Monday, April 10, 2006

Left Turn

The students in France have won.

President Jacques Chirac pulled the new labor law targeting youth that put millions in the street for a month of rabble-rousing.

Chirac and his conservative minions had promised a revision of the law, but protestors in France do not screw around. They said, “Scrap it or we keep disrupting national life.”

Last week (“Protests Here, Protests There, Protests Everywhere,” April 3) the scribe wrote of the French and the demonstrations: “Their democracy is one of the best. Here millions march through the cities in opposition and the (p)resident commends himself on allowing them to ‘speak their minds.’ In France the deal is tacit. ‘You get enough people in the streets, for long enough, you win. We pull the law you don’t like’.”

Which is exactly what happened with the new legislaton. It is the first correct political prediction the scribe has made since Jimmy Carter was elected in 1976 – and that was close.

You will now read in the American press about how Chirac “caved” to the pressures of the people he governs and whom were most affected by the law in question. You will hear about how the people of France just won’t admit they have give up the “generous” benefits (which they paid for and are therefore entitled to enjoy). You will read about how that country just won’t be able to compete in this globalized economy we were rushed into, because of its many benefits, and how La France shall now sink without the “flexibility” employers need to make it in the market.

But the battle was about a concept called “precariousness” that has been all the rage in Europe since 2001 or so when radical writer Toni Negri published “Empire” and identified instability as the primary feature of working life in the new millennium.

What does it refer to? It refers to the fact that the scribe, and his wife, craftspeople and members of the workforce for 20-plus years (with considerable achievement and accomplishments accrued) have no health and insurance, nothing put away for retirement, and are condemned to living without a plan for the future because they are “independent contractors,” with no labor protections or guarantees whatsoever.

But that’s personalizing the affair.

Believing in truth, justice and the anarcho-syndicalist way, we’ll turn to some anarcho-syndicalist friends at "Tierra y Libertad" (Land and Liberty) to help (it’s in Spanish).

The Contrat Première Embauche, or “first employment contract” presented in January was directed at young people, among whom unemployment reaches 40 percent in some neighborhoods, one of the highest indices in Europe. The contract permits the employer to fire a worker any time in the first 24 months without reason.”

Of course, that’s standard fare here in the U.S. where the peoples’ welfare is sacrificed to the that of business; the belief being that what’s good for, let’s say Exxon, is good for you or the highway scribe.

You be the judge and back to “Tierra y Libertad”.

“This [new power for employers] is a novelty to French labor law; it would establish a difference in rights between those younger than 26 years old and everybody else... Globally, the contract is a new attempt de generalize precariousness in the labor market, codifying it into labor law, without addressing the new difficulties it imposes upon young people. It represents a continuation of similar measures from the government including the dropping of age for apprenticeships or the Contrat Nouvelle Embauche, which imposes a two-year waiting period before the drawing up of a permanent contract. This contract already impeded the rights of workers to strike, be sick, or be pregnant during its term of applicability.”

As you can see, labor laws in Europe are quite different. You don’t need a union to get a contract. Anybody that hires you must offer one with some pretty decent protections regarding getting fired and what it will cost the employer (in payments to you) that backslides.

The kids won and because of it they won’t be obliged to shop in a Wal-Mart where the cashier is 72 years old and must work to avoid poverty in their dotage. They will continue to live in something resembling a country that is kind to its own, rather than to factory contractors in China.

That would be good enough to start a week off, but the major papers are also reporting a defeat for Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Knowing what we know about exit polls here in the U.S., we must hold our breath, but the development would be nice.

Berlusconi is the not-so-new face of international fascism. A guy who owns almost all the television and radio outlets in the country he governs. A man who manipulates political opinion to his own ends, which mostly have to do with passing new laws that make legal his past illegalities as an industrial baron.

He is vulgar in debate, undemocratic, imperious, and leads a coalition rooted in flag-waving nationalism, but which does not serve Italy nearly so well as it serves, well, B-E-R-L-U-S-C-O-N-I.

His defeat would be the second for a national leader who joined George Bush in war without the approval of his own people. The first was Spain’s Jose Maria Aznar, who was going to step down anyway, but whose political party is out of power thanks to the bombings of March 11, 2004.

The last to go is the disappointing Tony Blair who defrauded a new generation’s hope in the Labour Party’s ability to provide an alternative by slavishly following Bush into war, again, against the wishes of his people.

Left turn folks.

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