Sunday, March 19, 2006


Villepin, ça suffit, la jeunesse est dans la rue!

Saturday was a nice day for a demonstration in Strasbourg, but I probably would have attended even if the weather had been poor.

Here, as in many other cities, it was not just the young: I saw families, and of course the union contingents comprised people who work (hence tend to be older). I'm a bit disappointed not to see the estimated attendance in the press; even the local paper, the DNA, published the AFP release and does not appear to have their own coverage (maybe in the print edition?) although we marched right in front of their headquarters.

We assembled at 2:00 in the Place Kléber. The major unions were present, with flags and banners and distribution of "Non au CPE" stickers; the stickers were all "branded"--FO or cfdt--so I didn't put one on; to tell the truth, no one asked me to, or even offered me a sticker. I'm not sure why not, I think I dressed appropriately (jeans, sweat shirt, leather jacket), not in a suit. The LCR, Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire, was the political party most visible. There were a few Socialists, a very few Les Verts, and some Communistes (PCF). There was an association for the defense of the unemployed: the A.B.C.D.E., for Association Bas-Rhinoise des Chômeurs et Demandeurs d'Emploi. There was a marching band that had come from Switzerland to join in; I think that was very thoughtful of them. I saw a poster with a suppository labelled "CPE" followed by "OQ OQ OQ".

Around 2:30, the procession headed out around the city. It was very relaxed, a pleasant stroll, with music provided by the band on the CGT truck. Through the Place de l'Homme de Fer, down the rue du Vieux Marché aux Vins, up the rue du 22 novembre, right onto the rue des Francs Bourgeois/rue de la Division Leclerc, left up the rue de la Douane, left again to take the rue des Grandes Arcades back through the Place Kléber and out to the rue de la Mésange, down the rue de la Nuée Bleue (past the DNA) to the Quai Kellerman, then back to the Place Kléber via the rue du Noyer. There were a few police agents placed at each bridge or turning point, but no apparent tension. Walking back toward the station at 4:30, I saw the street sweepers were
already tidying up.

It has been a long time since I last demonstrated or marched. I wasn't sure how to dress, what to take and what to leave home (camera? phone? credit card? Should I wear an old pair of eyeglasses or my usual ones, with a risk of breakage? ID and some cash are the only obvious necessities). People seemed generally dressed as they would for Saturday shopping or a fair or amusement park; the "uniform" vests worn by members of some unions were the most obvious exception. A teenager I saw arriving at the station wore a cape with the standard Che portrait; I thought he was ridiculous. We were not there for a revolution, but in hopes of safeguarding some fairness in hiring practices.

In France today, someone newly hired has a probationary period, to verify that they are indeed able to do the job. This period may be a month or two; for management jobs, it is usually three months, and can be renewed once "to be sure" for a total of six months. Letting someone go during this period is not just because the employer changed his mind, it is because the hire's performance was inadequate.

To fire someone after confirmation, their performance has to be flagrantly inadequate or they have to commit a professional fault, or the company has to be too economically strained to be able to continue to employ the person. Actually, that is no longer true: now companies can reduce headcount as a preventive measure if they forecast economic difficulties! The next step is to allow them to fire without justification of fault or inadequate performance; this is what the CPE would do, for the first two years.

This law is not about "equality of opportunity", as it claims. It is about "beggars can't be choosers", so if you want work, make a bigger effort, make a sacrifice. Like the "interns", who work for a pittance for months in the hope of being hired (instead of replaced by the next "intern")--an almost-free sample. If you and your parents can't afford an "internship", and employers are not taking bribes--selling jobs--then about all you can offer is to give up expectation of fair treatment.

Most of the demonstrators, particularly the labor unions, were calling for maintaining the status quo, defending the "permanent hire" contract. I'm not convinced that this is possible, or even desirable: renewable annual or two-year contracts are likely the system of the future. However, I don't think it is fair to change the rules for only those not yet employed without recasting the contracts of those currently employed with the same rules. And of course this should only be done after the consequences for housing (renting and buying) and unemployment insurance have been considered, and redesigned if necessary.

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