20 March 2009

Putting pressure on Sarkozy's government

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.


  1. We had a manifestation in our small town. Very civilised, people even brought their dogs along to enjoy the walk and the sunshine.

    At 12.00, on the dot! they all disbanded and went for lunch.

    It could only happen in France.

  2. with 12%(?) unemployment and not being able to layoff someone once hired (I have heard) I would think the Golden Goose of France maybe in quite a pickle unless changed - you cant have it all in these trying times no matter how France tries to insulate themselves from the rest of the world.

  3. Dale, unemployment rates are approaching the same level in the U.S. as in France. In North Carolina, it's about 10% now. What do you think the Americans will do about it? America accusing France of socialism at this point is the proverbial pot calling the kettle black.

    And what's this thing about insulating France from the rest of the world anyway? It's America that traditionally insulates itself. Isolationism, it's called.

    Is it about the English language and how everybody should speak it? Or about how France is about the only country that vocally resists American influence? How exactly does France insulate itself? I'm not sure I get it. With more tourists entering the country every year than any other country, France seems pretty wide open to me. And with so many Europeans free now to come live and work in France... It's not like that in America, with all its "illegal" aliens despite open trade across North America.

    Sorry for the rant, but this "insulate" thing really mystifies me.

  4. yes our unemployment rates are climbing and could hit 10% nationwide - but I think our policies are trying to grow our way out of the recession while France seems to not have the same desire to grow its economy - the idea that the world has to speak english is not what I am saying, France like alot of europe is feeling the unemployment pain and social costs of open borders and I surely do not think that America has tried to be isolating our country and its assets to the rest of the world. maybe we need to in the years ahead!

  5. Ken,

    I agree 100% of your comments. The tax in France is high but it is a trade off. The french have many more benefits from the gov't. than the US. You pay one way or another either out of pocket or in taxes, costs are the same. Also I believe the fact that France is totally committed to the EU speaks to the fact that they are not isolationists. Looks to me the only way the US economy is planning to grow is through the gov't stimulus package. There's just a lot of misinformation regarding the french and it's economy and I guess people have the right to form their own opinions.

  6. Dale, take no offense. I understand that a lot of Americans see France as somehow insular (but it's not an island), exclusionary, and superior-acting. I don't think it's that way at all though.

    I just read in the LA Times that the unemployment rate in California has hit 10.5% now.

    France has long had a state-run economy, and that's why labor interests here call national strikes and react to government policy, trying to put pressure on the institutions that control economic policy. The U.S., from the French point of view, is "liberalist" — which means that business interests are free to run the show. That may be changing now, since big business has made such a mess of things.

    The gap between the rich and the poor, which has been growing in the U.S. for decades, is much narrower in France. The high tax rates are the reason for that. Now the U.S. is facing new economic realities. As a "young" country, it still has a lot to learn, maybe.

  7. Ken
    Well said. By the way the anonymous comment was from me. I don't know why it was posted that way. I have nothing to hide.

  8. By the way the unemployment rate for Monterey County in Jan. 09 was 15.9%, one of the highest in the country. As far as isolationist is concerned, I believe France, along with many other countries, devotes a larger percentage of its GDP to foreign aid than the U.S.

  9. googleing a bit comes up with France doing .047 of its GNP to foreign aid - Norway the best at .92 of 1% with the US at .14 of GNP - but our giving is the largest dollar wise. however you measure it I think we do a fair share plus private giving, military bases etc to better the world. these were 2003 numbers I think for US and Norway.

    anyway a good arguement for the french but I am proud of what america has done to better and protect the world for most of its history

  10. Thanks Linda, I wondered who that was.

    Dale and all, the point is not to say which country is better or worse. It's not a competition. The point is to avoid exaggerated claims in either direction.


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