1968 demonstrations – 40 years on

It’s 40 years since the worker and student demonstrations of 1968 and how much has changed? Then, after 13 years of conservative rule in Britain, there were high hopes that Wilson’s labour government would bring radical changes to society and politics. Yet, with his support for the American war in Vietnam and alignment with the nuclear deterrence strategy, supporters soon became disappointed. In May, 10,000 demonstrators fought with police outside the American Embassy in Grovesnor Square. In France street riots engulfed the left bank in May, with workers joining student protestors. Rubber bullets and tear gas fired from one side were met with paving stones hurled from the other.

Now these soixante huitard demonstrators are nearing retirement. The reform agenda continues apace in France and the UK. Reform, that is, as decided by the government. Creeping privatisation of health care and education. Wage settlements that do not keep up with inflation. Greater powers given to unaccountable pan-european bureaucrats. And more wars that the majority of the public wants out of. Hundreds of thousands march against them. More by a factor of ten than marched on the US embassy in ’68, yet their effects on policy seem diminished by the same factor. With perhaps a year to wait until the next British general election, frustration with government will only increase until the dead duck Brown government gives way. But to what? Middle ground, consensual politics with little to choose from. The same deadening choice between Coca Cola and Pepsi. Which brand do you prefer?

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