[Marxism] fwd: Chirac Will Rescind Labor Law That Caused Wide French Riots [nyt]

paul illich paul_illich at hotmail.com
Tue Apr 11 06:51:24 MDT 2006


http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/11/world/europe/11france.html

Chirac Will Rescind Labor Law That Caused Wide French Riots

By ELAINE SCIOLINO
Published: April 11, 2006
PARIS, April 10 — President Jacques Chirac crumbled under pressure from 
students, unions, business executives and even some of his own party leaders 
on Monday, announcing that he would rescind a disputed youth labor law 
intended to make hiring more flexible.

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Pool photo by Jack Guez
Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said that it was no longer feasible to 
maintain the law.

Multimedia

Video: France Drops Labor Law
Related
News Analysis: In France, an Economic Bullet Goes Unbitten (April 11, 2006) 
The retreat was a humiliating political defeat for both Mr. Chirac and his 
political protégé, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, underscoring the 
paralysis of their center-right government 13 months before presidential 
elections.

It also laid bare the deep popular resistance to liberalizing France's rigid 
labor market, and makes any new economic reform politically impossible 
before a new government is in place, and perhaps not even then.

"Dead and buried," is how Jean-Claude Mailly, leader of the leftist union 
Force Ouvrière, described the fate of the labor law. "The goal has been 
achieved."

The cancellation of the law, which Mr. Chirac signed April 2, is aimed in 
large part at bringing an end to two months of major protests and strikes 
throughout France that have shut down universities, threatened to hurt 
tourism and the economy, and brought violent clashes between young people 
and the police.

Still, a student protest march scheduled for Tuesday will proceed as 
planned, and students at several French universities voted Monday to 
continue blocking access to classes, demanding more concessions from the 
government in work practices and job security.

"Today is a defining victory, but there are still many issues outstanding," 
said Bruno Julliard, who heads UNEF, the main student union.

The new law was intended to give employers a simpler way of hiring workers 
under 26 on a trial basis without immediately exposing companies to the 
cumbersome and costly benefits that make hiring and firing such a daunting 
enterprise. Opposition to the law reflects the deep-rooted fear among the 
French of losing their labor and social protection in a globalized world.

In a television interview on Monday evening on the private channel TF1, 
Prime Minister de Villepin, who had been widely hailed as a possible 
center-right candidate in the May 2007 presidential elections, said he hoped 
to learn lessons from what he called "an extremely difficult time," 
contending that he had never harbored presidential aspirations.

"I have always indicated that I did not have presidential ambitions," said 
Mr. de Villepin, who had drafted and pushed the law.

His sober, subdued demeanor contrasted sharply with his defiant and angry 
stance in defense of the law in recent speeches before Parliament, in which 
he proclaimed that the future of the youth of France was at stake and vowed 
not to back down.

Both in his television interview and in a brief televised address earlier in 
the day, Mr. de Villepin blamed the French people's fears and anxiety for 
the defeat of the measure.

"The necessary conditions of confidence and calm are not there, either among 
young people, or companies," he said in the television address.

The abolition of the law was announced without fanfare, in a terse, 
one-sentence communiqué from Élysée Palace: "Under the proposal of the prime 
minister and after having heard the presidents of the parliamentary groups 
and the officials of the parliamentary majority, the president of the 
Republic has decided to replace Article 8 of the law on equality of 
opportunities by a mechanism in favor of the professional integration of 
young people in difficulty."

To replace the defunct youth labor law, senior lawmakers from Mr. Chirac's 
party presented a much weaker draft law to Parliament on Monday.

The new proposal would give employers financial incentives to encourage the 
hiring and training of young workers, and give job seekers more guidance and 
increase internships in areas where jobs are relatively plentiful, including 
restaurants, hotels and nursing.

There will be temporary subsidies or tax breaks for companies hiring 
unskilled young workers permanently. The cost of these measures, about $363 
million a year, would be financed through an increase in tobacco taxes.

In its initial form, the law allowed employers to fire new employees within 
two years without cause. In the face of mounting pressure, Mr. Chirac 
watered it down so that employers could subject new employees to only a 
yearlong trial period, and then would have to offer a reason for any 
dismissal.

Students and unions, bolstered by support from the opposition Socialists and 
even some business leaders, had vowed to continue their street protests 
until the law was rescinded.

The Socialists were quick to proclaim victory on Monday. "This is an 
unquestionable retreat," François Hollande, the leader of the Socialist 
Party, told reporters. "It is a grand success for the young and an 
impressive victory for the unity of the unions."

Mr. Hollande, who has not ruled out running for president, said the crisis 
offered the party "reasons to hope."

But it is much too early to predict how the government's defeat over the 
jobs law will affect the presidential race.

Certainly, Mr. de Villepin is severely weakened. But as a former foreign 
minister who never held elected political office, he always lacked the 
obvious credentials to secure the nomination easily.

By contrast, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who successfully avoided 
having to use substantial force to calm the protests, has emerged stronger. 
And as the leader of the governing center-right Union for a Popular Movement 
Party, he has the power of the party machinery behind him.

In a poll published Sunday in the newspaper Le Parisien, 85 percent of the 
respondents said they saw both Mr. de Villepin and Mr. Chirac as weakened by 
the battle over the law, but 53 percent said it had improved Mr. Sarkozy's 
standing.

In an interview that is to appear Tuesday in the center-right daily Le 
Figaro, Mr. Sarkozy emphasized that this was not a moment for criticism of 
the government. "Politics is a long-term affair," he said. "No one gains 
from humiliation."

He went out of his way to declare his fidelity to Mr. Chirac, his longtime 
political rival, saying, "Never, in a long time, have I been as in sync with 
the president of the republic as in these last few weeks."

Instead, Mr. Sarkozy unleashed his criticism against the Socialist 
opposition, saying: "The left has nothing to propose, nothing to say, 
nothing to defend. It can only feed off the right's mistakes."

The Socialists have offered no plan of their own to modernize the labor 
market. Nor is there a Socialist plan to reduce youth unemployment, which is 
22 percent nationally, and more than double that in some of the poor suburbs 
racked by rioting last fall.

Perhaps the most surprising setback for the government came when some 
business leaders, who were supposed to find it easier to hire young workers 
with the new law, began to criticize the government's handling of the 
dispute and warned that a prolonged crisis could damage France economically.

In a statement on Monday, Medef, France's largest business federation, 
expressed hope that the withdrawal of the law "marks the end of a crisis 
that dented the credibility of our country."

The remarks of former President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing were just as 
cutting. In an opinion piece in the weekly Journal du Dimanche, he accused 
Mr. Chirac of a lack of leadership.

"It's high time to get out of this quagmire," Mr. Giscard d'Estaing said. 
"The enemies of France have viewed these images with delight, and her 
friends with consternation."






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