French President Threatens to Outlaw Protests Against Labor Reforms

Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

France is making headlines for many things these days. Not only is it hosting the European soccer championship, but the tournament has been marred by soccer fan violence inside and outside the stadium. Also, a French citizen claiming allegiance to the Islamic State killed a police officer and his partner.

On top of all of this, the labor union protests against the recently passed labor reform continues unabated. Just last Tuesday, tens of thousands took to the streets in Paris and ended up clashing with police. As many as 70 were arrested, and around 40 protesters and police officers were injured. President François Hollande has now threatened to ban demonstrations.

Joining me now to talk about all of this is Renaud Lambert. He’s an editor for the monthly paper Le Monde diplomatique.

Thank you so much for joining us, Renaud.

RENAUD LAMBERT, EDITOR, LE MONDE DIPLOMATIQUE: Thank you for having me.

PERIES: So let’s begin with sort of recapping some of the most recent developments in France with regard to the labor reform that’s going on.

LAMBERT: Sure. Well, at this stage basically there is the social movement and the government are locking horns. Prime Minister Manuel Valls and President François Hollande have both said that they will not budge. And the trade union movement and the students movement are determined to get the law, the bill, pushed aside.

But it seems that the government is not listening. You know, they forced the bill through Parliament without a discussion, using a special decree law. And they seem not to be paying attention. On the contrary, the strategy they seem to be taking is a strategy of tension on the streets, with a tremendous degree of violence.

PERIES: Now, I understand that President Hollande has threatened to stop or ban demonstrations. Now, is he able to do that?

LAMBERT: Well, we are living in a state of emergency. At the moment pretty much anything is possible.

Now, would it be possible to implement it? First of all, I think it’s interesting to see how they’re justifying this decision. There has been a high degree of violence. But as usual there was tremendous amount of provocation by police forces on the one hand, and on the other hand you have determined groups like black blocs on the streets. And they are in for a struggle.

But what is happening is that the government is saying trade unions are responsible for this violence. It’s basically the same thing as if you were saying football clubs, soccer clubs are responsible for hooligan violence. You know? It doesn’t make sense. But still that is the case they’re making. And they’re saying, well, since trade unions cannot maintain order and peace on the streets, therefore it is our duty to forbid the demonstrations.

But it’s not the responsibility for trade unions to implement peace on the streets. They’re only responsible for pacifying their own side of the demonstration. You know? And one has to wonder who’s gaining from this escalation in violence in a situation where it’s a line of definite criminalization of any denunciation of the way the government is behaving.

PERIES: Now, Renaud, the labor unions in all of this–obviously the labor protests are growing and the movement is growing. But what are they doing? Are they trying to negotiate with the government? How did they respond to the threat of having their protests banned by the president?

LAMBERT: Well, at the moment there are questions about democracy in France. The decree forcing the bill through Parliament is not very democratic, although it’s inscribed in the Constitution. Forbidding demonstrations on the street is not very democratic, although there would be a possibility for the government to pass this.

At the moment the big question is: how long can the trade unions carry on? They’ve been delivering magnificent struggle, I must say. They’ve been very sensible in their behavior. There’s been very little violence if you look at the amount of police forces deployed on the streets.

But there is an element in the trade union movement that intends to negotiate the worst of the 52 articles in the law.

But there is another element–and I would be in favor of this second way of looking at things–which says we have to eradicate everything, because every single of the 52 articles in the law are noxious. They need to be done away with.

But how long can this carry on? The big question was: how is the Euro football/soccer tournament going to weigh on the social movement? And I think it’s not leading people to go home and forget about the bill. People are struggling, and we have two demonstrations planned for next week, two massive demonstrations.

PERIES: Now, Renaud, the main union federation behind the protests is the CGT, which in the past have been aligned with the Communist Party of France. And that is generally considered to be more radical, a more radical union federation. How much support do they have in the struggle right now against the labor reform? And is there a chance that there will be other labor unions joining them and this growing into a bigger struggle than what’s at hand now?

LAMBERT: There are already other unions involved in the movement. It certainly is not a CGT-alone movement. Last Tuesday–you talked about the massive demonstration that took place in Paris. It was indeed probably the biggest since the movement started, although the press has said that there was hardly anyone in the streets. You see on the website, Le Monde‘s website, you see pictures of a couple of people walking on the street. I was there in the demonstration and I can tell you that it was packed.

And so there are other unions. There is Force Ouvrière, there is SUD (Solidaires), students, teachers unions. So there is a broad movement in unions. And I think their determination is heightened by the level of aggressiveness they’re receiving from the government, but from the media as well. I mean, some of the comments that have been made on the media are comparing CGT to ISIS, the terrorist forces. Trade unions are compared to unlawful organizations, criminal organization. And it doesn’t make sense.

People are aware of this and they see that the blockage is coming from government. A couple of weeks ago there were massive queues from people trying to get oil from petrol stations, and people were upset about this. They were annoyed. But if you talked to them, they said, well, the government has to do something. They understood that people were fighting.

PERIES: And what is the response of the student movement to all of this? Now, I know one of the reasons [incompr.] they’re protesting is because of the economic conditions and the levels of unemployment. We talked about this before. And they’re now, of course, have joined all these trade unions. What are the most recent developments there, as far as the convergence between the student movement and the labor movement?

LAMBERT: The convergence was efficient. It took place a couple of weeks ago. And when Nuit debou, the student movement I talked about on your program a couple of months ago now, was slowing down, then the trade unions movement picked up. And now the students are taking part in the demonstrations.

But it is a more traditional trade union movement in France at the moment. I think, in much of the same way as Occupy Wall Street planted seeds in the U.S. political landscape or [inaud.] Occupy, indignados in Spain did, I think seeds have been planted in France. And now we’ll have to wait a couple of weeks, months, perhaps years to see a translation, a political translation. There are a lot of organizations being born, being created, and dying all in the same day, all in the same week. There are plenty of things happening on the political front. But this struggle against the law now is mainly led by trade unions.

PERIES: Alright, Renaud. Thank you so much for joining us and giving us this update. And we hope to have you back very soon.

LAMBERT: Thank you very much.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

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