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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La « justice » selon Sarkozy ne convainc pas les syndicats

by By Yves Housson

“Justice” according to Sarkozy does not convince the unions

Translated by Amanda Cook

Translated Thursday 5 March 2009, by Amanda Cook

French labor unions denounce the insufficiency of the measures announced on Thursday. Plans are in motion for a day of protest on March 19.

If Nicolas Sarkozy hoped to placate the unions by convening a “social summit” on Wednesday, he was mistaken. All of the organizations that united under a common platform on January 5 (CGT, CFDT, FO, CFTC, CGC, FSU, UNSA, Solidaires) openly expressed their dissatisfaction with the Elysée’s recent announcements. Without even waiting for the inter-union meeting on Monday, several leaders have confirmed the prospect of another day of protest on March 19.

“The President needed to make things happen, as was made clear by the recent general strike, but we are very far from satisfying the January 29 protesters’ widely-supported platform of demands,” declared Bernard Thibault. For the general secretary of the CGT, the so-called “social” measures that were announced represent “a small helping hand” for those who stand to benefit, but such a sum of money (2.6 billion Euros) “is overshadowed by the aid being directed towards businesses” (8 billion Euros in tax cuts). The amount is even lower, in his eyes, since the President made a television appearance on Wednesday. During this television appearance, Sarkozy reiterated his refusal to reevaluate his reforms (of hospitals, high schools, universities…) despite the fact that they are very controversial.

“The unions’ efforts have brought about an initial shift in state politics (…). But given the current situation of workers, the proposed measures are insufficient,” claims the general secretary of the CFDT, François Chérèque. “An effort was made to help lower-class families,” says his opposite number at the CFTC, Jacques Voisin, “but it is not enough.” Jean-Claude Mailly, from the FO, criticizes Sarkozy’s “negative responses regarding the SMIC (the minimum monthly salary for a full time worker), the negotiations over industry-specific minimum wage policies, and the moratorium on cutting public service jobs.”

The President has essentially brushed aside the idea of raising salaries, on the highly controversial grounds that it would discourage employment. He has also refused to reconsider his plan to downsize the public sector. These two points are representative of the “economic strategy” that so many economists, including the liberal ones, consider incapable of dealing with the current financial crisis. “Raising salaries,” explains Bernard Thibault, “will help the economic system recover through means other than” those that, by “sacrificing the social dimension,” led to the current crisis.

The few so-called “justice” measures are also not immune to criticism. The choice to reduce income taxes, chosen over the reduction of the TVA (Value Added Tax) or other indirect taxes, is fundamentally unjust. “Nicolas Sarkozy is weakening the only clearly redistribution-focused tax of the French financial system,” notes the National United Organization of Taxes (Syndicat national unifié des impôts).

According to Gérard Aschiéri of the FSU, a subsidy for unemployed young people who have worked only two months “is not the kind of policy we want for our youth.”

The plan to compensate the underemployed is also flawed. If enacted, it would match up to 75% of the recipient’s gross income. This would still mean that the workers involved would “lose 200-300 Euros per month if their full time salaries were meant to be at the SMIC or slightly higher,” estimated Solidaires.

Nevertheless, Nicolas Sarkozy is not the only object of discontent. Several union leaders have also pointed fingers at employers’ “closed, uncompromising” attitudes at Wednesday’s “summit.” In addition to rejecting every effort to stimulate consumption, Mrs. Parisot refused the idea of having a discussion “with the unions at the national level” about a modification of profit distributions. Encroaching upon stockholders’ dividends would be a crime against “property rights,” insists the president of MEDEF.

In these conditions, there is nothing left for François Chérèque to do but “continue to pressure the government and employers to make a real change of plans.” Bernard Thibault predicts that the inter-union meeting on Monday will bring “a unanimous agreement” to plan a protest for March 19. From now until then, he hopes to see “a barrage of initiatives” in municipal governments and businesses.

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