Successive stories in The Washington Post on March 29 point to an inescapable reality for the Old Continent.
The halcyon days of cradle-to-grave security are coming to an end. Eurosocialism is dead. What Europeans detested and snottily disparaged as Anglo-Saxon "savage capitalism" is their future. It is entering Europe in the belly of a Trojan Horse called Globalization.
"Workers in Britain Stage Mass Strike: Public Sector Disputes Pensions Rollback," ran the headline out of London.
That strike, England's largest in decades, spread to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Schools were shut, and libraries closed. Commuters were left stranded, and trash went uncollected. London's city hall was shut down, burials were postponed, ferries were brought to a standstill. The workers who raise and lower the spans on Tower Bridge walked off. The nation was partially paralyzed. But why?
"At issue," said the Post, "is a system in which many government workers can retire with full benefits at age 60 if they have completed 25 years of service. This fall, the government says, rising costs will force it to scrap the 'rule of 85' -- for teaching assistants, police community support officers, school-meal workers, garbage collectors and other local government employees, forcing them to work longer before they retire."
The story out of Paris was more dramatic, even if the cause, to Americans, was more trivial.
"Huge Protests Put France to the Test: Fissures in Government Appear Over Job Law," ran the headline over a story reporting that 2.7 million had marched in Paris and other French cities to denounce a law that would let employers fire workers under 26 with less than two years on the job, should they fail to perform.
Angry and violent protests against the proposed law have gone on for a week and brought the French government to crisis.
Like the U.S. campus riots of the 1960s, the French protests appear to some of us as the Revolt of the Over-Privileged. For what these pampered young people are demanding seems to be some kind of student deferment from the Global Economy.
The striking public employees in Britain and the young in Paris are protesting something unavoidable, like middle age. For what they see slipping away is something they are never going to see again.
What is happening in Britain and France is happening across Europe: the unwinding of the social welfare state. "Are the good times really over for good?" wailed Merle Haggard, decades ago. In Europe, the answer to Merle's question is, "Yes, they are."