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Commentary :: Labor
France's Student-Worker Alliance
02 Apr 2006
Students and workers in France have forged a powerful alliance against the government and its neo-liberal economic policies. Mass organizations of high school and university students, all three federations of unions, and all left parties are coordinating actions together. This alliance is shaking the French government in ways and to depths not seen since May 1968.
Students and workers in France have forged a powerful alliance against the government and its neo-liberal economic policies. Mass organizations of high school and university students, all three federations of unions, and all left parties are coordinating actions together. This alliance is shaking the French government in ways and to depths not seen since May 1968. The messages that this alliance sends across Europe and beyond are (1) that dismantling of the welfare state has reached its limits and (2) that continuing the dismantling risks provoking mass resistance. The specter of a real opposition to global neo-liberal capitalism in its centers has materialized. The pseudo oppositions of the social democrats are exposed.

For years, the "socialist leaders" of Europe have profoundly limited their opposition to the roll-back of social services, wages, and job protections. They offered merely to slow its pace. They had been captured by the corporate mantra -- imported from the US and UK -- that the world economy and global competition required nothing less than "modernization." This bizarre Orwellian term described an actual historic going backwards to a pre-World War 2 kind of capitalism with its extreme inequalities of wealth, income, power, and cultural opportunities. The current movement in France is so powerful that it has, at least for the moment, silenced the usual voices of left accommodation to neo-liberalism.

A political bubble is bursting in France. That bubble emerged as the conservatives currently in power -- drawn chiefly from top corporate managements -- got carried away in a spiraling neo-liberal euphoria. In the linear logic of simplistic politics, they kept pushing one deregulation after another, one assault on job security and labor protections after another. The process spun out of control and inflated beyond politically sustainability.

What took French neo-liberalism over the edge was a new rule rushed into law (the CPE) by Prime Minister Dominque de Villepin. It attacked young workers under 26 years of age by allowing employers to fire them without cause for 2 years instead of the previous rule of 6 months. Such a step would save employers more of the costs and bad publicity of justifying dismissals in the special tribunals France established to hear workers' complaints of unjust terminations.

In the inverted language of neo-liberal public policy, the French government tried to sell the CPE law as "labor reform." Employers would now hire more of the unemployed Arab and African youth -- those who had protested their conditions so dramatically last autumn -- "because public policy is sensitive to minority youth needs."

French officials tried thus to market a law subsidizing business as if it were meant to provide social support for poor minorities. However, millions of French citizens, including many minority youth, were not fooled. Those are the millions demonstrating in increasing numbers over the last two weeks.

The CPE law is actually more the expression of French politicians seeking support from -- and therefore pandering to -- the corporations. The law is of little actual interest to corporations in France, however. As reported to the International Herald Tribune (24 March 2006), two major employers of French young people were perfectly content with the 6-month period that the CPE law aimed to "reform." The Accor hotel chain and McDonald's and its local restaurant franchisees pointed to their sustained growth and success. McDonald's employs 35,000 with an average age of 22, enjoys better sales in France than in most other countries, and plans to open 30 new restaurants here in 2006. In fact, France offers profitable investments because of its rich markets, technological dynamism, employee skills and aptitudes. The particular job protections removed by the CPE law simply matter little even for the firms most dependent on the youth labor market targeted by that law.

Why, then, did French political leaders rush through a law that provided little benefit to employers while it mobilized a powerful alliance of students and workers? The answer is that French politicians took their pandering to neo-liberal hype too far in what even many of them now widely recognize as a colossal mistake. Privatizing enterprises and freeing markets from state interventions and regulations had long been proclaimed by business leaders as a "reform that will revitalize the economy." They wanted to make more money. Economists did their usual job of rationalizing and legitimizing these business objectives. Their economic "science" proclaimed such a reform as the entire nation's "best" course of action. In the mutual reinforcement of politicians and economists, they badly overshot the target and produced the dangerous political backlash that is now happening in France.

Something like this is also happening in Germany. But the form it has taken there is not street demonstrations and a massive student-worker alliance. Instead, a new Left Party has emerged with a position parallel to the French opposition to the CPE. Last year's voter defeats of the new neo-liberal European constitution in France and the Netherlands have now evolved into a much deeper counter-hegemonic movement. An historic political shift is underway in Europe.

