oval Office and the law enforcement agency, the president said that he would formally request the Department of Justice probe the FBI’s role in investigating his campaign. His remarks come amid reports that the agency had placed a confidential informant somewhere in the Trump campaign’s orbit, while he was a still candidate.

In a statement, the Department of Justice said it would ask the Inspector General “to expand the ongoing review of the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] application process to include determining whether there was any impropriety or political motivation in how the FBI conducted its counterintelligence investigation of persons suspected of involvement with the Russian agents who interfered in the 2016 presidential election.”

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein added that “if anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action.”

‘Bigger than Watergate’

Trump’s assertions of a mole, either inside or outside his campaign, have yet to be confirmed. On Saturday, The New York Times reported that FBI agents sent an informant to talk to two Trump campaign advisers, after receiving evidence that they had made contacts linked to Russia during the campaign that were deemed suspicious.

On separate occasions, the unnamed operative met with George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, The Times noted. Trump has attempted to cast the source as a spy.

Trump’s implication of Barack Obama, also renews a fight the president picked early in his tenure with his predecessor. In March of 2017, Trump boldly asserted that Obama of ordering surveillance of Trump’s residence during the 2016 campaign — an accusation which the former president flatly denied. The FBI, then led by James Comey, said there was no information to support the claim.

Last week, Trump reacted to the suggestion of potential FBI spying as being “bigger than Watergate.” Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported this week that allies close to the president were working to expose the source.

Trump and the FBI have been locked in an unprecedented public battle. The president and his allies have long complained about a “deep state” agenda of government officials actively working to undermine his presidency.

The controversy has also stirred angst among other members of the Trump administration, with Rosenstein reportedly telling close confidantes that he was preparing to be fired for his role in the Russia inquiry, NBC News reported last month. The president has repeatedly and pointedly criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the matter.

In an interview with The Post last week, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani — Trump’s personal lawyer — accused law enforcement officials of “covering” for actions committed by the Obama administration.

Meanwhile, Giuliani told The Wall Street Journal in an interview published Sunday that the president shouldn’t consent to an interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the probe into alleged ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, unless the role of a suspected FBI informant was made clear.

Otherwise, the former mayor told the publication, Trump could be “walking into a trap.”

Apartment demand to stay strong, boost flagging development pipeline, JLL says

Apartment demand to stay strong, boost flagging development pipeline, JLL says

Rising population and denser cities will underpin continued demand for apartments, even though completions are likely to drop by more than one-third over the next two years, JLL predicts.

The pullback of both local and foreign investor buyers will dampen the construction pipeline as developers hold back even on approved projects – prompting completions to fall from a peak last year of 26,617 to 17,160 next year – but the demands of a growing population of mainly local buyers in Sydney and Melbourne and a recovery in Brisbane, will limit the decline, said JLL’s Australia head of residential research Leigh Warner.

“Investors have taken a bit of heat out of that inner city market and the focus is shifting to middle ring infill product more because it’s easier to fund, reach presales and targets a buyer market that’s still active – the owner-occupiers,” Mr Warner said.

There are already signs that the housing pipeline is holding up better than expected. New dwelling approvals rose an unexpectedly high 2.6 per cent in March.

But even though approvals – a leading indicator – do not necessarily translate into new projects, sentiment was holding up more strongly than expected, said Mr Warner, author of the real estate agency’s Q1 Apartment Market Report.

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Completions of new apartments were likely to peak in Sydney this year at 8946 and slip back to 6469 next year.

“The downward pressure will only last a year or so and then we’re back into a more positive market again,” Mr Warner said. “I expect headwinds to prevail through this year and into next year, with things starting to improve by the second half of next year and into 2020. We’ll be back to a more positive market by 2020.”

In Melbourne, where unit rents and prices remained above their five-year average, the volume of new completions – which peaked last year at 10,426, the most of any city – had not dented the wider apartment market.

