News

    French Support President in National Labor Strikes

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Lisa Bryant

    After nine days of crippling national transportation strikes France appeared to be returning to normal Friday amid negotiations between labor unions and government officials. From Paris, Lisa Bryant reports that while the walkout has snarled traffic, angered commuters and cost the country millions of dollars there appears to be one winner: French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

    Even for strike-prone France, this has been a busy week. On Tuesday, teachers, postal workers and fire fighters poured into the streets protesting for better salaries and working conditions. On Wednesday, the tobacconists went on strike against a new anti-smoking law. Meanwhile, students have blocked roughly 40 universities nationwide to express their discontent about government plans to grant higher education institutes greater autonomy.

    But it is a massive transportation strike, now in its second week, that has caused the most damage. Although unions and government officials have begun negotiating reforms to special pensions - and more trains are running - the strike continues to snarl traffic, particularly in the Paris area.

    The unrest carries all the classic French ingredients. The government proposes reforms. The French protest. The government backs down. But this time around, the country's chief executive is Nicolas Sarkozy.

    "After all, Sarkozy was elected to change things. And public opinion is still behind him," said American University of Paris politics professor Steven Ekovich. "And I think he realizes that in order to change things in France - and it is not easy to change things in France because, after all, it is rather conservative - Sarkozy understood that changes in France had to be done quickly and massively and not piece by piece. And we are seeing the consequences of that."

    Surveys show a stunning majority of French support their hard-charging new president as he tries to end special pension perks benefiting a small slice of the population, most of them rail and utility workers.

    On Sunday, several-thousand protesters even demonstrated against the strikes - an oddity in a country where walkouts usually evoke sentiments of "solidarity" against the authorities.

    At the Laumiere metro station in northern Paris, a loudspeaker informed commuters trains were functioning sporadically - rather than not at all, as it had a few days before.

    The strike has enraged French commuters, who have waited for hours to get metros and trains to work, or remained snarled in traffic jams. Others walk or bike to work. But Thursday, businessman Philippe du Rhode decided to brave mass transit.

    Du Rhode said he was trying to stay calm. He believes France is undergoing a period of major change - and he is for that.

    But another commuter, Said Abdallah, was less enthusiastic.

    Abdallah said France may need reforms, but he does not like the president's methods. He believes he should negotiate more.

    Since taking office in May, Mr. Sarkozy has wasted no time making good on campaign promises to cut government spending and make France more competitive.

    He has moved at a breathtaking pace - pushing through university and immigration reforms, coaxing the European Union to adopt a simplified treaty to replace its aborted constitution, sending his former wife to Libya to plead the cause of imprisoned Bulgarian nurses and speeding to Chad in connection with a questionable French charity.

    After days of uncharacteristic silence, Mr. Sarkozy urged transport workers Tuesday to return to work, vowing the government would not back down.

    In a speech to French mayors, the president urged strikers to reconsider continuing their walkout that has cost the country so dearly. He said those paying the price were ordinary French who have the rightful feeling of being taken hostage.

    French analyst Etienne Schweisguth believes Mr. Sarkozy was right to begin his reforms with the special pensions that only affect a small percentage of workers, most of them in the rail sector.

    Schweisguth of the Paris-based Center for the Study of French Politics, says if Sarkozy is able to push through these reforms he will have weakened the unions - and that would be a good beginning for his larger strategy.

    But whether the president will persevere in the long term is another matter. He has long been criticized for making empty promises - including those during his tenure as interior minister when he promised to overhaul the country's crime-plagued, immigrant-heavy suburbs. Critics say that has not happened.

    Analyst Schweisguth says Mr. Sarkozy's problem is that many of the reforms he has pledged will only show results in the long term. So for now, he has to be content with announcements.

    A poll published last Sunday in the weekly Journal du Dimanche  found Mr. Sarkozy's popularity had slipped four percentage points since October - but still remained at 55 percent. And with the left and unions divided over reforms, France's president faces no major opposition. At least not for the moment.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.