"Ah, to breathe the fine air of France!" As he spoke in mock-heroic tones last week, Sayed Diakite, 19, a student from the southern subrurbs of Paris, was smiling gleefully, and weeping at the same time. Like hundreds of other young people boxed in by riot police between the Bon Marché department store and the Hotel Lutetia in the heart of the Left Bank, his eyes were running in reaction to pungent gas and smoke from a burning newspaper kiosk. Amid the uproar, Diakite and his fellow students felt a budding sense of empowerment. Up to half a million young people had gone, some riotously, to the streets throughout France on Thursday. Then, joined by union members and sympathizers, as many as 1.5 million joined marches on Saturday, some of which ended in violent clashes with riot police. Would this show of force bring a government that seems ever more out of touch to its knees?
Dixit Time Europe’s James Graff, reporting from Paris. Two things struck me while reading this excerpt. The first is that Sayed Diakite does not immediately sound like Jean-Pierre Lagrange to me. The second is that Mr. Graff thinks that the government is "ever more out of touch".
Let us skip Sayed, we all know he don’t sound like a Lithuanian or a Bhutanese. But as far as the French gumint is concerned, well, I gather that in this issue they are much more "in touch" than Mr. Graff would possibly want to admit. E.g., I guess they are aware that youth employment is at a staggering 22% throughout France, even topping 40%-50% in the banlieues. And I guess they are also aware that French patrons are very reluctant to hire young people in the first place. The reason? Not only is entrance onto the labor market damn difficult – both from the employee and the employer’s point of view. But for a boss to actually fire employees it’s even much tougher. It is final realization of this conundrum that ultimately made the French government do something to address the problem.
France is an étatist, half-communist, hopelessly overtaxed and insanely overregulated society. It's no coincidence that AFAIK it's the only West European country where a communist party, the PCF, or Parti Communiste Français, has always played, and continues to play to this date, a considerable role. The French State is to a large extent involved in the economy, being shareholder in a plethora of large companies. And it is proud of it too: see e.g. this site, where an amiable fella by the name of Jean-Louis Girodolle, Vice Director of the French Government Shareholding Agency, is boasting about the State’s Role as an Owner. Now, while over the past years the French State did indeed sell many shares it held in strategic sectors ranging from the automotive industry (Renault - 15%) over energy (Gaz de France - 34%) to defense (EADS-Aérospatiale) and electronics (Thomson), it is still to an extent unthinkable in the States co-owner in these fields. Then there is the fact that in excess of one in every three “active” persons is on the state’s payroll – either in a governmental, regional, departmental, communal, you-name-it-al - service. Thus, as Larry Kudlow from National Review notes:
France’s public government sector, for instance, accounts for more than 50 percent of GDP. In other words, private business in France is in the minority.
It's only natural that in a labor market where l'Etat is so omnipresent, virtually anyone looking for a job will run into state regulation determining the conditions for his or her entrance into the labor "market". And so it can happen that if you are looking for a job as a cleaner, you may have to submit a written mémoire first in order to get a diploma certifying you are capable of cleaning! Don't worry, it can always be worse. You may have to do a two-year internship first before you can become a hotel housemaid!
So, getting a job is tough. Now, how about losing it? Well, it's tough too. Once a young person is on a company’s payroll and screws up, and the boss wants to fire him/her, he has to submit detailed descriptions of the reason(s) why to the Union the person in question is (undoubtedly) a member of. Moreover, his/her wages are to continue to be paid over a period of time stretching over several months. Now, I live in Belgium, where a white collar worker who has, e.g., been 15 years on the job and who is laid off due to, say, restructuring, is to be paid some fourteen months after having left the company. Scratching your head?
It’s worse in France.
In short, flexibility in the French labor market is something as elusive as a Jon Stewart joke that actually does crack you up. Or, to paraphrase un certain fameux Ministre de Défense, going to work within France is like duck hunting with your accordeon.
And here is where Dominique de Villepin, French PM and Proud Possessor of the most gorgeous cheveux this side of l'Atlantique, comes into the picture. On the one to the right, unfortunately with his trademark obscured by a German WWII steel helmet: I have it from good source that Mr. De Villepin - the guy carrying the other - is actually a sneaky but ardent re-enactor of certain calamitous events which occurred in France in June 1940, but don't tell anyone I told you because the walls have ears and Amerikkka kkkontrols the Internet. Anyway, it was De Villepin who, without consulting the French unions first - the horror - rammed the now (in)famous CPE Bill through Parliament, whereby CPE stands for Contrat Première Embauche, or First Job Contract (it must be said though that French President Jacques Chirac, ever so clever, has not signed the bill into effect yet). The First Job Contract (CPE) bill is meant to encourage firms to hire more young people by lowering their job protection. Essentially it:
* allows employers to fire new worker under 26 years within the first two years on the job without giving any reason
* provides those who stay for two years with a long-term contract with much stronger protection against firing.
