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French press react to strikes

Host | 12:54 UK time, Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Students protesting in Marseilles, 19 October 2010


The French press is divided in sentiment about the national strikes and protests over plans to reform the country's pension system.

In Liberation Paul Quinio criticises the government for sticking to their planned changes to pensions:

"Petrol is scarce, trains are running as best they can, high-school students are taking to the streets in greater numbers, police have been arresting some 300 rioters, and Frederic Lefebvre [spokesman for the ruling UMP party] is displaying 'calm' and 'serenity'. Better than that, he is blowing up his chest when he talks in a Jedi fashion about this 'force that no-one can stop' which carries the majority while a sixth day of strikes and demonstrations is going to partially block the country today.
"The UMP spokesman confirms that Nicolas Sarkozy has no intention of changing his strategy: firm he has been from the start on the two main planks of his pension reform (62 as the legal age for retirement, 67 as the full state pension age), firm he will remain. Not only is Lefebvre's statement imprudent, it is indecent. Imprudent because it would be a clever person who could make a prediction on the evolution of the social climate.. Indecent are the comments of this friend of the president as they reek of contempt for the employees who will today lose another pay day."

In Le Figaro Charles Jaigu speculates that, despite the mass protests, Nicolas Sarkozy is not worried about his popularity waning:

"At a time of a radicalisation of the conflict and on the eve of a new day of action against pension reform, the Elysee continued to display on Monday its steadfastness. A certain restraint now dominates its comments, and the Elysee highlights that 'Sarkozy is not Thatcher' in answer to the comparison made by the leader of the Left, Jean-Luc Melenchon...
"The Elysee therefore accepts the risk of a prolonged mobilisation of the demonstrators. But, in substance, Nicolas Sarkozy does not alter his position. He knows that with these days of mobilisation, he is in a position to recapture his electorate."

In Le Monde Pierre Jaxel-Truer asks if the protests signify deeper discontent:

"Is the strike movement just a simple refusal of the pension reform, or does it express a wider malaise, with opposition against Sarkozy as the background?...
"The government's gamble, which involves holding onto its position come what may, while hoping that the discontent will die down once the bill is voted on, is risky...
"Since the beginning of the protests, the support of public opinion for the strikers and the demonstrators has been strong. And, importantly, remarkably stable.
"Polls follow one another and resemble each other. A CSA poll showed that 71% of French people support or have sympathy for the strike action on Tuesday. There is no sign of weakening."

In the business daily Les Echos Jean-Francis Pecresse argues that strikers are going against their democratic duties:

"[O]ne of those duties, that one barely dares summon a sense of the general interest, should be not to look for ways of paralysing the economy - by depriving it for example of its fuel in the proper sense of the term - at a time when the apparatus of production is barely recovering from its worst crisis in a century. The state of economic necessity justifies the use of public force to spare thousands of businesses a new ordeal."

Ouest-France's editorial argues that trade unions are taking a big gamble:

"Backed by a strong movement, which took a breather on Saturday, forced by the Elysean firmness, deprived of perspective in the long term, all the [trade union] confederations are, in reality, facing a huge challenge.
"How will they find an exit route after the Senate vote, by getting the maximum benefit from their participation in the collective movement? While they have only obtained, for now, very few, insignificant concessions, if not a symbolic and virtual victory in the debate on injustice.
"Certainly, they have the invaluable booty of public opinion's massive and long lasting support. They have yet to convert this support into militant memberships."

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