Tue Oct 23rd, 2007 at 05:06:17 AM EST
Today [October 18] marked the first major protests against Sarkozy's labor policies. Right now Sarkozy has played up the legitimacy given by his election, and is attempting to ram through parliament many reforms of fiscal and labor law, that all seem to favor his close friends in the Medef, the boss's union.
Most unions in SNCF, the French railway company, and RATP, that manages Parisian public transportations, called for a one-day strike. Trains didn't circulate for much of the day across France : only about 50 out of 600 daily TGV journeys actually happened, and most other trains didn't circulate. Public transportation in Paris was pretty much closed.
Around 300 000 people demonstrated in France's main towns :
The main reason for the strike is an attempt of Fillon's government to reform the RATP and SNCF pensions : this kind of reform, by Juppé in 1995, had led to a month-long strike, and forced him to back down. Will this hapen again ?
Diary rescue by Migeru
The reform put forward by the government is done supposedly in the name of justice and equality. Pensions in France are supposedly organised as a repartition scheme : current workers pay for the pensions of current pensioners. There is a general fund into which most employees contribute, that currently permits full rate pension after 40 years of working, and when one is at least 60 years old.
But some statuses are slightly different, mostly those of SNCF, RATP and EDF employees, but also those of the employees of the Paris Opera, of the Bank de France, of notary clerks... Of members of the National Assembly, too. Those statuses allow employees to retire after contributing for 37.5 years. The government calls it an inequality that must be righted ; news magazines say it is an undue privilege - the same term used for the aristocracy's rights before the 1789 revolution. Of course, those "régimes spéciaux de retraite" are more favourable to the employee than the general one.
But the current proponents of equality are never heard calling for the docking of higher wages - which are the most obvious inequality around. Pensions system are an element of salary, and one may have chosen to work at the SNCF or RATP knowing that the pension plan would be better, and thus maybe accepting a lower wage. Not many people would accept direct cuts on their monthly wage ; this is no different. And calling train drivers "privileged" in these days of rising inequalities is preposterous ; no train driver earns enough, even with a better retirement compounded, to be the the top centiles of highest French incomes.
Of course this works fully into the Sarkozist ideology of "working more to earn more" that is supposed to "free economic growth". Working more in these conditions isn't a choice really ; and polls usually show French workers want to retire as early as they can.
The reason the SNCF and RATP kept their special pension plans for quite some time is that when they go on strike they can inflict a lot of troubles on the French economy ; public transportations closing in Paris mean people can hardly go to work in a city without enough roads to transport everybody by car. So the media play up the cliché of the "common man being taken hostage". Actually though, the light car circulation in the streets of Paris on thursday seem to indicate that most Paris workers took a day off work to avoid the hassle of going to work on a strike day ; the RTT (Work Time Reduction) as was made possible by the Jospin reforms eased the day, but that solution can't last much longer if the strike continues.
Memories of the 1995 strike, which lasted one month and ended in success, a coming back to life. However, polls diverge on whether the population is for or against the success of the strike, depending on how the question is asked - amazingly, the Communist daily l'Humanité found the French were in favor, whereas the right-wing daily Le Figaro found people were against it.
In 1995, it was felt a part of the private sector employees, who couldn't go on strike as easily as the public sector, were sympathetic to the movement ; a big question mark is whether it will happen this time : has the media blitz presenting the strikers as privileged life employees taking hostage the common man been successful ?
RATP and SNCF workers weren't the only ones striking and demonstrating though ; many public sectors union have been calling for a strike today, with the amount of people actually on strike varying ; whereas 90% of the train drivers were on strike, half of the EDF workforce was not working, and 8% of the state civil servants. Many of them are striking against Sarkozy's policies against labor, and as a need to get a revenge against the lost of the presidential election lost by the left wing.
The Paris demonstration claimed 25 000 participants according to the CGT union, and 21 000 according to the Paris police ; usually the unions announce twice more demonstrators than the police, and I personally felt there were more than 25 000 people, at least comparing to other demonstrations I participated in.
The union leaders in front of the demonstration
The Paris Opera and the Comédie Française (the national theater company that was founded by Molière) have special pension plans too.
There were Korean demonstrators too ; apparently the French concrete company Lafarge has taken to firing union representatives and paying below minimum wages (which mean well below living wage) in Korea.
A few unions are calling for the strike to be extended, along with the far left politician Besancenot ; but others, including the CGT, are calling for it to stop now, making this strike a warning to Sarkozy. Whether the train drivers continue to strike on Friday remains to be seen ; they are the one would actually stop working, and it wouldn't be the first time they'd take a tougher line than the union bosses.
Of course, Sarkozy used the ultimate bomb in trying to bury the news and analysis of this strike : he chose this day to announce his divorce with Cécilia.