The Victorian capital’s pipeline of projects – including projects completed, under construction, those currently marketing as well as those with plans both approved and submitted – stood at 69,700, more than Sydney’s 43,800 and Brisbane’s 34,700, the report showed. This included the loss of more than 9000 units earmarked in applications for the city’s Fishermans Bend urban regeneration precinct, because planning minister Richard Wynne’s decision in February to freeze them made it unlikely they would be completed any time in the next five years, Mr Warner said.

Mr Wynne’s decision may actually have helped strengthen the Melbourne apartment market, Mr Warner said.

“I can see that there is potentially a confidence boost locally from pushing that back a little bit,” he said.

In Brisbane, price growth was turning flat after a period of decline and the medium-term outlook for the economy in the Queensland capital – stimulated by mixed-use projects such as Queens Wharf – would soak up some of that completing new supply, he said.

“Prices are stabilising in that secondary sales market,” Mr Warner said. “There’s still a bit of supply to complete in this cycle but we’re through the worst of it. And there is a bit more confidence starting to emerge.”

Protesters demand ‘new deal’ for workers

Protesters demand ‘new deal’ for workers

Demonstrators gather in London for a protest organised by the Trades Union CongressImage copyright
Reuters

Thousands of people have joined a trade union march calling for a “new deal” for workers and public services.

The central-London demonstration, led by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), highlighted demands for better pay and job security.

TUC research said the UK’s real wage squeeze would be the worst in modern history and the slowest for 200 years.

The government said its policies had boosted pay for the lowest earners and meant workers could keep more of it.

‘Major earnings crisis’

Demonstrators gathering at Saturday’s march called for a higher minimum wage of £10 an hour, a ban on zero-hours contracts and greater funding for the NHS, education and other public services.

Speaking before the rally, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “There is a new mood in the country. People have been very patient but they are now demanding a new deal.”

The union data suggested wages in the UK had lagged behind inflation since 2008, and were worth £24 less in real terms than in 2008.

The TUC also said wages would not recover until 2025, by which time, it said, the average worker would have lost £18,500.

Official figures for employment and average earnings are due to be published next week. They may show average wage rises have risen above inflation for the first time in a year.

But that would not be enough to overturn the trend seen since the credit crisis, the TUC said.

Workers marching out

As well as nurses, ambulance crews, postal workers, teachers, civil servants and cleaners, the London demonstration included workers not known for union membership.

Staff at restaurant chains TGI Friday’s and McDonald’s joined the march after balloting for industrial action for the first time.

Workers at two branches of McDonald’s walked out in September last year in a dispute over zero-hours contracts and pay.

And waiters and kitchen staff at TGI Friday’s decided to hold a ballot over strike action in April following wage disputes.

The TUC’s deputy general secretary Paul Nowack told the BBC the UK had had 17 years of falling wages in real terms, the biggest relative wage loss since the Napoleonic Wars.

He said: “It doesn’t matter whether our members are working in the public sector or the private sector, the fact is they’ve seen their living standards fall year on year.”

In the last eight years, a million more children from working families were living “below the breadline”, he said.

“I don’t think it’s right that people who go out and work are struggling to put food on the table.”

Helping lowest earners

Economists said the slow wage growth was a result of low productivity in the UK, rather than austerity policies.

Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said: “The key issue is that the economy hasn’t grown and the economy hasn’t grown because productivity hasn’t grown.

“That means that the amount we produce for each hour we work is basically the same as it was in 2008. If we’re not producing any more, we’re not in the end going to be able to earn any more.”

A Treasury spokesperson said wages were forecast to grow faster than inflation in each of the next five years, and that government policies were helping British workers.

“Our National Living Wage has boosted pay for the lowest earners by over £2,000 already; we are cutting taxes to help people keep more of what they earn; and we are making sure people have the skills they need to secure high-quality, well-paid jobs by investing in technical education and boosting apprenticeships.”

The TUC said its figures were based on annual average weekly earnings for total pay (including bonuses) adjusted with the CPI measure of inflation, which were then compared with long-run back data published by the Bank of England.

The forward-looking ones were based on the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast to 2022, and then a projection to 2025 using the average forecast growth rate for the 2018-22 period.