French police were forced to use tear gas today to disrupt a violent anti-labor reform protest in Nantes, France. Local police faced thrown projectiles and shouts of “Resistance!” from nearly 800 students.
Police rushed to block the Anne of Brittany Bridge to prevent demonstrators from entering the city center. Meanwhile, those who favored peaceful protest sat en masse outside local restaurants to block entry.
Today’s protest, in which there were numerous arrests, mirrors nationwide unrest in regards to a controversial bill that seeks to reverse France’s rising unemployment rate by uprooting traditional labor laws. France’s unemployment rate is roughly 10%. Last month marked a record high, pushing jobless numbers to nearly 3.6 million people. Not surprisingly, economic growth remains sluggish, below 1.5%.
The country is trying to reverse these trends by doing away with an old socialist policy that makes firing employees extremely difficult – even if a company is losing money. More specifically, the legislation against which so many are protesting seeks to loosen protections regarding overtime bonuses, layoffs, and the country’s 35-hour workweek.
Worker’s unions and protestors argue that the government just wants to make it easier and cheaper for companies to lay off their employees.
The interior ministry estimates that nearly 224,000 people took part in protests last month – up to 100,000 of them students who do not understand how the widespread reform will help. Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri and President Francois Hollande have become protestors’ favorite targets.
“The bill is supposed to help hiring but all I see is that it helps dismissal,” complained Bouchra Jellab, a member of the student group Unef.
Admittedly, the main focus of the bill is to limit the cost of laying off employees – but in fact, nearly all aspects of the country’s strictly codified labor rules will be up for negotiation.
Disgruntled students who will soon emerge into France’s workforce are not the only ones upset with El Khomri’s reforms. Polls show that nearly 50% of France’s population sides with the protestors.
Business leaders explain the bill will help young workers by encouraging businesses to hire employees on long-term contracts opposed to temporary ones. France’s official working week would remain at 35 hours, but employers and unions would be able to negotiate short-term changes.
Mass student protests forced then-President Jacques Chirac to withdraw his labor reforms 10 years ago, but it doesn’t seem likely that President Hollande will succumb as easily. The proposal has been tinkered with in an effort to “find the right balance,” says Hollande, but the government will not be backing down.
“It won’t be withdrawn,” Hollande stated last week during a televised appearance.
Editor’s Note: France is fighting for its economic life. The socialist style employment system, where employees are impossible to fire has caused business expansion to drop and an unemployment rate of over 10%. This is the price of socialism, even in partial measures.
Just a side note – the Soviet Union wasn’t started by a group of despots trying to give socialism a bad name. Socialism caused The Soviet Union to transform from an idealistic group into an oppressive horror.