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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Et maintenant que peuvent faire les syndicats?

by Y.H.

France: What Are Trade Unions To Do Now?

Translated Friday 8 June 2007, by Emma Paulay

Feeling flattered by the results of universal suffrage Nicolas Sarkozy immediately declared his intention to act quickly and strongly to “change the country”.

The new president of the Republic gave several warnings to the trade unions during his campaign, and specifically to the CGT, that, to his mind, political legitimacy takes precedence over any other. In short, nothing will prevent him from carrying out his programme of reforms.

As soon as he was nominated, the new prime minister, François Fillon, already in total collusion with the Head of State, wasted no time in falling into step, by saying he was resolved to drive change at the speed of a Formula 1 race, which, as we know, is one of his favourite sports. His intention was soon put into practice when the trade unions were notified of the subjects, methods and even the dates of forthcoming “dialogues”. The Prime Minister gave them “until the end of the summer” to “come up with proposals” on the restriction of the right to strike in public services by a minimum service and until the end of the year to “work” on Sarkozy’s project of a single employment contract. The same goes for universities: a reform that will grant them “autonomy” will be put to the vote by François Fillon in this summer’s special session of the National Assembly.

The union leaders have strongly denounced these methods, which reduce their role to being merely decorative. This goes against a very recent law (January 2007) stipulating the government’s obligation to ask the trade union leaders to negotiate amongst themselves on any subjects concerning work, before any semblance of legislation can be passed, and which grants unions the right to fix “the negotiation period they deem necessary”. Does the legitimacy of a politician elected for 5 years grant him the right to take a swipe at the historical fabric of social rights? What are the unions to do in this context? What changes are necessary to strenghthen social democracy? Three unionists give us their first reactions.

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