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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Les hauts et débats

by Michel Guilloux

The Highs and the (B)lows

Translated Monday 22 June 2009, by Karen Grimwade

Listening to the omnipresident hold forth before the International Labour Organisation in Geneva, we couldn’t help thinking to ourselves that his speech was missing one last phrase, the wonderful and eloquent: Do as I say, not as I do”. The same thing happened at the last G20 summit, where he was going to show us a thing or two, and at the G8 in the autumn. And we saw… Nothing. Who wouldn’t break into applause, once again, at hearing this: “We need new rules that will elevate us”?

What insensitive brutes we would be not to take out a handkerchief and dab at our teary eyes at the words “what kind of world will we leave to our children if we don’t manage to come to an agreement” on such fundamental questions as respect for trade union freedom and the banning of child labour? Go on, we dare you!

Rules that elevate us? Why not start by preventing the laying off of workers at companies that are making a profit and handsomely paying shareholders? Why not attach the same social constraints to state aid? Why not create a national state banking division to provide credit to companies that really need it, in particular SMEs, on the condition that they create stable jobs and train their employees? At a time when hundreds of thousands of people are being made partially or totally redundant, isn’t it time we lay the foundations of real job security and life-long learning? As for young people, who will be even greater affected come September, isn’t it time to think about ensuring their autonomy and access to social welfare so they can train and face unemployment?

Apparently not. Instead, in France, at the highest summit of the State, we prefer to consider pushing back the retirement age. We blow apart the public hospital system with a view to opening the lucrative social welfare market up to private insurance companies. We axe tens of thousands of jobs. We go hunting for the unemployed and create an RSA (Revenue de Solidarité Active), a veritable trap door for low-paid workers. And in a country supposedly a champion in the matter, we refuse to raise the minimum wage and social minima. After having considered reducing the legal working age to fourteen, we destroy the professional training centres that provide hundreds of thousands of young people with the means to overcome school failure and we open up universities to money-based selection. Coming back to international matters, all we will say is that the audacity of our monarch in the Elysée, who suggested that the ILO should play a role at the summits of the rich countries’ club or at World Trade Organisation and International Monetary Fund meetings, will not go so far as to imagine a far-reaching reform of these institutions, which are completely focused on saving the financial world. What a great world to leave “to our children”.

Although he leaves the formula in the shadow of his Lisbon Treaty, the President shares the dogma of “free and undistorted competition” which guides his acts, and so his “reassuring” words aim to cloud the issue. The “social ambition” he spoke of in Geneva resonates little with workers and their organisations, just like his previous references to Blum or Guy Môquet before electors and a Left that he never ceases to fragment. Let’s be fair, not all the credit can go to Sarkozy, given the part played by many others, particularly since Sunday June 7th. One avenue worth exploring, before thinking presidential team or personal career, might be for people to say what (else) they will do, with the firm intention of (actually) doing what they say.

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