France’s largest trade union central has called a national demonstration on Saturday to protest against the lengthening jobless queues and in-work poverty amid an escalating national economic and social crisis.
The call, part of a step up in action by the country’s unions, came as figures today showed the number of people actively seeking work in France reached the highest level recorded since December 1999, or 2.81 million.
The data is not good news for President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is widely expected to seek a second mandate in next spring’s presidential election. He pledged to bring down unemployment to 9% before the end of the year,
Still higher unemployment forecast
According to the most recent forecasts from national statistics bureau Insee, unemployment will rise again to reach 9.2% by the end of the year. The OECD today forecast that it would rise further to 10.4% by the end of next year.
This latest piece of bad economic news came on the same day that the OECD called for more austerity in France, even as it admitted the country’s economy, after two rounds of spending cuts and tax-rises this year, was slowing to a stop.
More jobs will likely be lost if Sarkozy’s right wing UMP party succeeds in rolling back 35 hour week legislation introduced by Lionel Jospin ‘s Socialist government in February 2000. This legislation to cut working time created 350,000 jobs and improved work-life balance for French workers. Earlier this month Jean-François Copé, leader the ruling UMP party indicated they were looking at scrapping it.
People in work are feeling the pain too, with wage freezes in the public sector, pay restraint in the private sector and downward pressure on the earnings of the self-employed. On top of this, workers have been hit this year by austerity measures, including welfare cuts and rises in VAT.
L’Humanité newspaper calculates these measures will take Euros 325 (£269) a month out of the pockets of a single person on a low income (Euros 1,416) and Euros 513 a month from a couple with two children with a joint income of Euros 3,500.
This is part of a wider picture of deepening poverty with 8.2 million living below the poverty line of 954 euros monthly, according to Insee.
The rich are the only ones not feeling the pain – the top 10% wealthiest saw a 0.7% rise in standard of living in 2009, and since 2004 the richest 1% have seen their assets swell by 47%.
Alternative to austerity
In an interview with L’Humanite newspaper today CGT leader Bernard Thibault criticised the government for allowing policy to be dictated by the international rating agencies and said “debt reduction has become an easy alibi to justify [social] regressions.” In the interview with the communist daily paper, he called for a public “financial pole” to promote growth and a concerted drive against tax dodging companies and the wealthy.
The CGT, together with other unions, is planning a rolling programme of anti-austerity mobilisations, kicking off with a day of action in defence of public services on November 30.