Sunday, March 19, 2006

Marching for job security, teargassing for public safety

This may not be quite the national state of emergency that erupted in France late last year, but the protests against the government's new employment policy (known as the "First Job Contract," or C.P.E.) have spread beyond the elitist corridors of the Sorbonne. According to Reuters:

Hundreds of thousands of students, workers and left-wing politicians took to the streets across France on Saturday to press the conservative government to scrap a new law they fear will erode job security... The marches were mostly festive and peaceful, but dozens of youths pelted police with missiles, overturning and setting fire to a car at the end of the main protest in Paris. Police fired many rounds of tear gas to clear them from Nation square. Scattered violence was also reported in Marseille, Rennes and Lille, where police also charged and teargassed crowds... Organisers estimated the turnout nationwide at 1.3 to 1.4 million, with up to 400,000 of them in Paris. As usual, the official count was lower -- the Interior Ministry reported 503,000 nationwide, with 80,000 in Paris.

I continue to be torn on this. The students obviously have a point, but what else is to be done to combat the high rate of unemployment in France? They want their job security, but what if there are no jobs? On the other side, the government is obviously trying to tackle the very real unemployment problem that plagues the country, but is an easy-to-fire policy really the best way to stimulate employment? Will employers hire more young people knowing that they can more or less fire them at will?

Is there room for compromise here? It would appear not.

I still think the government will blink first. Once the French are out in the streets, after all, once they erect barricades and challenge authority so openly in the public square, there's just no turning back.

The French Revolution is never quite over.

(I've previously written about the policy and the protests here and here.)

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