French workers are up in arms over a new labor law that desecrates everything they have gained since the Revolution, and they are all the more indignant that a so-called socialist President is behind it.
You have to know just how big a place socialist history and thought occupy in the French psyche to appreciate the full impact of this neo-liberal betrayal. There is not one ‘socialist’ trade union in France, but two, as well as a Communist one, all of which have been very powerful for a hundred years.
French workers descend into the streets every time the government tries to pass legislation that could affect their rights and working conditions, and the current proposal goes far beyond what alternating left and right governments have been willing to grant their overseers in Wall Street.
Francois Hollande, considered one of France’s worst presidents, came to the office with impeccable socialist credentials, including a decades-long liaison with the mother of his four children, who is also a well-known political figure. Now he is trying to hammer the last nail in France’s socialist coffin, moving the country away from collective bargaining toward individual deals between workers and employers, cutting back on overtime pay. (Thanks to strong trade unions, French workers, like the Europeans, typically enjoy more than a month vacation, usually taken in several tranches, many going skiing over Christmas, as Michael Moore truthfully shows in ‘Where to Invade Next’.) While Donald Trump gains plaudits for wanting the Europeans to pay more for their defense, not even Bernie Sanders could dare to suggest that American workers should get double their current vacation time.
The screws being turned in France are the next phase of the Wall St. campaign to bury the Welfare State that began in 2008, and French workers know that. As if the French government were trying to prove it can walk and chew gum at the same time, the proposal comes amidst a crisis over refugees that has been building for more than a year. Never since the aftermath of World War II has Europe seen refugees trying to clamber aboard trains, and the appearance of ad hoc tent-filled camps - in Paris under the elevated metro, in Calais near the English Channel train tracks - on the beaches of the Mediterranean border with Italy - could not even be imagined a few years ago. Europe’s leaders have been paralyzed from the beginning, as refugees took off in rickety boats from Libya, often drowning en route to Italy. And as soon as they turned their gaze from Ukraine to that crisis, another chapter opened up, with Syrian and other Middle Eastern refugees taking shorter but just as perilous journeys from Turkey to small Greek islands.
France and Germany, the two leaders of Europe, quibbled while Hungary declared it would build a fence along its borders, and as the meme spread to other Central European countries, far-right groups moved from protest to arson and physical attacks.
Meanwhile, French workers have replaced loud marches with night encampments that allow participants to work during the day, and their demands include welcoming the refugees. This was not what Wall St. had in mind when it launched its latest attempt to do away with the Welfare State.