April 10, 2006

French students set for jobs law “victory march”

By Jon Boyle

PARIS (Reuters) - French unions and students take to the
streets on Tuesday in what amounts to a victory parade after
President Jacques Chirac pronounced dead a hated youth jobs law
that has sparked mass protests and periodic unrest.

Union leaders toasted Monday's victory with champagne but
vowed to remain on their guard until new measures replacing the
First Job Contract (CPE) had become law.

However, they refrained from calling for fresh action
against government labor policies.

With Easter holidays and examinations fast approaching,
some students began voting on Monday to return to their
studies, including at Rennes II university in western France
which was the first faculty to strike over the CPE in February.

Satisfied protest leaders were nevertheless cautious.

"We are calling for the pressure to be kept up until
parliament votes the repeal of the CPE, including by blocking
universities if necessary," Bruno Julliard, head of the Unef
students' union, told Reuters.

Tuesday's nationwide rallies will be the first test of
sentiment after Chirac said on Monday the CPE would be replaced
by measures to help disadvantaged young people find work.

His statement carefully avoided the words "withdrawal" or
"repeal" to spare the blushes of the CPE's main champion, Prime
Minister Dominique de Villepin, but some of its opponents
hinted the battle was not yet over.

The head of the CGT union Bernard Thibault said he wanted
to focus on the CNE job contract which, like the now defunct
CPE, allows employers in very small firms to hire and fire
people under 26 at will during a two-year trial period.


The crisis has shredded Villepin's authority, all but
killed off his undeclared presidential ambitions, temporarily
united the fractious leftwing opposition and split the ruling
Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) now fearful of elections
next year.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, the UMP leader and
Villepin's main conservative rival for 2007 presidential
elections, said he hoped the CPE row did not spell the end of
hopes for reform in France.

"I would not want the idea of reform now to be carried off
by this unfortunate affair," he told the Le Figaro in an
interview published on Tuesday.

In a front page editorial, the La Croix daily newspaper
said that with presidential and parliamentary elections due in
about one year there was little chance right and left would sit
around a table to discuss how to cure youth unemployment of 22

But some good could yet come of the crisis the paper said,
adding: "These next 12 months could be useful if the CPE crisis
... forces each candidate (for the presidency) to make
proposals on all the issues that have arisen in this debate."