Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Guest Post: The Anniversary of the Riots

Below is a guest post by Eloi Laurent.

Urban riots in France: the question is "when?"

Today marks the 5th anniversary of the urban riots that erupted in the town of Clichy-sous-Bois (in the impoverished département of Seine-Saint-Denis) after the accidental electrocution of two young boys of African descent mistakenly chased by the police. The chaos then spread to dozens of zones urbaines sensibles (i.e., projects) all over France and lasted for three weeks of violence and destruction.

One way to reflect on those tragic events is to assess the situation of those disadvantaged French urban areas (zones urbaines sensibles or ZUS) five years down the road. The picture, still blurred and in need of sharpening by official data, appears to be both depressing and deeply concerning. There are different forward indicators of troubles in the French projects, but the most relevant one may be the unemployment rate among young people (URYP) living in those areas. We of course don't have that figure for 2010, actually we don't even have it yet for 2009 (we will in a month or so), but a little extrapolation can go some way in understanding the likely gravity of the situation.

First, the reliable data we do have, from 2003 to 2008, clearly show that the URYP in the ZUS peaked in 2005 at 37.4% or 16.6 points higher than for "non-ZUS neighborhoods in urban areas including a ZUS.". The relative gap between the two kinds of urban areas (ZUS and comparable non-ZUS) was then 1.8. Afterwards, youth unemployment decreased in both ZUS and non-ZUS until 2007, with the gap narrowing a bit to 1.7 (meaning unemployment was slightly more reduced in the ZUS in the two years after the riots). For 2008, which marks the beginning of social woes resulting from the global crisis, the story is brutally different: with overall unemployment in ZUS continuing to decline (a little) from its 2007 level, unemployment among ZUS youngsters jumped to 35.7% when it continued to fall in comparable urban areas, with the result that the relative gap between the two reached a peak: the youth unemployment rate in the ZUS was twice as high as in the rest of France in 2008 (for young men, the rate of unemployment was 42%, up 10 points from a year before and as high as in 2005).

Unemployment rate of young people in ZUS (top)
and in non-ZUS neighborhoods of urban areas including a ZUS (bottom), in %, 2003-2008

Data source: OZUS, IGAS.


The gap visible in the graph above can be understood as a rate of social divergence: it measures the social distance between young people who, at the same age and in the same country, even in the same region, live in different urban environments, which define the different social opportunities they are given to start their adult life. It can therefore also represent a measure of urban riot risk: the risk of a revolt led by young people, triggered by the resentment against blatant inequality and often sparked by police brutality.

What is our best estimate of where the youth unemployment rate in the ZUS stands at the moment in France, five years after the 2005 riots? We know for a fact that the recession has hit French young people very hard: in the fourth quarter of 2009, unemployment among all French youth – a lingering problem of the hexagonal labor market, whose recent degradation is not unrelated to youth demonstrations against the pension system reform – was at 24.2%, with a peak at 25.3% for young men. This rate has since then receded a bit: it was 23% in the first quarter of 2010. If we assume that the rate of social divergence observed in 2008 has persisted, it means that unemployment for young people in ZUS might currently be somewhere near 45% (possibly near 50% for young men). We can only hope that these figures are grossly mistaken, because if they are anywhere near the truth, the question to be asked regarding the next urban riot in France is not if, but when. And it makes this anniversary even sadder.

Lefort Memorial Event

Readers in the New York area might be interested in an upcoming memorial event in honor of Claude Lefort. The program is here.

Reforming the Reform

A CGT spokesman concedes that even with full employment, only 50% of the retirement deficit would be covered. So what does the CGT propose to cover the other half? A change of subject:

Etes-vous favorable à la proposition de François Chérèque de négocier avec le Medef sur l'emploi ?
A la CGT, nous avons mis la question de l'emploi au cœur du dossier des retraites depuis le début. Car il y a besoin de nouveaux financements pour assurer la pérennité de celui des retraites. Et nous avons considéré que 50 % de ce besoin pourrait être rempli si l'on revenait à une situation de plein emploi. Nous avons donc demandé qu'on puisse, dans le dossier des retraites, discuter d'une nouvelle politique de l'emploi, différente de celle menée depuis des années : exonérer de cotisations sociales les entreprises.
En quoi consisterait cette "nouvelle" politique ?
Nous proposons notamment que la politique de l'emploi soit prise en compte dans la règle de calcul des cotisations sociales, et donc que ces dernières soient modulées en fonction des critères d'emploi et de salaires dans l'entreprise : le taux de discrimination entre les hommes et les femmes, le rapport entre la masse salariale et la valeur ajoutée...

This is rather baffling. It would indeed be nice to have more gender equality in the workplace, but how will that solve the retirement problem? As for the ratio of wages to value-added ... perhaps someone can enlighten me what the goal here is. M. Aubin adds: "Dans ce pays, on voit bien que pour avoir une négociation, il faut un conflit social. La situation de blocage actuel est liée au manque de dialogue social, notamment de la part de l'Elysée et du gouvernement." Well, perhaps, but I've always found it useful, when I want to have a dialogue, to stick to one subject, at least for a while.

Russia, EU Foreign Policy, and the US

See Judah Grunstein's very judicious commentary on John Vinocur's rather overheated interpretation of a recent Franco-German-Russian meeting in Deauville.

The Polder Model

For a very interesting comparison of the Netherlands with France along a number of dimensions, see here. On the specific issue of retirement reform, this paragraph is interesting:

Le débat sur les carrières longues et la prise en compte de la pénibilité dans les retraites traduisent bien les limites de la solidarité entre les salariés. Aux Pays-Bas, le dernier accord sur les retraites prévoit de faire dépendre l’âge de la retraite de l’espérance de vie, mais celle-ci est très différente selon les catégories de salariés. Il semble qu’on a conclu qu’il n’était pas nécessaire de prévoir une réglementation spécifique pour les carrières longues et les métiers pénibles. Les salariés effectuant des travaux pénibles garderont la possibilité en 2020 de partir à la retraite à 65 ans au lieu de 66 ans, mais en subissant une décote de 6,5 %. On a laissé à des accords de branche et d’entreprise le soin de conclure des règles spécifiques pour les carrières longues et/ou pénibles. Mais dans quelle mesure y aura-t-il des accords ? De ce point de vue, il y a peu de différences avec la réforme française.

Le Quai de Ouistreham

Florence Aubenas (yes, that Florence Aubenas) spent six months in Normandy pretending to search for work and discovering that finding it isn't easy. The book she wrote about her experience is reviewed here.

Unions Wavering?

So far the CFDT has maintained its solidarity with the CGT, accepting two more "days of mobilization" over the coming weeks. But there are signs that the coalition is fraying. In addition to the indications mentioned in the Times piece, I would also point to the interview on France2 last night with the head of the oil and chemical workers union. When asked why blockages had been ended at several refineries and storage facilities, he wanted to put across the idea that this was a "democratic decision" by les gars, who had chosen to move the vanguard of the "social movement" elsewhere. But he looked for all the world like an apparatchik sent out unprepared to explain to the masses the latest twist in the party line.

Les gars at the refineries that remain closed may not know it yet, but their union is about to capitulate. Drivers have had it with the gas shortages, and the government has shown that it will use force to end them. Polls show that public support for the blockages has rapidly waned. The "social movement" is about to go behind closed doors to rethink its strategy. After all, the refinery workers are only a small part of the CFDT, and all those public sector employees who swell the rank-and-file of the same union need their cars to get to work, or even to drive to the next protest demonstration. The contradictions of capitalism.