Tuesday, March 21, 2006

France demos : The French are revolting

One of the most impressive things about French democracy is that it is not a simple two party state like the US or UK. There are any number of political parties, civil society is strong and on the face of it, the unions appear to be highly organized and an effective force.

That's the outward facade portrayed by the MSM locally and abroad. Once you peer under the hood though, a different picture begins to emerge. The extreme right wing starts with those dudes with creepy eyes who natter on about how we need to worship Odin as the european god, through the FN (National Front) to an assortment of neo-liberals and other odd-balls until you get to the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) which is the current ruling junta under Jacques. Its a recent coalition and has by no means consolidated a hold on power and could fracture at any moment.

The spectrum then moves to the left with the PS, the so-called Socialist Party who fell out of public favour under Jospin and have a rather wishy-washy-left-but-nearly-center-right agenda (think UK labour or US democrat). They curry favour among the intellectual and arty left, but they are not anything to write home about. Moving right along we get the dyed-in-the-wool communists of the PCF who are maybe more "workerist" than the PS. Somewhere between the two are the Greens. Finally we arrive at the other end with an panache of extreme leftists and anarchists. Of course there is a whole spectrum of anarchists, but we won't get into that now. Nor José Bové either.

Turning to the trade unions, and people like to go on about unions this and unions that, but apparently only something like 9% of the workforce is unionized. That may just be in the private sector or something - anyway the point is that union membership has been in decline throughout the 90's and 00's. That's not a symptom of apathy but rather globalization, where manufacturing jobs have disappeared and have been replaced pseudo McJobs.

Internally the unions know that their privileged position is in decline and they are not that eager to upset the apple-cart. The current Strike Season is presenting them with a dilemma:
The French trade unions, the Socialist Party (SP), the French Communist Party (PCF) and the petty-bourgeois radical left are striving to establish control over a movement which has embraced broad layers of the population. Although it is clear that the government is neither willing nor able to withdraw its legislation, all of these organizations are studiously avoiding any sort of call for the resignation of the government. Instead they are seeking a way of resolving the conflict as quickly as possible and stabilizing the government.
In the meantime, popular resistance to the law is growing. According to one opinion poll the law is opposed by nearly three quarters of all French citizens. Thirty-eight percent declared the law had to be changed, while 35 percent were in favor of its complete abolition. Opposition to the law increased to around 80 percent in the 15- to 24-year age group.
Several newspapers then appeared with the headline: '“Ultimatum to the French government' and indicated that if the government did not react within 48 hours the trade unions would call a strike. In reality, the trade union leadership is desperate to avoid an open confrontation with the government, not to speak of measures aimed at its downfall.
The trade unions have consistently criticized the CPE from the outset, not so much because of the content of the law but because Villepin sought to whip it through parliament without consulting them. In the past they have supported similar measures without complaint and worked to suppress any opposition. Just last summer the government introduced a very similar regulation, the '“New Job Contract'(CNE), for enterprises with less than 20 employees - —a move that met with no resistance from the trade unions. More...

Hrmm. So while the left political parties and unions are trying to get on the bandwagon they are not doing so to remove the current regime, but with the hope of containing the current Youth based movement. The PS doesn't want to rock the boat as it isn't ready to fight an election now. Interesting. The CNE is just as bad as the CPE, but it targets everyone whereas the CPE targets the Youth and the students are in a position to mobilise against the law in way that Joe Schmoe can't against the CNE.

If the movement is co-opted it could well peter out by April and the Easter holidays. The CPE might get watered down a bit too, but the CNE will stay on the books which nails people over 26 in much the same way. Still its very much a single issue movement at the moment and unless the government does something stupid there is unlikely to be any regime change from below. Then again...

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