ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER/PRODUCER: In France this week, bus, metro, and train workers went on strike against labour law reforms announced by French President Nikolas Sarkozy. The strikes, which left thousands of commuters stranded, marked the beginning of what could be a tough battle for the new president. Sarkozy came into office vowing to face down French unions and enact cost-cutting reforms. This week’s strikes involve a half million workers and over a million pensioners. Sarkozy’s plans also include thousands more: postal employees, magistrates, and other civil servants. And all of them are planning to strike later this month. Newspapers like The Times of London and magazines like The Economist say that Sarkozy has the support of most of the French people and called his reforms wise. But union members disagree. To get a better understanding of the issue, the Real News talked to Tim Costello, a global labour organizer.
TIM COSTELLO, GLOBAL LABOUR ORGANIZER (VOICE ONLY): Well, what’s happening in France is sort of something that’s happening around the world, and that is that governments and corporations are trying to roll back a lot of the gains that workers made in labour protections and social benefits, you know, in the last fifty years. It’s a battle that’s really being fought in many different countries, and France has for the past few years really been in the thick of things. —13 November 2007
PROTESTER (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): We are fighting because we don’t want to lose our rights. We should be allowed to study free of charge and study what we want.
COSTELLO: This is part of a struggle that really started last year. There were massive strikes in 2006 when the French government tried to impose labour market reforms. They lost. The French government lost at that time. Sarkozy was part of that government, and he pledged, though to join the election, to come back with new reforms. This is his first attempt to do that. And he’s picked, he’s been much more clever this time, ’cause he’s picked one sector, the public sector, in a way to divide the population.
SYLVIE JULIEN, BUSINESS OWNER (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): We threw out a lot of things yesterday, a lot of baguettes and sandwiches. This can’t be very good for France.
NKWETA: President Sarkozy has said he’s willing to discuss the fine points of his planned reforms, but that he’s determined to enact his overall cost-cutting agenda.
NICHOLAS SARKOZY, FRENCH PRESIDENT (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): The door of dialogue remains open, but we will do these reforms. All the countries who have done the same, have seen the results.
COSTELLO: Of course, it is always necessary to adjust to changes instead of the global situation. The question is, how do you make the adjustment to the era of globalization? That’s the key issue. Do you simply discard what was won? Or do you try to adapt economies to the global realities without doing that? Cross-border organizing, cross-border cooperation is essential on the part of trade unions in today’s world. The corporations are global; unions also have to become global.