The real question now is whether the student-worker alliance will remain merely an opposition to neo-liberalism or whether it will mature into a movement for an alternative to capitalism as the best security against a resumption of neo-liberalism. The rest of the world, including the mass of Americans hurt by years of neo-liberal policies, have enormous stakes in the answer to that question. If the media in the US were not owned by the supporters of neo-liberalism, they would present the historic importance of this question and explore the alternative answers. Instead, they perform their subservient tasks by obscuring the significance of France's student-worker alliance and grossly inflating the tangential vandalisms of a very few and the all-too-predictable provocations of the police.

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Re: France's Student-Worker Alliance
03 Apr 2006
THANK YOU to Richard Wolff for having the intelligence of writing a well researched and documented "essay" on what is going on in FRANCE right now. Everything that FRANCE is doing right now is worth emulating. The whole world is watching and we are learning how lame the U.S.A. really is!
Keep informing us Richard Wolff!!!
Re: France's Student-Worker Alliance
03 Apr 2006
The Anti-War movement in America could learn a lot from the French. The movement is on the verge of collapsing. It is not at all focused or organized as a movement. The unions and students in America are pathetic and lack courage,unlike the French Students and Unions.
It is a lot easier for the American press to deride the French while they are not adressing any of the rampant problems facing this country, IE. 6 million more people living in poverty since Bush took office,32 million people in total living in poverty, deplorably overpriced housing conditions (Hurricane Katrina), and overly aggresive police!!

So Solidarite to our French Brothers and Sisters.

Vive la France!!
Re: France's Student-Worker Alliance
03 Apr 2006
The French Government during WWII was Fascist.
Re:Hassen bin Sober
03 Apr 2006
Yes Indeed there were members of the French Government that were colaborators with the Nazi Regime during WWII in France as there are traitors all over the world. Wake up you are living under a fascist regime right now in America. As a matter of fact, one of the worst fascists Dr. Henry Kissenger has been residing in the US for a long, long time and should be tried for war crimes.
As Andre Gide said very eloquently in his book,"Les Faux-Monnayeurs" written in 1926:" in a world where everybody lies, those who tell the truth are viewed as traitors."
So please think deeply before you make general and vague accusations against a government that you do not seem to know a hell a lot about!!!
Re: France's Student-Worker Alliance
03 Apr 2006
See Saturn, this is why you sound like a complete idiot. You know nothing about Fascism. I gave a very simple example, namely the Vichey government in France, which, by its own admission and definition, was Fascist. It wasn't just "some" members of the French government, it WAS the French government. Then to compound matters and sound like a complete idiot compounded by immaturity, you the lebel the United States government as fascist government. I challenge you to explain how that can be.
Re: France's Student-Worker Alliance
03 Apr 2006
The US government while not fascist in the classic sense, it has historical implications, it is very fascist like because it approches some of these attributes;
It viewed the state as an organic entity in a positive light rather than as an institution designed to protect collective and individual rights, or as one that should be held in check. It tended to reject the Marxist notion of social classes (and universally dismissed the concept of class conflict), replacing it instead with two more nebulous struggles: conflict between races and the struggle of the youth versus their elders. This meant embracing nationalism and religion, and advancing ideas of strength and power as means of legitimacy, a might makes right that glorified war as an means to security. An affinity to these ideas can be found in Social Darwinism. These ideas are in direct opposition to the ideas reason or rationalism characteristic of the Age of Enlightenment, from which liberalism and, later, Marxism would emerge.

Fascism is also typified by totalitarian attempts to impose state control over all aspects of life: political, social, cultural, and economic. The fascist state controls (as opposed to nationalizing) the means of production and the the merging of state and business leadership. Fascism exalts the nation, state, or race as superior to the individuals, institutions, or groups composing it. Fascism uses explicit populist rhetoric; calls for a heroic mass effort to restore past greatness; and demands loyalty to the nation.
From Wikipedia
Re: France's Student-Worker Alliance
04 Apr 2006
Nothing that France does or that the French do is worthy of emulation. Also, brad is stupid.