Economic Unrest in France: Economic Distress Driving Massive Protests


Far be it for me to observe that the French are always protesting something; but when French unemployment reaches two million souls the protests take on an ever growing intensity. The Unions are blaming French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his policies for the outrageous unemployment figures and the protests are occurring across the length and breadth of France. As usual the Unions have a list of demands that reflect little in the way of global economic reality and much in the way of a failed reliance on the omnipotence of the state.  A recent poll showed that three out of four French citizens support the strikers as Unemployment heads toward double digests. 

Europe has seen far more civil unrest because of economic conditions than the United States has to this point.  If Mr. Obama doesn’t fix the credit issues and get the banks functioning normally it won’t be long before we catch up to our European friends, as deteriorating conditions in the US Jobs market drives Americans to the streets as well.  You can see the beginnings of it in the growing American “Tea Party’s” and in the popularity of men like Glen Beck. The underlying assumption in France seems to be that the Government can fix this thing which I find to be a problematic assessment at best.  You can make an excellent argument that the United States , and the corruption of our professional politicians, created this mess and it’s become abundantly clear they have no idea how to stop it.  They borrow more; they print more; they castigate corporate executives who they should be thanking while they pretend it was Wall Street rather than Congress that failed us. 

I doubt that European Politicians are of substantially superior moral fiber than our own crop of miscreants who now inhabit Capitol Hill: but with the heat that Europe is getting from its people one wonders how long they’ll be able to hold out against protectionist measures.  Europe is annoyed, to put it mildly, and they want the government to wave a magic wand at the global financial crisis and make it go away. Protests and civil unrest is rising and people are taking to the streets.  As the crisis continues the risk of violence and property destruction increases as well.  This sort of thing has a habit of advancing opportunistic leaders who would never have been listened too in “normal” times but who now have a shot at the brass ring.

Here’s a report from the BBC:


New nationwide strike hits France

Hundreds of thousands of French workers have begun protests across the country during a nationwide strike.

Schools are closed and public transport is being disrupted, with demonstrations organised in about 200 towns.

Unions are opposing President Nicolas Sarkozy’s economic policies. Unemployment has reached two million and is expected to rise further.

Organisers predict the protest will be bigger than one in January, when more than a million people took part.

Union members marched towards Nation in Paris behind a banner that read: “United against the crisis, defend employment, spending power and public services.”

Police said there were about 85,000 people at the rally, according to the AFP news agency.

“They have a profound sense of social injustice, and that, I think, is something that neither the government nor the employers have understood,” said Jean-Claude Mailly, head of the large Force Ouvriere union.

Marches are also being held in Marseille, Lyon, Grenoble and many other towns and cities.

It is the second time in two months that major demonstrations have been held, following a similar display in January.

Beleaguered industries

The strikes began on Wednesday evening with staff on transport networks.


  Increase minimum wage

  Reverse 50% cap on income tax

  Suspend public sector job cuts

  Measures to protect employment Government stimulus plan

  11bn euros to help businesses improve cashflows

  11bn euros of direct state investment

  4bn euros of investment by state-owned firms in modernisation

  2.65bn euros of tax breaks, and increases in family welfare and short-term unemployment benefits

The national rail operator, SNCF, cancelled 40% of high-speed trains and half of regional services.

A third of flights out of Paris’s Orly airport have been cancelled, while a tenth of France’s electricity output has been shut down with workers on strike.

However, buses and the Metro rail system in Paris were running normally, thanks to a new law enforcing a minimum transport service during strikes,.

But with many schools and public buildings shut for the day, the number of workers travelling into the capital was reduced.

Private-sector firms were also expecting a depleted workforce, with staff from the beleaguered car industry, oil and retail sectors taking part in the strike.

Rising unemployment

The unions say the 26bn euro ($35bn; £24.5bn) stimulus package for France’s struggling economy, unveiled by President Nicolas Sarkozy in December, does not go far enough.

A further 2.4bn euros ($3.2bn; £2.3bn) of measures, including tax breaks and social benefits, presented by President Sarkozy after January’s strike has failed to placate them.

They want him to increase the minimum wage and scrap his plans to cut public-sector jobs.

Recent polls show three-quarters of French people support the strikers.

Many commuters on Thursday said they backed the action, but hoped it would be short-lived.

“Fundamentally I agree, but too much is too much,” one was quoted as saying. “There are strikes in the transport sector too often and we have to put up with them.”

President Sarkozy said on Wednesday that he “understands the concerns of the French people” but has ruled out plans for further measures.

Unemployment is likely to shoot up to 10% in the next 12 months with a further 350,000 lay-offs expected by the end of this year.

Many people are angry that big companies like the oil giant Total is making staff redundant while simultaneously announcing record profits, the BBC’s Emma Jane Kirby in Paris says.


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