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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La forte hausse du chômage était prévisible

by Paule Masson

Sharp Rise in Unemployment Was Foreseeable.

Translated Sunday 5 October 2008, by Gene Zbikowski

Unemployment. The trade unions and the left are holding the Sarkozy government responsible for the spectacular leap in unemployment registered at the French unemployment agency in August.

Confronted with the spectacular spike in unemployment in August, the French minister of the economy, Christine Lagarde, and the junior minister for employment, Laurent Wauquiez, called a “crisis meeting” which was held on Sept. 29. The only subject on the agenda was “mobilizing all the actors in the struggle against unemployment.” But what can the ANPE [the French job agency], UNEDIC [which pays unemployment benefits] the AFPA [responsible for job training] or the representatives of the local offices do when there are no jobs on offer?

As of Sept. 29, the government has officially confirmed that unemployment is about to go over the symbolic level of two million. In August, the ANPE reported an increase of 40,000 in the number of jobless registered in “category number one,” that is to say, people who were looking for a permanent full-time job and who had not worked more than 78 hours that month.

The result of a policy.

Three months ago, following a practically uninterrupted fall in unemployment since May, 2006, the figures began creeping up again. Last July, for example, 2100 more people registered with the ANPE than in June. The jump seen in August is consequently spectacular. You have to go back to 1993 to find an equally high jump. The government is promising that this is just a “rough patch” and budget minister Eric Woerth insists that, to “get back on the economic growth train,” structural reforms must be pursued.

The end of working more to earn more.

This is precisely what the left is reproaching him for doing. “This really is a consequence of government policy. Whatever the size of the financial crisis may be, making it the permanent scapegoat for a policy that has wreaked havoc for months just won’t wash,” stated the French Communist Party in a communiqué, while the national secretary of the Socialist Party, Michel Sapin, expressed his regret at “the government’s manifest use of the economic crisis as a pretext for the introduction of austerity measures.” The trade unions are skeptical. For the CGT, the increase is not “surprising.” In the CGT’s opinion, “the government should be inspired to review its economic and social policy,” rather than penalizing the unemployed. Jean-Claude Mailly, the general secretary of FO, has asked the government to “take decisions, including decisions in favor of the workers,” with FO coming out in favor of “a real policy of support for consumption and purchasing power,” while François Chérèque, the leader of the CFDT, thinks that the government has “bamboozled” the French.

The general secretary of the ruling UMP party, Patrick Devedjian, stormed that the left and the trade unions are “obsessed with the idea of sharing out the work” and “don’t want to get it through their heads that work creates work.”

And yet, in the context of a market reversal, the Sarkozy government’s flagship measure is looking like a leaky old tub. This, because while eliminating income tax on overtime hours has the effect of getting those who already have a job to “work more,” in a period of slow economic growth and empty order books, there can be no doubt that overtime hours are going to be few and far between.

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