Tombers is Managing Director of Intermat, Inc., (www.intermat.tv)
a television company which executive produces programs and consults
with industry companies on a variety of issues. Intermat, Inc.
is currently involved in approximately thirty hours of television
in various stages for a variety of networks. He is one of the
Executive Producers of OFF TO WAR, a ten hour series for Discovery
Times and for a one hour on international adoptions for Discovery
Health. He has consulted a variety of companies, including Ted
Turner Documentaries, WETA, Betelgeuse Productions, and Creation
Films, Lou Reda Productions as well as many others.
April 11, 2006
In younger years, I lingered once in Paris while indulging
an intense love affair with the City of Lights. On subsequent
visits though, I felt Paris was becoming an aging courtesan,
still attractive yet lacking the vitality it had had in my
youthful encounter with her.
Six years ago I was in Paris on business and had a meeting
set on the 6th floor of an office building in the central
part of the city. Upon arrival, we were met by a representative
of the company we were calling upon, escorted toward the rear
of the building and taken up a freight elevator.
The main elevators were blocked by French Government workers
who were staging a one day sit down strike, protesting the
governments plan for them to work 36 hours a week rather
than 35. Leaving the meeting, I looked down the stairwell
and saw a very jovial group of individuals sitting there,
munching croissants and passing bottles of champagne.
It was a very civilized sort of strike.
For weeks now France has had to deal with student strikes,
certainly far less civilized than the government workers
strike in 2000 and the most disruptive since the student strikes
of 1968 that, for a moment, seemed to threaten France with
revolution. French students are, in case you have possibly
missed this, rioting regarding a law that would allow employers
to fire them at will through their first two years of employment.
The government is attempting to address an unemployment rate
among youth that hovers constantly around 25% and was a root
of ethnic rioting during this past year. The students do not
seem to feel this new law is a benefit to them and are being
vocal and physical in their disagreement with the government.
In Cannes for MIP, there was hardly a ripple from these events.
There were postings of a few flights cancelled; some speakers
had to fly into airports other than Nice. With that sense
of French civility, protests were scheduled for Tuesdays.
On the Tuesday of MIP security outside, inside and all around
the Palais Des Festivals was very tight. There were rumors
that a dozen students had stormed the entrance
of the Palais and were quickly and decisively repulsed. If
that was so, I didnt see it though I was breakfasting
just across the Croissette.
However, the lack of intensity in Cannes does not change the
reality that this situation represents a major crisis for
Monsieur Chirac and Monsieur de Villepin. The students and
their union allies have given the government until Easter
to work out a solution; after that the gloves will be
This unrest can be a prism to look at a situation in the west
which is creeping up on us all.
After the Second World War most western governments created
a compact with their citizens for social welfare,
creating a hammock that would rock the populace from cradle
to grave and be an antidote to the wretched conditions in
European countries which had allowed Fascism to get a strangle
hold on Germany, Italy, Spain and to threaten most other democracies
in the 1930s.
Now, sixty years later the threads of that social compact
are getting frayed in most places, a result of factors that
include the aging of society, the globalization of economies
east and west, technology and the general winds of change
sweeping the world.
The French have had one of the strongest of those social compacts
and the unrest of the student population and its ill will
toward proposed changes is a mirror of much which is felt
in maturing economies.
Aging populations outnumber the younger workers who will have
to support them. It is no wonder Lord Brown of British Petroleum
is suggesting the required retirement age be abolished; his
view is echoed on this side of the Atlantic.
Many American baby boomers feel retirement is an economic
and psychological impossibility while we might not
want to rock the hammock, we seem to live in a world that
cannot afford it and even if we could afford it, enforced
inactivity may not be desirable.