by Jerome a Paris
Sun Mar 19th, 2006 at 07:42:28 AM EST
Today, the Guardian/Observer has an article which pretty much sums up the common wisdom on France and the student protests against the CPE, the new work contract for the under-26 with a 2-year trial period. Let's tear it apart.
Today, French protest seems more like farce (Observer)
Teargas, running battles with the police and an overnight occupation of the Sorbonne. French students last week reminded us once again that nobody does protest with the élan of the French.
Ah, élan. Nice but quaint, and hopelessly out of date. Nothing like suggesting to start with the French are stuck in the past. And of course, focus the first impression not on the substance of the protests, but on the few inevitable bits of violence that took place. Yes, tear gas really was the main thing yesterday (not).
See also in the comments below my deconstruction of the article in TIME magazine covering the demonstrations. It's amazing how the same inane concepts come through over and over again.
It's a tradition, but the curious paradox of these riots is that they are mounted to preserve the status quo.
French students claim they are fighting for every under-26-year-old in France; for equality and solidarity; for an idea of the left, France and Europe. Put like that, it is intoxicating stuff. They are resisting a measure which the government and the international consensus say will tackle France's No 1 social problem: that more than one in five French young people is out of work.
This is actually an unexpectedly honest summary of what's at stake: the left, France and Europe versus what is *claimed to be* the "international consensus". Of course, in this paragraph, (published in what is supposed to be a leftwing
paper), it is made absolutely clear - but, as usual, with no backing arguments whatsoever) that the "international consensus" is right and that the claims on the other side to be fighting for the left, for France and for Europe are bogus ("intoxicating", i.e. a dangerous illusion)
And this is supported by the usual bogus argument about high unemployment numbers, which makes what is a FALSE claim about the proportion of youth unemployed being above 20%. The unemployment rate, i.e. the number of unemployed compared to the active population, is indeed above 20%, but that does not mean that 20% of the youth are unemployed: the actual figure is below 8%, pretty much the same as in the UK (as flagged by what is presumably an acceptable source, the Financial Times).
Let's note also the sentence about "preserving the status quo". That's part of the whole discourse of "reform" which has been captured by the freemarket ideologues, who are trying anyone who opposes them as conservative and reactionary for opposing the inevitable march of history. Again, this is an ideological fight, with on the one side the ideas that have brought to the West the unprecedented prosperity of the 20th century, and on the other, those that want to capture that wealth for a few.
This is not an international consensus, or, if it is, only amongst the selfish rich and the unthinking, who, by sheer repetition, give it a claim to reality. It's up to us to remind everybody that the opposite opinion is just as legitimate and has proven much more effective at generating prosperity for ALL.
The proposition is that to help the young into employment, they have to be easier to sack.
This is indeed a "proposition". It is not borne out by facts, and they don't even bother to try to "prove" it. It's part of the international consensus, probably...
If you want employers to hire young people whose skills and aptitude to do the job are an unknown quantity, says the centre-right government of Prime Minister Dominique Villepin, then it has to be made easier for employers to fire them if they prove incompetent. It proposes that the country's under-26s should, for two years after employment, be sackable with no compensation and no reasons given. As a result, it predicts, youth unemployment would fall by more than 20 per cent.
You can already fire someone for being incompetent. That's really the most annoying kind of comments. Those that say "I never expected to have a job for life when I started out", or "I need to be able to fire people if I have a reason to". You CAN, already. The point is that with the new law, you can fire young people EVEN IF you don't have a reason. Because the person is not "respectful" enough. Or, after 2 years minus one week, because it's cheaper to get another precarious worker who won't dare complain than giving full rights to the existing one. When the job is menial or requires few qualifications, competence is never going to be enough if you can get cheaper or more compliant elsewhere.
As to claims that unemployment would go down, the French employers' association has made them each time they asked for a softening of labor laws, they've had their way and unemployment only went down in the period when labor laws were toughened under the Socialist government led by Jospin.
The students do not believe him. The planned Contrat Première Embauche (contract of first employment) has become totemic of everything France hates. It treats workers unequally. It drives a coach and horses through the principle of solidarity. It creates systemic insecurity. It is the kind of policy embraced by the European Commission in Brussels and 'les Anglo-Saxons'. It is anti-French.
Again talk about moving the goal posts. The French (students) are unreasonable and hysterical. They see evil plots everywhere. And as the international consensus knows that there is no such thing as "les Anglo-Saxons", a semi-racist French invention. (And by the way, I have not seen a single reference to the EU Commission or to "les Anglo-Saxons" in the demonstrations or even the commentariat. This is just another casual slander.)
In a different context, it might work as the government predicts and be politically acceptable, but in today's context, it is condemned to fail. Withdrawing rights from people when unemployment is already high is close to impossible. It can only be done when times are good, demand is rising and unemployment is falling, but the trouble is that nobody has any clear idea how to get there.
Note: demand is rising and unemployment is falling, currently... But is he contradicting himself right now? This reasonable law won't work? Yes, France's situation is THAT desperate, it's too far down the deep hole it's dug itself into...
