Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Short Hot Spring?

Is this going to be CPE redux? We've seen this scenario before: lycée students get a bee in their bonnet about a proposed reform in part intended, say its proponents, to break down the insider-outsider job market in France and open up more positions to young people, currently locked out by the high cost and high risk of new hires in an uncertain economic climate. The young people don't believe the reformers' promises, however, and are instead persuaded by the rhetoric of the organizations dedicated to protecting the position of the insiders, namely, the unions.

Of course, that way of presenting the conflict is quite slanted and unfair. One could look instead at the supposedly neutral technical analysis of the labor market by leading economists who favor the El Khomri plan. Unfortunately, the economists pay little attention to some of the more unfortunate details of the proposal, which makes many concessions to employers concerned with obtaining more "flexibility" in hiring and scheduling and offers short shrift to workers more concerned with the "security" side of the famous "flexicurity" nostrum for solving persistent unemployment problems.

There is a serious debate to be had here, but once the students take to the streets, as they are doing today along with union marchers, the issues have a way of getting lost in the fog of fumigènes. I would forecast a long hot summer, except that the track record of the Hollande government has been to cave quickly when opposition turns militant (remember the withdrawal of the ecotax after the attacks on les portiques électroniques by the bonnets rouges). If the protests really get going, it may instead be a short hot spring. It took a month of demonstrations to scuttle retirement reform in 1995, two weeks to scuttle the CPE. Will the Loi El Khomri last even a week?