Enough of the Kleenex generation!
French students and workers mobilize against CPE anti-youth labour “reforms”
“We've had enough of being the Kleenex generation of disposable youth, shat on by employers and screwed by the government.” – anti-CPE protestor
Over three million protestors have now taken to the streets of
The CPE -- "first jobs contract" -- is a particular type of contract with a two year probation period. It is the brainchild of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who says “urgent” action is needed to “bring the French labour market into the modern era.”
CPE is special because it grants employers the power to fire people, under age 26, without cause or warning within two years of being hired. It applies to workers who work for companies with more than 20 employees, regardless of whether the labour is skilled or unskilled. In contrast, under temporary contracts he would have had to pay 10% of the total wage paid since the beginning + the total wage owed until the end of the fixed term
The law was brought in as part of a wider ‘equal opportunities’ bill, that responded to a crisis in November 2005 when young people (primarily French-born children of immigrants from former French colonies, many of them Muslim) protested life on society’s working-class margins. Housing-project ghetto’s exploded in flames.
The youth unemployment rate in
"For two months, young people and working people have expressed their worries and rejection of the First Job Contract that makes a period of poverty a mandatory phase for an entire generation," said Bruno Julliard, a leader of the national student union UNEF.
Many were upset with the quickness with which the measure passed through the Parliament. Bruno Julliard said the government "imposed the jobs plan without consulting anyone," and that the government only agreed to talks after the large demonstrations. UNEF, in turn, has refused to join talks until the contract is withdrawn.
The CGT, France's largest union federation, said in a March 21 statement, "This measure, ineffective for employment, offers employers a new means of pressuring employees to renounce most of their rights under the penalty that they will be pushed out the door: it is a welcome to unpaid additional hours, worsened work conditions, lower salaries, sick days not respected, scorned dignity, etc."
The French Communist Party has opposed the CPE, proposing instead "a large progressive reformation of the labour code, aiming for job security and income for all."
In addition to the planned labour strikes, UNEF has led student strikes at a number of universities. Student groups also worry that the CPE would make housing problems worse for young workers. Many landlords won't rent to young workers because of their precarious financial situation.
"There is a big housing crisis in
Protests have been marked by a carnival atmosphere somewhere between a victory parade for the demonstrators and a funeral march for the "first employment law" as the ruling party prepared to begin negotiating its way out of the crisis.
3 million Demonstrators marched in around 280 French towns and cities. In
A spate of muggings spread in the demonstrations, but the unions and students have now organized stewarding and defence groups to protect against it.
One of the most shocking incidents of police brutality was the attack on Cyril Ferez, of the Sud-PTT union, who was seriously injured during a protest on 18th March. As RY went to press on April 8th, Ferez had just come out of a coma.
The newspaper l’Humanité describes “arbitrary arrests, humiliations and, sometimes, violence in police vans or at the station… teargases against peaceful high-school pupils blocking the entry of their school, as in Gagny, as a Seine-Saint-Denis, last Wednesday.”
After two months of protests in which hundreds of schools and universities have been blockaded, closed or occupied and workers joined in a national strike, Mr Chirac signed the law on Sunday but asked for changes: the probation period for workers would be only one year and employers must give a reason for dismissal. He also ordered talks with unions.
Jean-Robert Pitte, president of the world-renowned
One of the recommended reforms is more “labour market flexibility.” This is an economist’s way of saying it should be easier to fire employees, and there should be less generous public pensions and unemployment compensation, and lower payroll taxes. Lower wages and benefits attached to employment, as well as a reduced influence of unions also fall into this category.
The available economic research provides little or no evidence for this argument.
For example, while it is true that
A country’s level of employment (and unemployment) generally has much more to do with the overall demand for the goods and services that its businesses produce, rather than the rules or benefits that affect individual employers.
The idea that labour protections are the cause of European unemployment is part of an overall myth that Europeans would benefit from a more American-style economy. The
French students and workers seem to have a better understanding of these economic issues than their political leaders. Hopefully, the wisdom of the crowd will prevail.