Here's what I learned about yesterday's strikes and demonstrations in France from reading an article in the Paris newspaper Le Monde:
According to police estimates, 1.2 million people participated in yesterday's demonstrations that were called to put pressure on the French government to come up with new measures to protect working people's jobs and standard of living. Police said, for example, that 85,000 people turned out to march through the streets of Paris. Demonstrations and parades took place in as many as 50 cities and towns all around France.
According to the labor unions, turnout was about 3 million, or nearly three times the number given by police authorities. Still, this was a bigger turnout than for the last day the unions called out their members and sympathizers to make a show of force, which was in January. At that time, police estimated the number of marchers at 1 million, and the labor unions said there were 2 million.
The kinds of measure that union leaders are calling for are an increase in the minimum wage and a lifting of the cap on tax rates paid by the country's highest earners. They want the "tax shield" abolished. That's the Sarkozy government's legislation that limits the amount of tax paid by the wealthiest to 50% of their income.
I read yesterday that 50% of French households don't earn enough even to have to pay income tax. The population of France is about 65 million now.
The Sarkozy government says capping the income tax rates is the best way to keep the wealthy from emigrating to other countries and taking their fortunes with them. Le Monde quotes various sources saying the number of people who actually leave the country for tax reasons is "marginal."
The French prime minister appeared on TF1 television's evening news yesterday to say that he didn't envision proposing any new economic stimulus measures. He said raising the minimum wage is not a priority for the government, which will focus instead on job creation. The government enacted a 26-billion-euro stimulus plan a few months ago.
Crowd estimates for yesterday's protest marches vary widely from city to city. In Paris, police said that 85,000 turned out; the unions said 350,000. In Marseille, police estimated the crowd at 30,000 and union leaders said it was 320,000. The truth must lie somewhere in between, I suppose.
The leaders of the major French labor unions plan to meet Friday to see how best to follow up yesterday's strikes and continue to put pressure on the Sarkozy government to make some kind of gesture in response to workers' demands. Expect more in May, I'd say.