“We don’t give up”, “Motivated”, “Bella ciao”: in the same way as merguez and smoke bombs, there are classics of the protest song that some are trying to renew, a few days before the mobilization which is being prepared against pension reform.
According to Stéphane Sirot, historian specializing in trade unionism, if the tunes change little, it is because “there has perhaps not been much renewal in the music and partisan songs”.
There is more inventiveness in the signs, “with a very rich language, puns,” he told AFP.
But the historian notes a certain creativity with slogans, songs on known tunes.
In CGT leaflets distributed to activists, protest words are for example sometimes offered on classic tunes (such as “Milord” which entered Edith Piaf’s repertoire in 1959 or the musette waltz “Ah le petit vin blanc” created in 1943).
The processions are also interspersed with happenings like last year those of the “Collective Ibiza” targeting the former Minister of Education Jean-Michel Blanquer, with a look-alike dancing on floats.
This year, the “Rosies”, who had distinguished themselves in the demonstrations against the pension reform at the end of 2019 with their choreographed songs, have already prepared an act II, broadcast online even before the mobilization on Thursday, with instructions for the gesture.
Still dressed in their overalls like Rosie the Riveter (famous image from American pop culture – 1942 – showing a woman flexing her muscles), they sing “We want to live” to the tune of “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor.
The collective “La fanfare invisible”, which advocates a “joyful resistance”, will also be in the street on Thursday.
“We don’t sing anymore”
“The labor movement – in France, in the United States, all over the world – has had songs”, notes Bertrand Dicale who writes the column “These songs that make the news” on Franceinfo.
“Some have entered into legend”, such as “Vas-y Léon” by Gaston Montheus sung by the Popular Front, or songs of miners in the north of France, he says, citing as an example the album by Renaud “Cante el’ Nord” with several strike songs.
The 1970s were dotted with songs linked to social movements: those of Gilles Servat during the strike of the French Joint in Saint-Brieuc, the songs accompanying the Lip movement or those of the workers of the Siemens factory in Baudour (Belgium ). “These are songs that are passed on to the people”, underlines the journalist.
Even if it is not a melody strictly speaking, he also quotes “L’air des lampions”, a rhythm in five notes of the type “Macron resignation, Macron resignation” which goes back to the revolution of 1848 and became “the classic scansion of a protest slogan” that we still hear.
“For years, we sang in the demonstrations. Really sang”, notes the specialist in French song. But the last great protest song “which marks a generation is + Devaquet, if you knew … + in 1986. After that, there weren’t many more”, except very locally, he says.
Today, “we no longer sing in demonstrations” and “the strike is no longer a worker”.
From now on, “in the union processions we put sound systems, with obviously ‘Bella Ciao’, ‘Motivated’, ‘Manu Chao’…”. “But if we say + song +, it’s because we sing, not because we broadcast on loudspeakers” with a van “so that it oats”.
“It’s a reflection of what the labor movement is today. It takes groups coming together to sing,” he says. But “the politicians no longer sing either, there are no more bawdy songs, the supporter songs are always the same, because it’s the sound system that takes care of it”.
All this also translates “a weakness of the song”: “even before the erosion of the trade union movement, there is the erosion of popular song”.