The Salon II

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A clash of civilizations?

New round of protests and strikes set in France | International Herald Tribune

"French students and unions have stepped up pressure on the government, calling for a day of demonstrations and strikes March 28 to fight a hotly contested new labor law that makes it easier for companies to fire young employees.

Students also planned to march in Paris again Tuesday, continuing the protests that began Feb. 7 and have grown into a national movement, tipping the embattled government into crisis.

President Jacques Chirac repeated calls Monday for dialogue between the government and opponents of the law, which he said could be 'improved.' Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin met with business leaders, unemployed youths and students in an effort to find a way out of the impasse that threatens his political career.

'He is ready to go further than this,' a spokesman for Villepin said Monday, hinting there was room for negotiation. 'If there are proposals from the unions, he is ready to study them.'

The battle over what amounts to an incremental change in the country's social contract is emblematic of the overwhelming challenge facing many Western European countries as they try to loosen rigid labor laws and trim costly benefits that have built up in the social- welfare systems that emerged after World War II.

Governments recognize the need for fundamental"
One could wonder why I used that title for this commentary. Well that is because I see this problem as a clash between European and American civilizations. The all business, laissez-faire, and anti-union attitude of the United States, versus the union-friendly, worker-friendly and social-welfare based Europe.

People like Prime Minister De Villepin and Interior Minister Sarkozy, have started to live up to their conservative labels economically, as much as they do socially. In France, this is pretty new. Although one could generally look to the right - I mean extreme right, not Chirac... or do I?... - for the racists and bigots and xenophobes, it was not always clear cut in economic terms, despite all the rhetoric, and the little nationlization/denationalization of companies dance that always occur when there was a change at the helm. And it does send a bit of a chill accross Europe, and their workers. This is to some a degree, a direct attempt at changing the very fabric of European society... something that Europeans always abhore, whether it is from "those damn Muslim immigrants", or "those arrogant American bastards". Apparently change is coming. But is it really what it's cracked up to be? Living in the USA, I am still wondering...


  • As you said, Ali, everybody agrees in France on the need for changes but nobody is brave enough to put them in place.
    I am sick and tired of the "sentiment de supériorité" of my country and its refusal to change.

    By Anonymous Michoko, at 2:09 AM  

  • It's happening in Australia (repealing of unfair dismissal laws) as I type and it is fucked. Employers have the right to fire without giving reason. We have really harmonious industrial relations - there is no need for these new laws - it is purely an idiological motivation on the part of the right wing Howard government ... because they can. Either that or they WANT to create an underclass.

    The French show us once again how to protest. Aussies are a tragically apathetic bunch politically.

    By Blogger Wadard, at 6:02 AM  

  • Michoko, I must make sure youu understand my point of view; I support the protests, because although there is need for change, the change should threaten the very fabric of the society. The Sarkozy of this world want to copy the US, in their very pro-business runaway CEO salaries, and anti-Union attitude, and in the US - IMHO - it has just created a disenfranchised class, and the middle-class is slowly disappearing. More importantly, the worker is always placed in a stressful environment of job precarity, which, while it may encourage assiduity, also creates unhealthy competition and an even more hostile workplace than in let's say France or Sweden. Are you sure that is what you want for France?

    Wadard, Welcome from Down under! Honored to have you here. I had plans to visit Australia, but the racial attitudes I have seen recently made me think twice, unfortunately. Yes the French are good at the protest thing - some even say that is a big problem. They are the least apathetic European people I know, after the Swiss who have direct democracy. I have my own issues with the French, because of their colonial and neo-colonial policies, but they also educated me (do you know how %@#&-up it makes me in the head, :))... I think they are - at this point - defending a system that guaranteed social support by the government, and that is eroding. I think any change that is envisionned, should ensure that the system does not erode... now how does one do that? I wonder...

    By Blogger TheMalau, at 9:05 AM  

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