Euro 2016: Why British football fans ought to support the French strikers

Following the terrorist atrocities in Paris on the 13th November 2015 I quickly resolved to attend the European Championships as planned (many thanks Matt and Pierre). I realise there is an element of risk in doing so but, rather than superimposing a tricolour over my Facebook picture, I thought this was a tangible method of demonstrating both my solidarity with the French people and my disdain towards the terrorists and their misguided agendas.

For the last three months however, the French people have been facing up to another foe – their own government and the multinationals behind the TTIP AgreementProposed changes to the maximum working week of 35 hours have grabbed the headlines, but other changes, that make it easier for larger employers to make workers redundant for instance, are included. It is for the French to resolve but, just days before the tournament kicks off, it is clear that large protests and threatened strikes by railway workers and airline pilots have the potential to effect some of those attending the Tournament.

uefa-euro-2016I, for one, will accept such a fate should it happen. For while the reforms may not mean “a surrender to wicked, Anglo-saxon, ultra-liberal capitalism”, they do represent the thin end of a wedge very familiar to British families over the last thirty-five years. A wedge that has led to the ‘illegal’ employment practices of Mike Ashley. And the tax-dodging / ‘carpet-bagging’ antics of Philip Green being rewarded by a government post and a knighthood.

Such practices have repercussions, and wealth distribution in the UK is now the joint sixth most unequal globally (France is fourteenth). Compounded by a steep decline in social mobility, these unsustainable trends represent the end game of Thatcherite policies that required the assistance of a militarised police force to dismantle Trade Unions termed ‘the enemy within’, before making targeted attacks upon other elements of ‘working-class’ culture.

The Wapping dispute and the Miners’ Strike, which led to the Battle of Orgreave, are two examples of the state’s attack on collective bargaining and working class communities nationwide. The Battle of Beanfield, which led to the largest mass arrest of civilians since the Second World War, attacked New Age Travellers and green politics, while acid house parties were also targeted. And, of course, there was the sustained attack upon football, regarded by ‘decent folk’ at the time as “a slum sport played in slum stadiums, and increasingly watched by slum people who deter decent folk from turning up”. This attack upon the ‘people’s game’ involved the caging of supporters, the introduction of now omnipresent CCTV systems, a proposed national ID Card Scheme and even electrified fences at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge ground. But this campaign reached its nadir with the Hillsborough disaster and the subsequent cover-up by South Yorkshire Police.

Although calls are being made for another inquiry into Orgreave, Hillsborough represents a solitary victory for those who were targeted by the state at that time. But it came too late. Football, as coherently argued in Hillsborough survivor Adrian Tempany’s book And the Sun Shines Now, was transformed, on the basis of the Sun’s accusations of hooliganism, to appeal to the middle classes. So successful was this transformation that many of the working-class fans, whose predecessors’ had sustained football for more than 100 years, can no longer afford to attend matches or – deep irony alert – pay Rupert Murdoch’s satellite TV subscriptions.

In industry those initial, but highly significant, victories opened the door to ever more changes and amendments designed to undermine Trade Union powers and hard-won employment protections increasingly shored up by the European Union (EU Law had its own footballing cause célèbre in Jean-Marc Bosman of course) but, as the current referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union demonstrates, divide and rule politics, aided by a predominantly right-wing media, is thriving. The creation of the all too obvious, but effective, schism between ‘private’ and ‘public’ sector workers over pensions and the like, is simply the next step in alienating the working classes from each other.

Following the loss of what were higher wages in the private sector, good public sector pensions are an easy target, but the omnipresent demands of employers for ever more ‘flexible’ workforces, and the use of zero hours contracts effect all realms of work in the UK today. In football parlance; ‘we was robbed’. The UK is, therefore, an apposite example of what may be ahead for French workers should they surrender too much ground. From the outside it appears that workers in all sectors are united in this struggle and I will stand in solidarity with the French on this and terrorism – even if it means missing a much anticipated football match or two.

About author
Lecturer at University of Huddersfield, UK.
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