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.
Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Tradei
X
Robert Carmichael
August 04, 2015 3:07 PM
Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Trade

Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Growing Number of E. Jerusalem Palestinians Seek Israeli Citizenship

Most Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have long rejected the option of full Israeli citizenship, seeing it as a betrayal to their political cause - the formation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But as that dream remains elusive, more and more Palestinians are applying for Israeli citizenship. Zlatica Hoke reports the decision is hard for many Palestinians who say they have to be pragmatic about it.
Video

Video With No Money, More Students, African Universities Struggle

Academics from around the African continent converged in Johannesburg last week for the African Universities Summit, a chance to tackle some of the major issues facing higher education in Africa today. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Wisconsin's Voter ID Law Still Mired In Controversy

Voter ID laws have sparked controversy across the US. More than 30 states enacted laws requiring citizens to show identification before they vote. Against fierce opposition, the state of Wisconsin recently enacted one the most restrictive voter ID laws in country. As Jeff Swicord reports, no one can predict its impact as the 2016 election nears.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Hailed as Highly Effective

At last, there's a way to end the suffering from the Ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa for more than a year. Researchers say the vaccine is so effective, there may never be a major outbreak of Ebola again. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs