The Observer view on France’s labour unrest

Masked men clash with riot police during a demonstration against labour reforms in Nantes, western France.

If latest scenes of French labour unrest, cancelled trains, strikers burning tyres outside blockaded oil refineries and angry students on the streets seem familiar, this is due to the fact they may be. it’s miles as though France’s residents, or at least a small however noisy percent, are engaged in a familiar, counter-establishment ritual. it’s far a rite acted out repeatedly within the postwar decades. It takes for concept the heady days of Paris in 1968 when it appeared, for some time, a 2d French Revolution was within the making.

Bliss it changed into in that sunrise to be alive – however, as many discovered remaining week, queuing for petrol or looking to seize a aircraft was now not so heavenly. but it would be incorrect to attribute this surge in public protest merely to a Gallic penchant, as the top minister, Manuel Valls, placed it, for “revolution, radicalism and confrontation”. on the heart of this dispute lie very severe problems with direct relevance to Britain and different eu neighbours.

In microcosm, the row boils down to whether or not it have to be as clean in France for employers to sack employees, reduce their pay and arbitrarily alternate their working conditions as it’s far in submit-Thatcher, publish-BHS Britain. In macrocosm, it’s miles approximately the type of united states France needs, and believes, itself to be.

The modest labour reforms that caused the unrest have been added by François Hollande, France’s Socialist president. Hollande’s government is however the ultra-modern to try to adapt France’s workplace to globally competitive market conditions. All have failed. Hollande, a serial vacillator, knows if he too fails, his possibilities of winning a 2d time period next may also will probably evaporate.

the percentages are stacked against him. Polls suggest up to 90% of French voters do not charge his overall performance. One latest survey cautioned he could win 15% help in a first-spherical poll, towards 20% for his centre-right predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, and 31% for the some distance-right front country wide leader, Marine Le Pen. Hollande is extensively criticised for sending mixed ideological messages, campaigning on the facet of the people, then switching two years ago to a seasoned-business stance.

His confusion mirrors a deep split in the labour movement, the Socialist birthday party and society at large over market-orientated reform versus radical-left or anti-capitalist resistance. The hardline, previously communist CGT union, a key participant, is at odds with the centrist CFDT. scholar corporations are divided over Hollande’s claims that the changes will cut unemployment, presently 24% amongst 18- to 24-year-olds. trade unions represent 7% of the lively team of workers. The widespread majority of French humans are bystanders, but that does not mean they lack sturdy reviews.

the broader dilemma issues France’s eternal effort – admirable in concept, but fantastically elaborate in practice – to maintain concord and integrity at all societal tiers via egalitarian and protecting labour laws, inclusive of the 35-hour working week, authorities and european subsidies, country interventionism (not a grimy word) and a generous, publicly funded welfare device that maximum financial competitors have long given that discarded as unaffordable.

The French are rightly proud of the way they appearance after most of the weaker and extra inclined amongst their citizens, just because the British, rightly, are an increasing number of ashamed that they do now not. on this context, the truth that Ken Loach’s film about welfare recipients, I, Daniel Blake, these days received the Palme d’Or at Cannes is actually no twist of fate. on the same time, the French are understandably uneasy that their method can also in the long run render the us of a unworkable and its standard popular of residing unsustainable. “nothing like Thatcherism ever occurred there and that’s truely a good thing,” says French columnist Natalie Nougayrède. “but, France has additionally been not able to adapt to globalisation within the way others in Europe have carried out, as if social rights ought to handiest be protected if not anything changes.”

what is happening in France can be disregarded as a “there they cross once more”, a82ee8a4ee179e54beacaecce0423cb2 unions as opposed to authorities punch-up or, more simplistically, as a capability annoyance for football fans keen to watch this week’s european finals. it could also be discounted as France’s version of growing tensions between eu populists and nationalists of right and left. however to do so might omit the larger factor. In France, a struggle is being waged for a country’s soul. it’s miles the cross-Channel equivalent of Brexit. Its outcome is simply as momentous and just as unsure.