From WEEKLY MDS No.934, April 28, 2006 logo

France's "Free Dismissal Contract" Law Withdrawn / Democracy Wins

CPE is dead

On April 10, French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin announced the withdrawal of the CPE (Contrat Première Embauche) law, an initial employment contract law. The three-month long struggle of university/high school students and workers finally choked the "free dismissal contract" law aimed at giving permission to employers to dismiss young workers under 26 freely during the initial two-year period.

In protest against the "bills related to equal opportunities" including the CPE proposed by de Villepin and approved by the Parliament without deliberations, university and high school students immediately started actions. Their slogans were, among others, "Non aux emplois Kleenex ('No!' to treating workers like disposable Kleenex tissues)" and "Non à la précarité ('No!' to instability)." They countered the administration with uncompromising "Non," insisting that the introduction of the CPE would allow maximum two-year long unstable employment of the young under 26, and furthermore, would invite destruction of human rights on all workers. Their anti-CPE campaigns spread around the country, get united with workers' movements and developed into strikes and demonstrations involving several million protesters. Finally, they cornered down the government and the CPE was dead.

Japan's mass media stab this struggle with slander, "denial of parliamentary democracy." However, the young, citizens and workers demonstrated true democracy by taking to streets and resorting to direct action to have unjust policies revised.

Heavy blow to neo-liberalism

As the key player of the struggle, the UNEF, French national union of student bodies, declared "historic victory." The significance of this victory brought about through joint forces of the youth and workers, represented by twelve labor unions and students' organizations, is unlimited.

First, the triumph has made a important turning point in the confrontation with neo-liberal policies catering to global capitalism aimed at elimination of restrictions on worker dismissals and acceleration of destabilization of employment over national borders, creating a start of fresh counteroffensives. While an attempt similar to the CPE is made in Germany for introducing a system to ease dismissal regulations, it is obviously difficult now to go ahead with it. The withdrawal of the CPE following the last year's French referendum that voted down the EU draft constitution has created a perspective toward the breakdown of neo-liberalism in the entire EU, in resonance with the defeat of the Silvio Berlusconi administration in the previous general elections in Italy.

Second, this struggle has been an opportunity for French people to have the experience of actually stopping high-handed policies of power by establishing unified actions among students and labor unions through all the stages of the struggle, resorting to their own struggle and support of the public. Having gained confidence in the belief that victory against global capitalism is possible through solidarity, no doubt the youth will further temper themselves as an important part of the might for social change.

Also possible in Japan

The reality of the Japanese youth and workers is what the French administration aimed to achieve with the CPE. The ratio of non-permanent or temporary employees under contract or dispatched from personnel agencies now accounts for 32% of the entire labor force. Among the youth under 24, this ratio is nearly 50%. Their wages are only 60% of regular employees, effectively forming a class of disposable workers subject to free dismissal.

The Japanese government and global capitalists are insatiable with the above situation and are preparing for legislation of employment contracts to "liberate" worker dismissal and revision of working conditions. In other words, they are trying to further ensure instability of employment and the workers' status without rights.

However, neither the youth nor workers in Japan will endure the status without rights forever. Outrageous attacks of global capitalism directed to destroy all social sectors of labor, safety, welfare and education, resulting in denial of humanity, are now infuriating all classes and groups of people. Let us seek unity with social movements for community transformation and promote the individual- and community-based labor union movement to obtain employment and rights on our own. What was possible in France can surely be achieved elsewhere. Japan cannot be an exception. (April 18)

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