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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La déferlante antiprécarité

by By Yves Housson

The Tidal Wave Against Ending Job Security

Translated by Patrick Bolland

Translated Wednesday 5 April 2006, by Patrick Bolland

It’s a huge failure! Prime minister Dominique de Villepin, who had apparently thought that the anti-CPE movement would wane if he kept up his intransigence, was massively rejected on 28 March in the streets of France. For this fourth day of action, the extent of participation was far greater than on 18 March - which was already spectacular. All the numbers - including from the police - confirm the major upsurge.

In most of the 135 towns and cities where demonstrations were held, the organizers announced “twice as many” - twice as strong as on 18 March, as impressive as in 1995 (the ground-swell unleashed by prime minister Juppé’s project to reform social security). People were saying all over France that it was even more than the anti-Le Pen tsunami in 2002. From the beginning of the afternoon, Bernard Thibault, secretary-general of the CGT union confederation, was reporting a total of 3 million participating in the marches.

A tangible reflection of discontent

All the opinion polls had shown rising discontent, the marches and work-stoppages on 28 March were a very concrete, physical manifestation of this. We are clearly witnessing a generalized rejection throughout France of job insecurity as provoked by the CPE-law . Alongside the university students, still mobilized after two months of struggle - 60 universities were still participating in the March 28 protests - and the high-school students, whose battalions of strikes have been increasing day by day - half of country’s high schools are now actively involved in the movement - workers joined the protests in floods. There were work stoppages in thousands of companies, in both the private and public sectors, more than at the height of the battle over pensions in 2003, according to the unions.

On the Renault production line, for example, between 40 and 60% of the morning shift walked out, according to the CGT metal-workers federation. In the marches, the banners of Renault, Peugeot, Bouygues, Airbus, Legrand, Total, Alcatel and other industrial giants rose above the demonstrators, alongside those of hospitals, gas and electrical workers, railway workers and post-office employees. Many schools cancelled classes, some 50% of the teachers went out on strike, three times more than during the last walk-out on 7 March.

The effectiveness of the day’s actions was doubtless a consequence of the unity between the unions and organizations that called people out. From early morning, the five labour confederations, CGT, CFDT, FO, CFTC and CGC, set the tone by one after another refusing the invitation sent out the night before by the prime minister. He asked them to come to his office at Matignon, particularly “to discuss modifications that should be made to the first job contracts”. In a letter to Dominique de Villepin, Bernard Thibault said he would be “available” to take part in “real negotiations on a number of subjects ... but only after you have withdrawn the mortgage that the CPE represents”.

Transmitting the same message as the leaders of other unions, François Chérèque pointed to the heart of the matter: “When the government thinks, it is wrong” in looking to find a “solution” by negotiating with the CFDT. “I’m not here to put out their fire”, the CFDT leader declared. “As long as the CPEs are still on the statute books, there can be no negotiations” insisted Alain Olive, of the National Association of Independent Unions (UNSA). As for the main high-school and university unions, they had already made their answer clear, by refusing to go to Matignon on Saturday 25 March - for them also, insecurity was not something negotiable. Yet, on the afternoon of the massive demonstration, the head of government was still saying in the National Assembly that they would not change their ideas.

Putting the country at “high-risk”

Blaming the unions for “turning down the opportunity being handed to them”, de Villepin once again dangled the possibility of “arrangements” in the CPE during the 2-year probationary work-period for new employees and the modalities for breaking contracts. However, just before, a government source had ruled out any significant concessions on breaking contracts by saying there was no way to change clauses about justifying lay-offs. This same source said the alternative would be “no more CPEs”. Hoping perhaps that the Constitutional Council on the CPEs might offer him an escape hatch - and this remains very doubtful - de Villepin and his team have therefore chosen - at high risk to the nation - to pursue their show of force. But on this front, as trade-union leaders have pointed out, the main lesson of the March 28 day of action is clear: the momentum is more than ever on the side of those opposed to the CPEs.

Article published in l’Humanité on 29 March 2006.

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