* provides for "only" eight percent of the salary earned since the beginning of the contract if a person is fired within that two-year period.
* obliges companies to contribute another two percent of that salary to organisations that will help workers find new jobs.
Let us now proceed to the reactions of French youths to Mr. De Villepin's CPE Bill.
Feel the love. They were not amused. Apprarently it doesn't cross their little minds why on earth their boss would fire them in the first place IF ONLY they would perform well in their job. They want job assurance before assuring their boss of a good job. Superspoiled insane critters.
Now, that was in February. We are end of March now, and there have been nationwide manifestations against the CPE on February 7, March 7, March 16, March 23, and March 28. While they were "peaceful" at first, they gradually grew more violent. By March 16, there were rallies in 80 cities nationwide. In the student's quarter of the famous Parisian Sorbonne University, a bookshop was set alight, rioters smashed up a cafe and used chairs, street signs and rocks as missiles against the police. And as the protest movement picked up pace, other groups joined in: first the hooligan "casseurs" (literally "breakers"). We already know them: the French "youths" from last fall. FYI, there are 500 wounded police officers thus far:
A sudden downpour failed to quell the protesters' spirits as they marched, chanting slogans against the government and its new jobs contract. But once they reached their destination in the eastern city centre, most student demonstrators - and the workers who came out in support of them - quickly left as more youths descended on the square, with the sole aim of picking a fight with the riot police. These youngsters - aged between 15 and 25 - were wearing hooded tops that obscured their features. Many wore masks, so they could not be identified. Some had soaked scarves in lemon juice to wrap around their mouths before they came, to counteract the effects of the tear gas they knew would be unleashed by police. According to the riot police, many of these youths had come in from the suburbs outside Paris looking for trouble: this violence seen by some as a continuation in Paris city centre of what began in November's riots in the suburbs.
Indeed. But of a perhaps still more troubling nature is the fact that as March drew on, the unions first started to endorse the protest movements, then joined in the protests and finally called for strikes. Yesterday, on March 29, this resulted not only in nationwide protests with, according to the police, 1,055,000 demonstrators in 250 cities, but also in general strikes reducing train, plane, subway andbus services to a fraction of normal operation. The Eiffel Tower was closed, national newspapers were not on sale, many elementary and high schools were closed and even radio and TV limited their broadcasts.
I don't know anymore WHAT THE FUCK is happening in France. I'm flabbergasted. I was struck today by a quote from an American reader over at The Brussels Journal which sums it up nicely:
“The new serfs have sold their freedom and futures for a guaranteed bowl of porridge from the State. This is how far these young intellectuals can see – to the end of their spoons and no farther. They will take their paychecks by force, even if their economy dies.”
Even as it is clear that this insanity is now carried by a much larger segment of French population than the student movement, I think a fitting end to this post is to highlight the fella who carried the "banner" until the unions picked up, for he is, despite his young age, truly the iconic image of a dying nation: Bruno Julliard, Chairman of the National Student Federation UNEF. Born in 1981, mom the socialist mayor of Puy-en-Velay, dad a writer and journalist for the leftwing weekly Le Nouvel Observateur. A koinsidens I suppose. Also, fifth year student Corporate Law at the Université de Lyon. Frances prime leftist rag Le Monde would not be Le Monde if it didn't depict this young loser as a hero: "an increasingly embarrassing stone in the shoes of the government... Herald of the battle against the CPE... the young man has succeeded in gathering under one banner youth as well as the working class..." and blah blah blah frikkin blah...
When both youth and working class have been on the government teat for decades to the extent that the jobless don't want to work a paltry 35 hours a week anymore because they would actually touch less if they found themselves on some payroll, it is easy to be a hero of malcontents. When a hitherto all too lenient daddy can't meet the demands of his spoiled to the bone offspring no more and starts to impose rules, it's easy to be the loudmouth bully stamping with his feet and crying for everything to stay as it was. But the world is rapidly changing, and Julliard & Co. refuse to acknowledge it. Well, they can beat the French government. If I have to believe the latest news, Ole Playboy De Villepin hangs already in the ropes. But they won't be able to beat the Chinese or Indian government. Playing time is over, the seventies are gone forever and nothing will ever be the same. Bruno Julliard has been on God's Green Earth for only 25 years. But already he's the world's youngest Man of the Past.
Fuck-ing LOSER. Get a job.