Protesters reject Chirac's compromise
(International Herald Tribune)
Updated: 2006-04-03 09:05
France prepared Sunday for another week of protests and a nation- wide strike
on Tuesday after student organizations and labor unions rejected a compromise
offer by President Jacques Chirac on the government's new youth employment
formally enacted the legislation on Sunday and sought at the same time to defuse
a political crisis by calling on lawmakers to soften two of the law's most
contested provisions: a probation period of two years and the right of employers
to fire workers with no justification during that period.
Leaders of students
unions hold a press conference after a two-day meeting in Villeneuve
d'Ascq, northern France, Sunday, April 2, 2006. President Jacques Chirac
signed a contested measure to promote jobs for youths into law on Sunday
even though he has said it would be replaced by a modified version to
defuse a crisis that has led to violent demonstrations and dealt France's
prime minister a major setback. [AP]
On the face of
it, Chirac's decision to sign the law was a face-saving effort for the embattled
Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who had almost single-handedly championed
the measures. But by leaving changes in the hands of the governing Union for a
Popular Movement party, or UMP, the president effectively bolstered Interior
Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, Villepin's main rival on the right, who also is head
of the UMP.
"We now have a clear sense that we are no longer dealing with
the prime minister but with the UMP lawmakers, and their leader is Nicolas
Sarkozy," Fran?ois Ch¨¦r¨¨que, head of the CFDT, France's second largest union,
said in a radio interview over the weekend.
But critics of the law
appeared more determined than ever to bring it down, with or without
"The declarations by the president will boost the
mobilization" on Tuesday, said Jean-Claude Mailly, leader of the labor union
Force Ouvri¨¨re. "I have made a list of all strike notices. It will be a big
Like last Tuesday, when strikes were organized across much of the
country and hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets of Paris
alone, public transportation is expected to be significantly affected Tuesday.
Both the national rail company, the SNCF, and the Paris transportation system,
the RATP, predicted disruptions, while walkouts also were planned by employees
at Air France.
Six of seven civil service unions said they backed the
strike and, in a sign that the protests this week may surpass last week's,
workers in media, banking and telecommunications said they would join the
In addition, the opposition Socialist Party made a formal call
for the first time to join the strikes. On Sunday members were at the Richard
Lenoir market in Paris, near the Bastille monument, distributing fliers stating:
"Now more than ever: Withdraw the CPE," the French acronym for the labor
Meanwhile, a new opinion survey by the CSA institute, published
Sunday in Le Parisien newspaper, indicated that 62 percent of France's citizens
found Chirac's offer unconvincing. Two out of three said they thought the
student movement had been strengthened, and three out of four thought that
Villepin, the architect of the law, had been weakened.
double-barreled approach of enacting the legislation while calling for changes
has left the country in a legal limbo: Companies have the right to employ new
staff members under the new youth contract in its current form, even though the
president has asked them not to do so until the changes have gone through
In a televised address Friday night, which was watched by
more than 20 million people, Chirac asked that lawmakers halve the current
probation period to one year and oblige employers to justify any decision to
dismiss a young employee.
Laurence Parisot, head of the Medef, France's
biggest employer federation, said on Europe 1 radio over the weekend that she
hoped companies would not use the new contract before it was
Jack Lang, one of many potential Socialist presidential
candidates, was quoted in Le Parisian on Sunday as saying, "Legally speaking,
it's incomprehensible to sign a law and say that you should not apply
And in a front-page editorial in the newspaper Le Monde, its
publisher Jean-Marie Colombani described Chirac's request as a nondecision that
leaves the country adrift: "He did not come down on either side. He was content
to evade the issue."
The leader of the UMP in the lower house of
Parliament, Bernard Accoyer, said he would try to meet with union leaders to
discuss changes in the law as early as Tuesday. He said that, at the earliest, a
new bill could be expected in early May.
Sporadic protests against the
legislation continued through the weekend, although the police said the country
was relatively calm compared with the heated end of the week. About 1,500
demonstrators assembled in central Paris, while 300 people organized a
counter-demonstration nearby. Students, who late last week embarked on a series
of wildcat protests, pledged similar actions in the days ahead.