Violence has become a sad reality in France’s daily life. A lot of this violence has been triggered by the proposed change of the French labour law. Pmp asked what the reform brings with it and if it is really worth the controversial strikes and violence.
The unemployment rate in France has been steadily on the rise and is now at just over 10%. As a comparison, the UK’s rate is nearly half of that at 5,5%. The French government seeks to fight the high unemployment rate by liberalizing the labour law, making it more flexible and thus encouraging companies to hire people. Flexibility, however, comes at the price of lower worker protection, especially protection against lay-offs. The government proposal seeks to make it easier for companies to fire workers if the company is in economic difficulties.
Protests, riot, and a left-wing civil war
The suggested changes to the labour law have fostered massive protests, strikes, riots and have led to an alienation within the left wing. While the ruling Socialist Party supports the reform, the far left union CGT and the hard-line wing of the Socialist party vehemently oppose the reform. As clashes between the police and protestors have become the norm, hundreds of people have been injured. Cars have been broken and windows smashed; a police car was set on fire while the officers were still inside. Beside the reform of the labour law protestors also are unhappy with the way the law was passed. Knowing the reform would not make it through the National Assembly – the French lower house – the government used a loop hole in the constitution to avoid a debate in the assembly. A further issue on the agenda of protestors is the critique of capitalism in general as manifested in the Nuit Debout movement.
Exact changes still unclear
What the changes to the French labour law will exactly mean still remains unclear. The proposed reforms have been changed in favour of workers after the continuing protest. Recently the reform was debated in the conservative held Senate, the upper house. It has suggested over 400 amendments to the reform, thus making it more pro-business. Now the reform will be passed back to the National Assembly, which will have to debate the suggested amendments, however it is likely that it will scrap most of them. The reform is planned to be passed in July.
The great question of our time
France is divided over the question whether workforce flexibility and thus potentially lower rates of unemployment or worker’s protection is more valuable in times of double digit unemployment rates. Unfortunately, the subject is all to often debated with violence, rather than from an objective perspective. It shows that the question of how to adequately adapt worker’s rights to a changing working environment will remain one of the big questions of our time.