Americans puzzled by French protests over CPE

22nd March 2006, Comments 0 comments

WASHINGTON, March 22, 2006 (AFP) - US commentators, beginning with The Wall Street Journal, see the bitter protests over the new youth employment law in France as a sign of decline, even though job protection in the United States is minimal at best.

WASHINGTON, March 22, 2006 (AFP) - US commentators, beginning with The Wall Street Journal, see the bitter protests over the new youth employment law in France as a sign of decline, even though job protection in the United States is minimal at best.

Only union members, who make up 12.5 percent of the workforce, have their employment protected by labor contracts. Federal and state government employees also enjoy a measure of job security, but they represent 16 percent of the US workforce.

For the rest, they can be laid off practically at a day's notice with no justification and with practically no legal recourse unless they can adduce racial, gender or religious discrimination.

The minimum wage is set by the federal government and states are free to raise the bar if they choose. Since the last increase in 1997, it stands at 5.15 dollars (4.25 euros). For new employees under 20 years of age, it is 4.25 dollars.

The minimum wage falls below the poverty line along with 13 percent of the US population and 25 percent of blacks.

A low unemployment rate -- 4.8 percent in February -- is the chief argument of those who advocate deregulating the job market. However, it conceals a huge social disparity, with 16.1 percent of under-20s and 9.5 percent of blacks lacking jobs.

For many Americans, the demonstrations against Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin's First Employment Contract (CPE) illustrate other unique French inequalities.

"The reason why college and high-school students are demonstrating, sometimes violently, is obvious: they strongly resent this situation as unfair. Why would they accept reforms while nobody is questioning the privileges of the insiders?" said Morgan Stanley investment bank economist Steven Roach.

Demonstrations and strikes are uncommon in the United States because they often entail the loss not only of job and wages but also social advantages such as health insurance.

More than 45 million Americans, 16 percent of the entire population, lack health insurance, and unlike Europe, the social security safety net in the United States only extends to the poor and the elderly.

Some states have recently adopted laws forcing major employers to set aside a minimum amount of their total wages -- eight percent in Maryland -- to provide health coverage for their employees.

More and more, major businesses are modifying the retirement plans for their employees to reduce their outlays in health insurance.

"Watching the street protests in France, it might be tempting for Americans to be smugly dismissive," said the nationally-distributed USA Today daily, for whom the "quest for guaranteed lifetime employment is utterly counter-productive."

"But one can see counter-productive sentiments similar to those of the French protesters in the workers at companies such as General Motors. They demand preservation of generous pensions and lifetime health coverage from employers that might be driven out of business, in part because of those costly benefits," the newspaper said.

"The USA rarely has the strikes and street protests that France is almost as famous for as its cheeses. But it does suffer from some of the same unwillingness to consider the future. And that should give Americans little reason to feel smug and superior," it added.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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