Wednesday, June 8, 2016

"Il faut savoir terminer une grève."

The words are attributed to Maurice Thorez at the time of the Popular Front, but they remain as pertinent as ever. The CGT, having played hardball with the government in a complicated three-bank billiard strategy, now has to persuade the workers that they have in fact won, at least against the SNCF, where the government is the major stockholder. The problem is that some of the strikers thought they were striking against the El Khomri Law. They now have to be persuaded that the sweeteners offered to les cheminots are enough to justify a cave-in on labor code reform.

The problem with playing hardball is that wild pitches tend to hurt people. A lot of people have been hurt in this episode. Start with M. Pepy, the head of the SNCF. At least that's his job title. It turns out that the SNCF is actually run by the president of the Republic, who excluded M. Pepy from the negotiations with the unions. Never mind that poor Pepy had been working to reform the SNCF for several years. More important things are at stake. The El Khomri Law must pass or François Hollande's reelection chances will be even worse than they already are. So the government was willing to cave (once again) to railway workers, who have the power to keep other workers from getting to their jobs and soccer fans from getting to the stadiums for the Euro championship. So Hollande took over and surrendered on one front in the hope of prevailing on another. Philippe Martinez, having bared his teeth in a snarl, must now recompose his face in a smile. This is France, where the law can be "reformed" as long as the requisite "exceptions" are granted to the people with the clout. This may be the country that invented l'intérêt général, but what is le général, after all, if not an accumulation of particuliers?

Hollande and Martinez: two guys qui savent bien terminer une grève.