Warning of new French revolution

Social-security protest: 'People power' surprises Juppe as thousands march and many air, sea and rail links are paralysed
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Paris - With tens of thousands of workers marching through Paris and other cities yesterday, and a similar number of students filling the streets on Tuesday, there is no lack of French commentators drawing comparisons and contrasts with 1968. For some, however, the comparison is with the full-blown revolution of 1789, writes Mary Dejevsky.

The most egregious of these is Alain Madelin, the former economy minister, who was dismissed by Alain Juppe at the end of August for saying in public what many people thought in private about the relative security and benefits enjoyed by public sector compared with the private sector. Mr Madelin's remarks provoked an outcry among trade union leaders who rushed to defend "hardwon benefits". But, in a book published yesterday, he showed he has no regrets

The book, "When the ostriches raise their heads", is an affirmation of Thatcherism applied to France: reduce union power, privatise, deregulate what can be deregulated and let the market rule supreme.

Considering the state of France, however, Mr Madelin analyses what he sees as its one great social divide between the elite and the rest as perhaps the biggest and potentially most explosive division since eve of the French Revolution.

"A gulf has opened up between the rulers and the ruled ... the reason for the rupture is that the social escalator has broken down, the machine that creates jobs has seized up and everyone is fighting to regain or keep his place." The elites "are blocking the evolution of the system. There is certainly a parallel to draw with the situation in France at the end of the ancien regime."

Mr Madelin, a lawyer from a poor background, deplores the dominance of the "great colleges" where the elite was educated. This elite, he argues, with a glancing reference to the affair of Mr Juppe's subsidised flat, inhabit their own enclosed world, with their own tax regime and their own laws - or rather, exemption from the law.