Two common stereotypes about the French are that they drink a lot of wine and they readily hit the streets to strike, protest, and even riot. The first is debatable, as a recent study shows that the United States consumes the most wine. Nonetheless, wine is indisputably a large part of French culture, and they take it very seriously. The second stereotype is unequivocally true, and a brief look at the history of France shows as much (for example, the French Revolution, May 1968, the race-related riots in the “banlieues,” etc.).
Now, the very people designated to control protests and riots are themselves protesting a new law that bans them from drinking wine and beer while on the job.
The CRS (compagnies républicaines de sécurité or Republican Security Companies) was created in 1944 during the French resistance, but the first time they were deployed was for the famous student riots and protests of May 1968.
The Interior Ministry began scrutinizing their alcohol consumption last week when a photo circulated of a CRS officer drinking a beer while policing a protest led by high school students. (Incidentally, from my own experience observing student manifestations in Paris, drinking amongst protesters is common, and violence is minimal, so I guess the CRS figure they might has well join in).
Technically both public and private employees are allowed to drink a certain amount of beer and wine while on the job, according to French law, but because the CRS are often patrolling during meal time when they would have a glass or beer or wine, their consumption of alcohol is visible to the public. This is apparently part of the problem.
Naturally, the CRS is outraged and has called the new ban “simply absurd.”
One CRS union representative said in a statement, “In the first place we deplore the fact this decision was taken without any consultation with the unions. Secondly, when one is deployed on the streets we are forced to take [meal] breaks wherever we are; and just because we have the right to a beer or a glass of wine doesn’t mean we are all drunk.”
Didier Mangione, another union representative, remarked “We are being turned into priests, but without the communion wine.”
Not surprisingly, unions are threatening labor action – the very thing the CRS is paid to police.