Grow­ing un­rest in France

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIALS & COMMENTS -

FRANCE is no stranger to strikes. But weeks-long un­rest by left-lean­ing labour unions against the poli­cies of a So­cial­ist gov­ern­ment is un­prece­dented. The unions that be­gan the strike on May 17 are de­mand­ing that the gov­ern­ment aban­don a bill to re­form France’s strict labour laws. If the bill is passed in Par­lia­ment or taken to law through a de­cree, em­ploy­ers will be al­lowed to ne­go­ti­ate the 35-hour max­i­mum work­ing week and sev­er­ance pay­ments if they need to down­size the work­force in times of fi­nan­cial difficulty. The gov­ern­ment says over­haul­ing the labour laws is nec­es­sary for job cre­ation, and that it is part of a larger re­form push to spur eco­nomic growth. Growth is stalled at around 1 per cent. The un­em­ploy­ment rate hov­ers at more than 10 per cent, twice that of Ger­many. Youth un­em­ploy­ment is stub­bornly high at 25 per cent. François Hol­lande, one of the most un­pop­u­lar pres­i­dents in mod­ern France, has to jump-start re­forms to spur growth be­fore next year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tions.

But the ques­tion is whether Mr. Hol­lande can ac­com­plish this while an­tag­o­nis­ing the unions that helped him come to power four years ago. Be­fore the 2012 elec­tions, he had pre­sented him­self as an ally of the work­ing pop­u­la­tion and vowed to squeeze the wealthy to pro­tect France’s egal­i­tar­i­an­ism. But once in power, Mr. Hol­lande turned busi­ness-friendly, and the con­stituency that elected him felt be­trayed. In the end, there may be no op­tion avail­able to ei­ther but a com­pro­mise. The gov­ern­ment must re­alise the lim­its of high-hand­ed­ness and uni­lat­er­al­ism, just as the unions need to face up to the re­al­ity that the French econ­omy, fired by gov­ern­ment and Euro­pean Union sub­si­dies and a pub­licly funded wel­fare sys­tem, can­not hold amid stalled growth.— The Hindu

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