Americans are so thoroughly mesmerized by happenings in their own neighborhood that they have not paid much attention to what is happening in France.
Such is not my case. Aside from the fact that I lived in France for several years, I will be traveling there next month. Thus, the fact that the nation is being besieged by radical leftist forces has captured my attention.
I and many others have had occasion to praise the French president before. We know that his handling of the terrorist attack on the Bataclan theatre in November was far better than what we have seen coming out of Washington.
The French president was strong and resolute. He placed the blame where it belonged. He did not whine about Islamophobia. He sent his military to attack ISIS in Syria. Had he received any support from the Obama administration he would have invoked the NATO charter and declared the attack an act of war.
All told, the French Socialist shamed the American president. One point for him. Also worth noting is the fact that France’s large and unwieldy Muslim community offered the great majority of its votes to Hollande in the election that made him president of France. Defying your own constituents is an act of political courage.
Though Hollande rode into office on a “social justice” platform, one that seems to have echoed the advanced political economic theories of Thomas Piketty, he quickly discovered that the policies he first put in place were ineffective. In truth, municipal and legislative elections made clear that the nation disapproved. So, Hollande named a more market friendly prime minister and announced new economic policies that were more oriented toward the free markets. The new policies aim at eliminating the famed 35 hour work week and making it easier for employers to fire workers… thus making it less risky to hire them.
For a socialist to see the light and to defy some of his most zealous supporters was an act of political courage.
Now, as the economic policies are becoming law, the Hollande government is facing a violent insurrection, led by French labor unions, in particular by what is called the CGT. France has two major labor organizations, the CGT and the CFDT. The more radical CGT was, until the 1990s associated with the French Communist Party. The CFDT, with the Socialist Party.
The CGT has been showing its displeasure by trying to shut down the nation. Hollande has stood his ground. The Wall Street Journal editorialized today that the reforms were nearly Thatcherite. That is, they are a step in the right direction.
It noted that Hollande had not run on a Thatcherite platform and thus lacks the mandate for change that she had.
The Wall Street Journal reported on the events yesterday:
The standoff between President François Hollande and unions deepened Tuesday as unions launched a new round of strikes and the French leader vowed to press on with a contentious labor bill that has fueled the unrest.
“The bill will be enforced, and the French people will judge,” Mr. Hollande said in an interview published Tuesday in daily newspaper Sud Ouest.
Mr. Hollande’s plans to overhaul rigid labor rules by giving companies greater margin to negotiate directly with their employees on pay and working conditions have riled union leaders, who say the measures circumvent their power to negotiate contracts across entire sectors. CGT, France’s largest union, has struck back with weeks of walkouts and blockades—backed by protest marches that are at times violent.
And, the CGT has tried to shut down the transportation system:
Three of the four biggest railway worker unions said they plan to join the labor action Tuesday evening, bringing to a halt about 40% of the country’s high-speed TGV trains and 60% of the slower intercity trains, according to state railway operator SNCF.
“Railway workers have every reason to mobilize to demand working conditions fit for the 21st century,” the railway branch of CGT said Tuesday.
The move by rail workers raises the stakes in a standoff that began in March with violent street protests and escalated into CGT-backed strikes that are trying to cripple the nation’s infrastructure. For the second straight week, blockades and strikes continued at oil terminals and refineries, leaving about 20% of gas stations with fuel shortages.
Adding to pressure on the government, air-traffic controllers announced a three-day strike starting Friday to demand more hirings. Their strike isn’t directly related to the labor-law changes, but it will create additional chaos for would-be travelers.
If anything is going to stop the insurrection, it is …an upcoming major soccer tournament. As long as it looks like theatre, it’s OK. Once it starts interfering with soccer and vacation, it becomes far less appealing.
The Journal continues:
Union leaders, however, are also under pressure. If the railway strikes and other blockages continue much longer, unions risk alienating swaths of the French public who want to see the popular tournament—as well as their holiday travel plans—go off without a hitch.
So far, CGT has struggled to mobilize wide support for its protests. Recent polls show the French public divided over the labor bill, while an Odoxa survey on May 26-27 found that 67% of 1,018 people surveyed had a negative opinion of CGT leader Philippe Martinez.
Pierre Gattaz, head of the Medef employers union that lobbies on behalf of France’s largest companies, said France “must do everything not to yield to blackmail, violence, intimidation and terror.”
All in all, it’s a good sign that a Socialist president can take the requisite political action to turn his nation away from economic stagnation and toward capitalism.
The Journal editorialized:
It’s a sign of the depth of France’s economic distress that even a government of the left recognizes the need for reform, and that it is pressing ahead despite the vehement opposition of its traditional political base. If a Socialist president can succeed in doing this in France, there might be hope for the rest of sclerotic Europe.
As I said, this takes great political courage. It takes courage to stop pandering to one’s constituents and to stop making promises that cannot be kept. One imagines that the next step will be reforming the French social security system and cutting down the generous pensions that are offered to government workers who retire young.