[Marxism] France general strike threatened

Russell Morse russell.morse at yahoo.com
Sun Mar 19 12:42:40 MST 2006

[If anyone on this list is in France, it would be good to have
some direct reporting and commentary on these events.]


France general strike threatened

French trade union leaders are threatening to call a general strike
unless the government withdraws a new youth employment law by Monday.

More than 160 people were arrested on Saturday after violence erupted in
Paris following a day of largely peaceful demonstrations across France.

Police used tear gas and water cannon to battle masked youths who
smashed shop windows and set vehicles alight.

Trades unions say the law will allow employers to exploit young people.

But the government says it will cut youth unemployment by making the
labour market more flexible.

48-hour deadline

Unions said 1.5 million demonstrators took part in more than 150 rallies
across the country against the government's First Employment Contract
(CPE) on Saturday.

Of course it is an ultimatum. The government and the president have
effectively 48 hours to decide Rene Valadon Workers' Force union

The interior ministry put the overall turnout at just over 500,000.

Protest organisers have given Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin until
Monday night to withdraw the legislation, at which point union leaders
will meet to decide what to do next.

"Of course it is an ultimatum. The government and the president have
effectively 48 hours to decide," Rene Valadon from the Workers' Force
(FO) union said.

Bernard Thibault, head of the powerful General Labour Confederation
(CGT), said that "if nothing moves we will propose preparing a day of
general work stoppages in the coming days. Conditions are such that it
should be a success".

President under pressure

Government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope said on Saturday night that the
government wanted dialogue, but gave no indication that it was prepared
to withdraw the law.

"Beyond the passions of the moment, don't we all have an interest in a
dialogue? The door is open," Mr Cope said.

Student and union leaders have been calling upon President Jacques
Chirac to not sign the law, as he is required to do for it to take
effect as expected in April.

Protesters are bitterly opposed to the new law, which allows employers
to end job contracts for under-26s at any time during a two-year trial
period without having to offer an explanation or give prior warning.

The government says it will encourage employers to hire young people,
but students fear it will erode job stability in a country where more
than 20% of 18 to 25-year-olds are unemployed.

The demonstrations came after a series of mass protests by students in
dozens of French universities, which have severely disrupted classes.

Twenty-four people, including seven police officers, were injured in
Saturday's violence, which lasted about six hours.

Sorbonne rally

The violence broke out at the eastern Place de la Nation as police
attempted to disperse demonstrators following a mainly peaceful march
through the capital involving students, workers, pensioners and

Demonstrators hurled stones and bottles at officers, who eventually
drove them back, charging the crowd and using tear gas grenades.

Several cars were set on fire and nearby shop windows smashed.

About 500 students then marched on Paris' Sorbonne university in the
Latin Quarter, chanting: "Liberate the Sorbonne."

Job security threat

Clashes also erupted in other cities, including the port of Marseille,
where demonstrators tried to set fire to the entrance to the town hall.
One officer was injured and six youths were arrested, police said.

Mr de Villepin proposed the CPE law as part of a series of measures
designed to help youths in the French suburbs who took to the streets
last year.

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Paris says the protests have gained their
own momentum, turning into the worst crisis that Mr de Villepin has had
to face since taking office last year.

The contracts have been seen by students and many on the left as an
attack on job security at a time when many in France are feeling deeply
threatened by globalisation and any hint of change at home.

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