Monday, November 19, 2007


There seems to be movement at last on the strike front. Even SUD-Rail, the most intransigent of the unions, is ready to come to the bargaining table. The economic cost of the strike thus far has been considerable: one estimate puts the loss to the economy at 100 million euros. Nevertheless, the government and the SNCF have made it clear that they stand ready to pay the unions to compromise. Xavier Bertrand announced an interesting ploy: he said the government would send a representative to the negotiations, as the unions are insisting, only if "service improves" today and tomorrow. The unions had insisted that negotiations not be conditioned on a resumption of work, so this is a compromise position: not all workers have to return, but service must improve. Since participation was dropping rapidly anyway, the condition will be met, most likely, without any actual concession by anyone. The wisdom of Solomon.

Meanwhile, Sarkozy's approval rating has dropped to 51 percent, the first time it has dipped below his election score. You can expect that to change quickly if the strike is successfully resolved by Wednesday. But "stop the strike" demonstrations in Paris and elsewhere turned out impressive numbers of marchers. Meanwhile, my friends in Paris ride the Vélib' or walk.


Quico said...

Actually, I'm very curious about the Velib angle to all this. Has velib demand soared? Is it possible to find a free one during the strike, or are there racks and racks of empty velib stands all over the city? Does velib act as a sort of implicit minimum service guarantee, at least inside the Ville de Paris? Are people discussing it as a factor in all this?

Unknown said...

Parisian readers will be better able to respond than I can, but I have heard from two friends today, one of whom used a Vélib to get to work, though the bikes are hard to come by, while the other said that Paris is such an unbelievable mess and traffic is so bad that he wouldn't dare to ride a bike.

Anonymous said...

Francois Chereque (sec-gen of the CFDT) was the guest on France 2 news today, and gave a remarkably plain-spoken exposition of the situation. The CFDT had announced it was ready to negotiate last Wednesday; the strikers are now a rapidly declining minority, voting in AG's that only the strikers attend; the disruption of jobs and the general public has become scandalous; and--le clou--the 40year payment period for a full retirement pension is acceptable and inevitable, the issue now being to negotiate the contreparties. The A2 reporter noted that the continuing serious reduction in SNCF and subway trains is due not least to the fact that one-third (?)of the train conductors, a highly-unionized category, are still on strike, and also the fact that many categories of workers need to be in place to run trains. The news report gave a large place to anti-strike opinion, which is undoubtedly growing. (See a few of my previous comments).
On the other hand, the impending strike by different categories of civil servants was reported sympathetically: Two teachers showed their remarkably low salary stubs (one makes 1/5 times the minimum wage)and it was noted that teachers have lost twenty percent of their purchasing power in the past twenty years.
The Elysee/Matignon has still not announced who will represent the government in the role of observer at the labor/management negotiations to begin Wednesday. Is it possible that, given Sarkozy's surprise visit to debate, let us say energetically, the striking fishermen, it might be the president himself? (Le Canard enchaine ironized sardonically that the man-in-an- overcoat-on-the-quai in barbed discussion with angry fisherman was "Monsieur le president de la Republic francaise." As much as I think that Sarkozy's "direct action" is overall an invigorating new element in French government, the Canard is right to insist that a president must maintain a certain dignity of office. No doubt this aspect of the omnipresident's behavior will be toned down sometime soon for strategic reasons. Too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing rather quickly.