x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Somehow it all goes back to the Greeks

Blame the Greeks. As well as inventing democracy, tragedy, science and possibly even coins, they started a wave of protest against austerity measures earlier this year.

Blame the Greeks. As well as inventing democracy, tragedy, science and possibly even coins, they started a wave of protest against austerity measures earlier this year.

The baton was picked up in Ireland, has hit France, and may reach the UK on Wednesday when public sector cuts are announced. Is Britain in for another Winter of Discontent to match the one in 1978, when public sector workers went on strike and even grave diggers laid down their tools?

French traffic is already on a go-slow. Lorry drivers vowed to block roads last night and with at least 10 of the 12 major fuel refineries closed, the chances are that petrol and diesel will either be rationed or unavailable.

The president Nicolas Sarkozy has pinned his leadership on pension reform, which will gradually raise the minimum retirement age to 62 from 60.

Opposition leaders and union workers are still hoping the government will back down.

"There are days and days of discussion still left in the Senate. Now is the moment to say 'we suspend [the measure]'," Martine Aubry, the head of the opposition Socialist Party, said on Saturday.

Mr Sarkozy is unlikely to agree but if the unions succeed in paralysing the nation he may have to give further concessions or face the spectre of May 1968, when for a brief, glorious period, the students at the Sorbonne ran the country, chanting: "The summer will be hot."

Their protests died away but politically at least, winter in Europe this year looks like it will be anything but tepid.

rwright@thenational.ae