French Unions Strike to Protest New Jobs Law
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
France is on strike. Trade unions have called a one-day walkout to support French youths protesting a new labor law. It's affecting much of French life. Trains and subways are delayed, newspaper kiosks are shuttered, and some postal services disrupted. Police in Paris and other French cities were out in force in anticipation of the largest demonstration since the law was passed last month. Eleanor Beardsley is in Paris, and joins us now. Hello.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: Remind us of what this new law is and why there is so much opposition to it?
BEARDSLEY: However, the young people say it's not going to create jobs. It just creates insecurity. They all fear they're going to be, you know, kept for one year and 11 months and then fired with no explanation. And they say they have to put their lives on hold, they can't get a bank loan, an apartment. And generally, in society, people are supporting the students, because they say this is just the beginning of an unraveling of French social protections and the French social model that they cherish here, and they don't want to go into this economic sort of capitalist free for all where you can be fired for no reason at any time, and you have no sort of support.
MONTAGNE: And Eleanor, these on going protests, are they threatening the stability of the government of President Jacques Chirac?
BEARDSLEY: I wouldn't say that it's threatening the stability of the government, but everything is blocked. Three quarters of the country's universities have been blocked and closed. Nobody talks about anything else. The government can't get anything done. So, they aren't really threatening the government, but they're putting it on hold, and they are certainly threatening the Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.
MONTAGNE: Is there concern that these demonstrations could turn violent, like those we all say last fall staged by French immigrants? Is that why such a police presence?
BEARDSLEY: And the students don't like them, because it gives the movement a bad name, but there is a lot fear that it could move into the suburbs. So there are going to be a lot riot police brought in from around the country, and a lot of preventive checks going. Yeah, there's a big concern about that spreading.
MONTAGNE: And the French in general, given all of these protests, is the population generally opposed to this new law?
BEARDSLEY: And also, the way he passed this law has made people angry. He didn't vote on it in Parliament, even though he had the majority of votes to win it. He passed it in an emergency measure. So people are saying he didn't use the system. He's coming across as arrogant and intransigent, and people just don't have any confidence that he's in touch with people and that he can handle this crisis. They want Chirac to come in and end it.
MONTAGNE: And Eleanor, of course, that's Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.
BEARDSLEY: That's right.
MONTAGNE: Great. Thank you very much.
BEARDSLEY: Thank you so much.
MONTAGNE: Reporter Eleanor Beardsley, speaking from Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.