French Unions Call National Strike March 28 in Defense of Younger Workers, Demand Withdrawal of Law Allowing Bosses to Fire Young Workers “At Will”

by George Saunders

On Monday night, March 20, French trade union leaders called for a national day of strike action Tuesday, March 28, against Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin’s proposed “youth employment” law.

Reporting from Paris for the Guardian (London) on March 21, journalist Angelique Chrisafis wrote: “After protests brought up to 1.5 million people onto the streets across France on Saturday, unions had given Mr. de Villepin until yesterday afternoon to withdraw his ‘first employment contract.’”

But Villepin insists his law is “essential to win the fight against youth unemployment.” Angelique Chrisafis writes that youth unemployment is “at 23–50% in some  Paris suburbs—among the worst in Europe.”

Chrisafis continues: “It was not clear how many workers would join strikes and the general ‘day of protest’ set for March 28, but if rail, metro, and air transport workers joined forces, it could cause widespread disruption.”

Meanwhile students continued strikes and blockades at nearly 70 schools and universities throughout France. Student protesters announced they would take to the streets again on Tuesday, March 21, and on Thursday, March 23.

Cops Seriously Injure Union Member

Chrisafis reports that a 39-year-old trade union member was in a coma after being injured by police who attacked youthful protests in Paris’s Place de la Nation. The Sud-PTT union said their member had been “violently trampled by a police charge.”

Chrisafis reminds readers that mass workers’ protests in 1995 proved to be the undoing of another conservative prime minister, Alain Juppé, who lost elections two years later.

She concludes by pointing out that “paradoxically” Villepin claims his law establishing the contrat de première embauche, or CPE, would reduce youth unemployment—by making it easier to fire young workers, under 26. “He hopes this will spur employers to take young people on, knowing they will not need to offer long-term security. But critics within his own ruling UMP have dubbed the CPE comment perdre une election, or how to lose an election.”

In this situation, revolutionary socialists have an opportunity to demand radical solutions to the jobs crisis as an alternative to Villepin’s “paradoxical” claim to fight unemployment by letting bosses fire workers more easily. For example, the demand for a shorter work week with no reduction in pay, to spread the work, could be revived, along with the call for a massive public works program, to create jobs and provide needed public services. More than that: nationalization of major industries under workers control could start to make the economy work for people instead of victimizing people.