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23 March 2006 Edition

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France: Unions set for General Strike

BY Justin Moran

Man in coma after French clashes

As An Phoblacht goes to print Cyril Ferez, a 39 year old technician for the Orange telephone company and a member of the SUD-PTT trade union lies in a coma in a French hospital, victim of a beating at the hands of French riot police. It is an indicator of just how serious the confrontation taking place on the streets of the country's main cities has become.

Less than a year after the French left inflicted a catastrophic defeat on the government in winning a referendum on the proposed EU Constitution, unions and students are increasing pressure on Chirac's government over controversial new labour legislation.

The law, introduced by French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, is called the First Employment Contract and is basically a new form of employment contract that applies only to those under the age of 26. In future, such workers could see their employers terminate contracts without having to offer an explanation or give a warning for up to two years. French labour law currently restricts such practices to the first three months of employment.

The law is extremely unpopular with a newspaper poll suggesting 68% of people wanting it withdrawn.

Resistance has sparked an alliance of trade unions, political parties and students not seen since the late 1960s, as street protests and occupations have paralysed the country.

Last weekend 1.5 million took to the streets in 14 French cities. While the marches were mostly peaceful, as night fell clashes developed with French riot police during which Cyril Ferez was brutally beaten.

Two-thirds of French third level colleges have been disrupted by strikes and sit-ins. Student leaders have set Thursday as a day for another series of national mobilisations. The pressure has already forced de Villepin to suggest a willingness to reduce, though not eliminate, the two year clause, but increasingly confident protestors are demanding the outright withdrawal of the legislation.

The trial of strength taking place in France is the latest chapter in an ongoing series of victories for the radical left at a European level. Massive mobilisations forced the EU to withdraw entirely the proposed Ports Directive and amend elements of the Services Directive. The defeat of the neo-liberal EU Constitution, as well as strike victories in other parts of Europe, have given hope to hundreds of thousands of socialists across the continent. A defeat for the proposed labour laws, especially with a French presidential election next year, would be another major step forward.

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