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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Villepin rassemble contre le CPE

by Rosa Moussaoui

France: Villepin Unites Opposition to new "Youth Jobs" Legislation

Translated by Ann Drummond

Translated Wednesday 15 March 2006, by Ann Drummond

’Job insecurity’. The intransigence of the Prime Minister, who is refusing to withdraw his bill, is fuelling the growing opposition to this bill that creates a new job category for employing youths. The trade unions will not be tricked into talks.

"I will not be an inflexible Prime Minister" said Dominique de Villepin defending himself only a few days ago. This is exactly how he seemed, however, on Sunday night on the TF1 news programme, and his intransigence immediately triggered a flood of hostile responses. This reaction is proof of the determination of the anti-CPE front - opposition to instutionalizing insecurity for youths in the job market - which could well be significantly widened by the Prime Minister’s continued stubbornness. Youth groups, trade unions and left-wing parties are unanimous in viewing the withdrawal of the CPE as a prerequisite to the "talks" which the Prime Minister is pretending to call for, far too late in the day. The organisers mobilising opposition to the plans have also given a frosty reception to the feeble offer of "adjustment" which Dominique de Villepin has proposed (see below).

Call to extend the strike.

"The law as it has been voted on will stand" was the immediate retort of the head of a government, which, in less than five months, has managed to alienate all young people across the country, irrespective of social class. "My answer to him is that the streets will have their say", retorted Bruno Julliard, the president of the student union, UNEF. The student leader denounced the fovernment’s "dishonest arguments" and called for "widening the strike throughout the universities". The same kind of determination is evident among high school organizations. FIDL called the Prime Minister’s proposals "a smokescreen" and called for holding general assemblies in high schools to help the mobilization to grow even further in the next few days.

Dominique de Villepin’s plea for a "social dialogue" on ways of "reducing job insecurity", now that the law has already been voted through, has not convinced trade unions, already angry at the sudden passing by decree of the CNE (fixed-term contract) at the height of the summer. They too see the withdrawal of the CPE as a prerequisite to any discussions. The FSU (the main teaching union) sees the promises of the Prime Minister as "a lot of hot air" which at best will "only act as damage control". "We are going to keep up this opposition" declared the General Secretary of the CGT, Bernard Thibault. "The Prime Minister must reverse the plan for dismissal without grounds, it’s a symbolic measure which sums up perfectly the decline in legal rights of employees." Jean-Claude Mailly also continued to call for the withdrawal of the legislation: "If it’s about making adjustments, the answer is No", warned the General Secretary of FO.

Unions unanimous

The CFDT union federation equally dismisses the idea of a dialogue as an afterthought, after the trigger has been pulled. "If we are to meet the government, it will be to get them to withdraw the CPE" confirmed Rémi Jouan, the Secretary of the Confederation. This is also the view of Alain Olive, the General Secretary of UNSA: "Now the Prime Minister must show some sense and withdraw the CPE" As for the CFE-CGC, a union of administrators, reticent initially about joining the protests, it too reacted to the intransigence of the Prime Minister by confirming that it would take part in the national day of action on Saturday.

All these stances, which represent a growing convergence of young people and workers, are likely to accelerate the speed with which the anti-CPE opposition is moving. At the political level all the left-wing parties have added their voices to this chorus of protest. Dominique de Villepin "is wrong in sticking so stubbornly to his guns" observed Julien Dray, spokesperson of the Socialist Party. "He only needed to say one thing to defuse the tension, and that was the withdrawal of the CPE". "It has not been said", he added regretfully. According to Marie-George Buffet, "the Prime Minister has been slow to discover the benefits of negotiation, but he is too late, for these protests have shaken the government ... Rather than trying to win some time, he would do better to withdraw the CPE, it’s as simple as that!", declared the National Secretary of the PCF.

As for the Greens, they are very critical of the Prime Minister for "persisting in imposing a plan no-one wanted, except the MEDEF" [the employers’ organization]. "The government is taking a huge risk in creating serious tensions in our country, as it did last November", said a worried Yann Wehrling, the National Secretary of the Greens. In defending the CPE every step of the way, which has been overwhelmingly rejected by public opinion, Dominique de Villepin is in fact running the risk of extending and radicalising the protest movement, which could cost him and his party dearly. Following the legislation on pension reform and social security, an electoral own goal for the right in 2004, this youth revolt could rock the political landscape of a country infuriated by the systematic process of dismantling social welfare which has been underway since 2002.

[Translator’s note - abbreviations used in this article]

CPE : contrat de première embauche - see previous article on this site "France: One Million Demonstrate Against “First Job Contracts” for Youths" for an explanation

UNEF: Union Nationale des Étudiants de France (university students)

FIDL: Fédération Indépendante et Démocratique Lycéenne (high-school students)

CNE: contrat nouvelles-embauches (existing first-job contracts)

FSU: Fédération syndicale unitaire (trade union federation)

CGT: Confédération générale du travail (trade union federation)

FO: Force ouvrière (trade union federation)

CFDT: Confédération française démocratique du travail (trade union federation)

UNSA: Union nationale des syndicats autonomes (trade union federation)

CFE-CGC: Confédération française de l’encadrement - Confédération générale des cadres (union of afministrators)

MEDEF: Mouvement des entreprises de France (The national employers’ association)

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