Growing unrest in France
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