Francois Hollande’s jobs summit is becoming a farse. Unemployment in France has risen to a new high of 3.4 million. The socialist President is desperate to be seen to be doing something about it.
But Monday yet another union walked out of the two day ‘social summit’, an unprecedented desertion by organised labour for any administration in Paris, let alone one with a centre left political colour.
The CGT and FO, no.1 and no.3 respectively in terms of size, had already decided on Monday to boycott the summit. Solidaires didn’t turn up at all. And now teaching union FSU has told the government where to get off.
So what’s gone wrong? Simply put the Government has sided too openly with the bosses – axing 50 billion euros in public spending to fund a colossal corporate tax and social security payment cut, with little more than fine words about their duty to create jobs in exchange.
Coming in the wakes of strikes on the trains, air traffic control and even the Avignon Festival, the mainstream press is doing its best to paint French unions as stick in the mud opponents of ‘reform’. In fact, like unions elsewhere on the continent, they are fighting for quality employment, decent pay and against neo-liberal austerity-cum-privatisation policies, a battle if won will be central to a sustainable recovery of Europe’s economy.
And in France, which stagnated in the first quarter and is likely to grow a very weak 0.2% in April to June, according to the central bank, the unions have got plenty of ideas about how to go about reviving the country’s sick economy.
The CGT alone says it has 94 proposals. We’ve not got space for all of them here, but here’s the top five it wants President Hollande to commit to:
1. Increase the minimum wage (currently 9.53 euros/hour), public service pensions (frozen this year) and minimum welfare payments (upon which 3.6 million people depend)
2. Establish a strict timetable for the early start of negotiations in industry sectors on pay grades to ensure no-one is earning less than the minimum wage and skills and qualifications are recognized as part of a proper career structure
3. The implementation of real workplace democracy. All employees must be able to elect a representative of the staff in their local workplace, they should enjoy the right to to individual and collective expression at work, during working hours, and their representatives must have the opportunity to intervene in the business strategy of their employers, with a veto on layoffs.
4. Boost employment by investment in manufacturing and quality jobs, devoting, in line with demands by trade unions at a European level, 2% of GDP to this end.
5. Direct public aid to enterprises depending on whether they are promoting employment and investment
The CGT states: “Employees need a clear break with the austerity policies implemented by the government and employers that do not meet the economic, social and environmental challenges France faces and aggravate the situation of millions of workers, pensioners and the unemployed.”
The CGT’s proposals are aimed at a “progressive exit from the crisis” and this requires the government “reorient economic policy” and “to change course to meet the aspirations of workers.”