Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Big Day Ahead Tomorrow for France

Just when I thought I had the latest news about Velib (France's new public transit system, consisting of bicycles you can use all around Paris, Lyon and other cities, for a monthly fee and a small usage charge), I now learn that Velib personnel may go on strike with the rest of France tomorrow, according to Les Echos.

CGT striker
[Thanks to for the photo.]

I'm exaggerating; not all of France will be on strike. In fact, according to the polls, 55% of the country is against this one, and only 45% for it, especially because it involves transportation and will immobilize everyone in the main cities. It's a real nuisance. Trains, subways, and buses are all stopping tomorrow.

President Sarkozy's election and platform have riled the unions, because it makes them Public Enemy Number One, and rightly so. The unions control much of the public sector and are able to blackmail the country every time the government even thinks about taking away some of their unrealistic privileges (early retirement, fantastic pensions and benefits, etc.)

Sarkozy tried to sit the leaders down for a reasonable discussion back in the spring, but that didn't work; so this summer he upheld his promise and pushed through some badly needed legislation that will put a crimp in their style.

On August 21, 2007, the Parliament passed a law with the following terms (see the original French write-up):

1. Reinforcement of dialogue between the parties. Employers and union members must negotiate before a strike may be declared. The unions have until the end of 2007 to draw up the terms of any such future negotiations.

2. Minimum guaranteed service. Local transport authorities will determine what minimum transportation services must be provided during any strike. Employees that wish to strike must declare their intention at least two days before; and after eight days of strike, striking workers must have the option of voting by secret ballot whether or not to continue.

3. Notice. The law provides that a transport company must inform customers of any forthcoming strike, and the company may be held liable for reimbursement to customers if an "adapted transportation plan" is not put in place (whatever that is).

4. End of workers' indemnification. Days of strike will no longer be paid. (Can you believe that strikers are paid a daily stipend in France?)

This pretty much puts an end to the abuse of the striking privilege by French labor unions.

Tomorrow will be the big day. Watch the news. I wonder how Sarkozy will handle it. It's his first and biggest test. If he wins this one, he can do anything.

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