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by Maurice Ulrich (Editorial)

Published in l'Humanité on 6 April 2006

Face of a Clown (the CPE Protests Continue...)

Translated by Carol Gullidge

Translated Friday 7 April 2006, by Carol Gullidge

The employers’ unions continue to dig their heels in on the First Job Contract.

Face of a Clown

Hard to pronounce it would seem, yet the words are quite simple: withdrawal, abrogation, one or the other. It still refuses to come, you might say, it sticks in the throat. Come on, let’s have a little flexibility, a bit of give. Must the people help you out, again? But do we really know what the UMP (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire) actually means by “the people”? Slap on the makeup if you must, stick on a false beard, a wig, a red nose if you like, so you don’t get recognised, but make an appearance at the protests if that is where the latest shilly-shallying leads to.

The people are not a set of abstract numbers of protesters, however enormous the numbers; they are not a crowd, even if there are crowds of them; the people are not union troops or students put up to it by manipulative leaders. No. The people are the imagination, the creativity, the determination and enthusiasm that play with words, that can sum an idea up with a brilliant turn of phrase, the pithiness displayed in slogans, banners, cartoon doodles, and extravagant fancy dress.

The people are these magnificent youngsters who dance, sing, rise up, and protest: this youth without whom, according to one philosopher, “nothing new happens under the sun, ever”. Students, high-school pupils, millions of employees, parents of pupils, old-age pensioners: they don’t call social regression “progress”. They don’t equate the interests of shareholders with “national interest”. The Government and its hogwash of a majority claim to be pro-reform, pro-modernity. But they are on the side of the old world. One only had to hear, on a TV programme two days ago, a senile and doddering Serge Dassault vilifying this youth that is fighting to hang on to its social rights. Meanwhile, he himself hangs on to the privileges of wealth, never having let go of the silver spoon in his mouth.

Laurence Parisot, the president of MEDEF [France’s largest employers’ union], claimed yesterday in the Figaro that she is optimistic because the crisis will have raised many a French person’s awareness of the need for flexibility. It is tempting to call this a case of wishful thinking. One thing at least is certain though, for her ploy is obvious: that she wants to pull the wool over our eyes. MEDEF intends to use the crisis, even falling back on the CPE (First Job Contract), to provoke - still in the words of Laurence Parisot - a general discussion on “all job insecurity and every kind of flexibility”. Also, she continues, to invite a “more general reflection on what I would call the “separability” of business and the employee”. Separability! Some sort of ability to be separate. In actual fact, MEDEF’s objective, which is utterly plain to see, is to extend this “separability” to every employment contract. Does one need to be reminded that this is also the objective of Nicolas Sarkozy, along with what he places under the umbrella of “contrat unique” (a single type of labour contract)?

But this isn’t what is wanted by the majority of French people, faced as they are by a government that manipulates, prevaricates, and immerses itself in opinion polls. Isn’t it plain enough? They want the withdrawal of the CPE, they refuse to be throwaway employees, they believe that there could be another way to run the economy. Now they have the support of European unions. France in this crisis is not a black sheep but a prop for other nations. Yesterday the unions declared unanimously that they were waiting for a commitment to an abrogation on Monday, and the related legal text for the 17th. Abrogation, withdrawal... Reason has been demanding it for weeks. Now it’s a reason of State. As Rousseau said, the people rule.

Editorial in L’Humanité, 06/04/2004

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