[Marxism] All-out assault on UAW

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Apr 1 08:22:52 MST 2006


David McD:
>A great paragraph indeed, Louis. I have two immediate observations. First,
>the American bourgeoisie is sooner or later going to pick a fight with
>someone who fights back.

I would hope that the UAW workers are keeping track of the French events:

NY Times, April 1, 2006
Chirac Offers Labor Law Compromise; Protesters Reject It
By CRAIG S. SMITH

PARIS, March 31 — Seeking to defuse a growing revolt that has paralyzed his 
government, President Jacques Chirac offered a compromise on Friday, saying 
in a nationwide address that he would soften a divisive new labor law and 
calling on student and trade union leaders to begin constructive talks.

His offer was swiftly rejected, and after the speech several thousand young 
people spilled into the streets in a spontaneous march that wound its way 
through central Paris. The protesters, who first tried to approach Élysée 
Palace, eventually made their way to the Sorbonne, in the Latin Quarter, 
where they were dispersed by police officers firing tear gas.

In his speech, Mr. Chirac was adamant that he would carry out the new law, 
which will create job contracts giving employers the right to fire workers 
25 and under without cause during a trial period on the job. "The 
Parliament, the country's elected officials, have passed the law," he said. 
"In a democracy, that has a meaning and must be respected."

Mr. Chirac nonetheless asked for two modifications to the law: that the 
trial period be reduced to one year from two and that people fired under 
the law be told the reason. He said the law would not go into effect until 
those changes were made.

He decried the recent violence that has marred nationwide demonstrations, 
saying, "It is time to unwind this situation by being fair and reasonable 
according to the national interest."

By vowing to put the law into effect, Mr. Chirac defied not only his 
political opposition but also a majority of his citizens and even a growing 
slice of his own party, many of whose members had called on him to wait 
until some accommodation could be reached with the unions that are most 
strongly against it.

Opposition leaders were quick to dismiss Mr. Chirac's offer. "The president 
remains stuck on that invitation for dialogue that has no chance of 
success," Bernard Thibault, leader of France's largest union federation, 
the C.G.T., told LCI television.

François Hollande, leader of the opposition Socialist Party, said Mr. 
Chirac was "not on a path to appeasement."

Student and union leaders have insisted that the government withdraw the 
law before there can be any negotiations. "It's a mockery to implement the 
law and discuss it afterward," said Jean-Claude Mailly, secretary general 
of Force Ouvrière, one of the country's five major union federations. The 
unions have called new protests and strikes for Tuesday.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin pushed the law through Parliament in 
February, setting off nationwide protests. It was upheld Thursday by the 
Constitutional Council.

In approving the law with changes, Mr. Chirac is apparently hoping that he 
can quell the protest movement and revive Mr. de Villepin's flagging 
political fortunes. Had the president withdrawn the law, many analysts say, 
Mr. de Villepin would have had to step down.

Mr. Chirac is widely believed to favor Mr. de Villepin as his potential 
successor in next year's presidential election, but the current crisis has 
seriously hurt the prime minister's chances. Mr. de Villepin has never held 
elective office — Mr. Chirac has appointed him to almost all of the various 
government posts he has held — and with his approval rating at a meager 29 
percent, his presidential prospects seem dim unless he can turn the debacle 
into a victory.

When Mr. de Villepin became prime minister, he vowed to lower the country's 
chronic high unemployment. That promise became more urgent after civil 
unrest swept France in the fall and high joblessness among French-Arab and 
French-African youth was cited as a principal reason for the violence.

Faced with strong competition for the party's presidential nomination from 
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who has positioned himself as a man of 
change in a moribund administration, Mr. de Villepin pushed his labor law 
through a reticent Parliament. He has defended the move by saying the 
problems facing France's youth are so dire that he needed to act quickly.

The effort was lost on university students, who saw the law as an 
invitation for employers to further exploit the country's job-hungry young 
people. The unions quickly declared solidarity with the students, eager to 
restore their waning reputation as an effective defender of workers' 
rights. As the protest movement gathered steam it was joined even by the 
disenfranchised working-class youths who were behind the vandalism and 
arson in November.

Since then, Mr. de Villepin's supporters, including some in his own party, 
have been sidling away from him. Mr. Sarkozy's supporters, meanwhile, are 
fretting that Mr. de Villepin has given bold change a bad name.

By carrying out the law, Mr. Chirac is inviting more protests at a point 
when the student movement has strong momentum.

Students were already massing Friday before Mr. Chirac spoke, obstructing 
roads and railways for a second day in a row. Dozens of high school 
students blocked traffic in the Place de la Bastille, the symbolic heart of 
the French Revolution, some singing "La Marseillaise," the national anthem, 
which dates to the Revolution.

Dozens even briefly occupied the Jacques Chirac Museum in the president's 
home base of Sarran in southcentral France.

Students said they kept in touch with a national network through Internet 
instant messages and cellphone text messages. "There's coordination between 
the high schools from north, south and eastern Paris," said Ségolène Avice, 
a student outside Lycée Jules Ferry here.

The government may get some relief in the middle of April, when high 
schools and universities have a two-week spring break. Union members with 
children, who by law have a minimum of five weeks of vacation a year, 
typically go away for at least one week of the break.

No one argues that the unemployment rate, at 9.6 percent one of the highest 
in Europe, needs to come down. For people under 25 the rate is 22.2 
percent. But the debate over Mr. Villepin's law is only part of the reason 
the protest movement has gathered so much steam.

Most jobs in France are defined by contract, and even before the proposed 
law, employers could choose from 18 types of contract when hiring 
employees. As it stands, few young people get anything more than a 
short-term contract for their first few jobs, and employers are adept at 
shuffling employees and contracts to avoid giving anyone under 25 a coveted 
"undetermined duration" contract, which provides the fullest job protection.

So even with a shorter trial period, the new employment contract will make 
little practical difference to young people, who already face an array of 
temporary contracts.

"This thing, from the beginning, is a story that doesn't hold any water," 
said Dominique Reynié, a political scientist at the Paris Institute for 
Political Studies, also known as Sciences Po. "It's a very small thing, and 
it isn't really this issue that we are fighting today."

Underlying the current debate is a far deeper frustration with what many 
people see as a government that is out of touch with the people and unable 
to address fundamental flaws in the country's economic and political system.

Ariane Bernard and Maia de la Baume contributed reporting for this article.





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