Monday, March 20, 2006

The French Are Back in the Streets (What Else is New?)

This time, it's the young people. They're scared. Millions of them swarmed the streets of Paris and outlying cities to protest the government's latest attempt to jump start job creation, called the "CPE," or "Contrat Premiere Embauche" (First Job Contract.)

This story starts with the riots of last November when thousands of unemployed French youths (mostly from immigrant families living in government housing) turned Paris into a bonfire. Two young men had been electrocuted in a horrifying accident while fleeing from policemen, and then a knee-jerk government Minister made an unfeeling remark about "getting the riff-raff off the streets." The pent-up rage exploded, and the violence, car fires and mayhem led down the fuse from Paris to other flammable pockets all around the country.

The government reacted as governments do, setting up curfues and trying to act with stayed force as though they were in control. By New Year's Eve, the overworked, unprepared cops were gratified to see that the car fires had diminished to a manageable few hundred.

Ministerial officials scrambled to find a redeeming scheme to put these young people to work, and in fact what they came up with is not a bad idea. The CPE simply attempts to unload from French employers the yoke of unrealistic job security provisions that socialism has put in place. The existing contracts and the very employee-leaning "Prudhommes" workers' rights system impose the equivalent of job permanence for everyone, including those starting out in professional life -- something that is unheard of in America, Ireland or England, and implemented differently even in socialist countries like Sweden. In France, it is difficult to fire an incompetent worker, nevermind let them go for economic reasons, so employers end up not hiring, putting the extra load on existent employees.

Student groups, backed by the omnipresent power-hungry French unions, say that these new CPE contracts "would create disposable workers without job security." That may be true. However, they don't realize they have been spoiled. The truth is they prefer no job at all, i.e. the relative security of unemployment. (In France, benefits are easy to obtain and last many months.)

The real problem, according to my own analysis after watching French news and TV programs over the weekend, is that French youths are fed up with the politicians. They believe in no one, see only incompetence on all fronts, and are ready to explode on a moment or two's notice into a national free-for-all.

This will be a real challenge for Chirac's "right-wing" government, led by his Minister Dominique de Villepin, to come up with a dialogue that will be convincing to the public and that will placate both the impatient kids and the wily union leaders who want nothing more than to see this whole fiasco explode in their left-wing favor. They're already planning the general strike as I write. Watch out for March 28th.

Read the CNN version of this story.


Blogger jayzerz said...

The kids may be impatient, but I'm not sure about them "wily" Union leaders. They are trying to co-opt the youth movement, and depsite everything the Unions have a lot to lose if the apple cart gets upset.

All in all an interesting take on the situation but it does tend to gloss over what is actually happening.

2:30 PM  

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