Unprecedented Student Involvement in French Labor Protests

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Trade unions and students are preparing for a massive demonstration this Saturday against the overhaul of longstanding worker protection laws in France, says Renaud Lambert of Le Monde diplomatique

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Story Transcript

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

A proposed change to labor laws in France is drawing hundreds of thousands of people in the streets. That’s because earlier this spring French President Francois Hollande submitted a series of changes that would loosen protective labor standards in France. Chief among these changes is a proposal to cap payouts to laid off employees. So what are we to make of what’s going on in France?

Now joining us to help us understand these recent developments is our guest Renaud Lambert. Renaud is the vice editor-in-chief at the French Publication Le Monde Diplomatique. Thank you so much for joining us, Renaud.

RENAUD LAMBERT: Thank you.

DESVARIEUX: So, Renaud, first help us understand what’s going on here. What were these particular changes being proposed, and who do they benefit?

LAMBERT: Well, you have to understand that the logic of what’s being implemented in France, what they’re trying to implement is basically appending years and years of labor regulation construction. I think you should remember that labor construction regulations start in France around 1910, where something like 1,099 people died in a mine. And that’s when the government decided that they had to protect workers against the logic of profit making.

Basically, and to put it in a nutshell, they’re reversing it. The bill purports to institute, and I quote, new liberties for the private sector as well as people in work. But these new labors, basically, are aimed at making it easier to run a company just by what workers might need.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. So who’s resisting these changes? I could imagine there are a lot of labor unions speaking out.

LAMBERT: Yeah. Labor Unions, you know, they’re against the increasing in daily hours, in weekly hours and the fact that there is now the possibility to bypass trade unions in work, so trade unions are mobilized. But what’s new is that the student, university students and high school students have come to the streets as well. And this is very rare. We saw that a couple of years ago. The student movement and the labor movement have joined forces and are trying to get organized to unite even more, and that’s very new. That’s something that only happened in the last couple of weeks.

DESVARIEUX: All right. Just to push back on some of this opposition, you have the argument from French companies, and they’re essentially saying that, in respect to the law, that it will provide them with more flexibility and the ability to hire more freely, essentially, that there will be more jobs coming out of this. What is your response?

LAMBERT: Well, you know, this is logic that’s been served to the French people and, I guess, to people around the world for years now. And the outcome of this has been more and more unemployment.

When Francois Hollande, the current president, was elected, he got elected on a platform whereby he explained to the French people, my enemy, and this is the word he used, my enemy is going to be finance. And the day after he was elected, he named a former banker to run the economy. And, you know, this is a massive u-turn, and some people were surprised. Not all of them, but some people were surprised at the extent to which, you know, he made a choice as to who he was going to look after.

And when the French minister who is proposing the bill at the moment was asked, what is the purpose of the bill? She said, and I quote again, the purpose is to adapt French regulation to the needs of the private sector. You know, I’m not saying this. She’s saying it. French people, I think, have understood what is happening. They’ve understood that, you know, this is a massive change in the way labor regulation is functioning in France and, you know, they’re going to the street in the thousands.

DESVARIEUX: And I was going to say that. So it’s certainly not going to subside. I hear there are plans this Saturday for more demonstrations, is that right?

LAMBERT: Yeah. There is a plan for a massive demonstration this Saturday, and as I said earlier on, the student movements joined forces and they have started to occupy one of Paris’ main squares. This is unusual. This hasn’t happened in France the way it happened in New York, Occupy Wall Street, the way it happened in Madrid, the way it happened in other countries. This is unheard of. There was, you know, some people tried to do it when things started to pick up in Spain but it didn’t work.

Now they’ve been staying in Paris for about a week, and this is very new. They are trying to, obviously, extend the amount of topics they are coving. It’s no longer about only the bad law, but they’re trying to think about a new society. If social democracy is dying, you know, people have got to think about what’s coming next and, well, perhaps that’s one of the things they are doing in the republic at the moment.

DESVARIEUX: All right. Renaud Lambert joining us from Paris. Thank you so much for being with us.

LAMBERT: Thank you.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

End

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