I have thought for some time that the French should create a British approach to mortgage borrowing and house prices to fuel some rise in demand, but that, too, is seen as far too Anglo-Saxon, liberal and individualistic.
Okay, we have it officially: bubbles are Anglo-Saxon, liberal and individualistic.
But France is bubbly enough, isn't it?
(Note, I have commented that graph separately in this thread - this is meant as an ironic argument)
And actually, the current government *has* decided to put in place a mechanism to make house equity withdrawals possible in France, so Mr Hutton should check his facts before making such snide remarks. We are doing all the same idiocies, only a bit later. Hopefully our hangover won't be as bad...
We are witnessing a cultural tragedy unfold. The French carry a Utopian ideal in their collective heads about what it means to be French. They are self-appointed defenders of Europe's real republican virtues of liberty, equality and fraternity. Their rightful place is as Europe's leaders, and the state, embodying an idea of France, is the nation's master puppeteer.
None of this works in 2006. The state, as all others in Europe, is circumscribed by global market forces. France is only one of 25 EU member states and the way liberty, equality and fraternity have been delivered since the 1950s has to be recast.
Yep, forget about equality and fraternity. That's so 1950ish... Now you have "global forces". Not ideology, nothing imposed by hard right policies led by governments. No. Unchallengeable, undeniable "global forces" (those that say that oil is plentiful, transport should not be taxed, and capital should not be prevented from moving around from one place to another without being taxed, and that anything the State does is bad) - that just happen to cut the French model (that of the "puppeteer", another nice casual slander, both for the French and for the other countries that have gone along wiht the EU) down to size. That last, convenient bit doesn't sound like a "tragedy", does it?
French students find themselves in the same ambiguous position as their country. Their only solution to the challenge of modernity is to defend the status quo to the last, even if it is evident it is malfunctioning.
It's "evident" because it's repeated that it's evident. Still no substantiation. Any look at hard data always somehow shows that there is nothing "evident" there.
French national policy is the same. On Friday, L'Oréal bought Body Shop, following a well- beaten path of the French buying British companies. On the same day, the French government passed legislation making it almost impossible for British or other foreign companies to do the same in France.
Note that, according to theory, liberalism is good for you even if it not reciprocated. At least the Economist has the consistency to say that it's better for the UK to be open to all comers even if they don't allow the reverse, because it helps improve the UK's competitiveness. So why should Mr Hutton want the French to open up their companies to be bought by UK ones? Does nationality matter now? I thought this was all about "global forces"?
But, more importantly, this is yet another lie.The French law has partly aligned its rules to those in the US and the UK on things like poison-pills. It also says that the State will review any foreign purchase in 11 sectors, 10 of which are linked directly to the armaments industry (the 11th, for some reason, is casinos). How that is described as a law preventing take-overs of French companies is, again, a demonstration of the lethal combination of ideological arrogance and uninformed conformism that is at the core of the "global forces".
Remember this graph provided by afew in a recent diary (Protectionalism..?)?
Villepin has also established 10 strategic sectors that are to be no-go areas for European buyers and forced Gaz de France to merge with another French company to save it from Italian takeover.
Why "also"? It's the exact same law. As to "forcing" GDF to merge with Suez, this is again a lie, or an ignorant assertion. The two companies have been wanting to merge for at least two years, and everybody agrees that the merger makes sense industrially. The ONLY obstacle was the fact that GDF was until recently fully State-owned, and since its IPO last year, the law still required its capital to be 70% State-owned. So the government was the obstacle! What's true is that the expecatation of an ENEL bid an Suez gave a pretext to the government to rush through a law allowing the State to go lower in the capital of GDF, and thus making the merger possible. Unions are complaining about a de fact privatization. The global forces at work again, Mr Hutton should be happy!
All of this is in flagrant breach of basic EU law. The government is behaving inter-governmentally just as the students are, aggressively trying to preserve an indefensible status quo to maintain a utopian idea of France.
What a crock of shit. Nothing illegal was done! And everybody knows it, as we see with their contorsions about the "spirit of the law" supposedly being breached. The next sentence is then used to somehow taint the demonstrations with the same whiff of illegality. Yes. Demonstrators. In the streets! How dare they?!
Again, the unsubtantiated assertions that the status quo is "indefensible" and the ideas defended by ther students and the French government "utopian". Repeat it enough and it becomes conventional wisdom but it does not make it any more true.
But it is undermining the very fabric of the EU. Next week, European heads of state meet to advance the so-called Lisbon agenda, by which Europe committed itself to becoming the most dynamic, competitive, knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010. It is an empty farce, made more farcical still by the evident implosion of the EU's political will.
Who's talking about undermining the very fabric of the EU? How do you define that "fabric"? Oh, the Lisbon agenda... of course.
British Eurosceptics will delight, but a stagnant, angry, drifting Europe is not in Britain's interests. France and the French have lost the plot. This is not just a crisis for them, but for us. If France goes absent, the EU will lose its drive and purpose. And that is exactly what is happening.
Yeah, right, let's take the high ground. I'm still kicking the corpse, but "it's bad for us." Please. That must have felt good writing, right? "France and the French have lost the plot... the EU will lose its drive and purpose". Hahaha.