April 11, 2006

France faces more protests

By Matthew Bigg

PARIS (Reuters) - France's students and trade unions
prepared a victory parade on Tuesday to mark the demise of a
hated youth jobs law, with politicians and analysts split over
whether the hope of labor market reform was dead too.

Opponents of the First Job Contract (CPE) vowed to keep up
their guard until new measures to replace the "easy hire, easy
fire" law for young workers have been passed.

In a sign that unrest that accompanied some of the protests
might not be over, about 100 students blocked two bus depots in
the southwestern city of Toulouse for four hours on Tuesday.

Anna Melun, local leader of the Unef student union, told
Reuters that Monday was "a first victory" but students also had
other grievances.

Parliament will this evening start to debate the ruling
party's measures to help disadvantaged young people find work a
day after President Jacques Chirac scrapped the CPE, a measure
aimed at reducing a youth unemployment rate of 22 percent.

The marches, due to start early afternoon, should test
sentiment since the government's climbdown, though around 600
young people earlier marched in the southern city of Marseille
demanding the total withdrawal of the equal opportunities law.

"We are calling for the pressure to be kept up until
parliament votes the repeal of the CPE, including by blocking
universities if necessary," said Unef national head Bruno

Unions refrained from calling for fresh strikes and some
universities, including the protest center at Rennes in western
France, voted to reopen classes with Easter holidays and spring
examinations fast approaching.


Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who emerged strengthened
after his rival Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin was forced
to withdraw the law, argued that the government's flip-flop did
not mean Paris was unable to pass needed but unpopular changes.

"I don't think the French refuse reforms," he told Europe 1
radio. "The French accept change but always want to be assured
that it is fair. They found these proposals unfair."

But he said there was little room for change in the
twilight of Chirac's 12-year presidency: "You don't reform the
same way at the end of an administration as you do at the

Business daily La Tribune disagreed, saying that no
important reform could be undertaken before a presidential
election in 2007 when Chirac is expected to step down.

Some 3,400 people were arrested over five days of
nationwide protest against the CPE in two months, Sarkozy said.

CGT union leader Bernard Thibault said he wanted to focus
on the CNE job contract which, like the CPE, allows employers
to hire and fire at will during a two-year trial period. The
CNE applies to small firms, while the CPE covered workers under

In sharp contrast to the victory mood among protestors, the
president of Medef, a union of business leaders, said the
withdrawal of the CPE had shaken economic confidence.

Laurence Parisot praised Villepin for having had the
courage to make a link between the rigidity of the labor market
and unemployment and said that unions "were wrong to see this
as a victory. After victories like this we will all become