Sarkozy in two days talks with union leaders

14th May 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 14, 2007 (AFP) - President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday began two days of meetings with union barons who fear the new French leader will curb the powers of organised labour with his planned economic reforms.

PARIS, May 14, 2007 (AFP) - President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday began two days of meetings with union barons who fear the new French leader will curb the powers of organised labour with his planned economic reforms.

Sarkozy, who takes office on Wednesday, sat down with the secretary general of the CFDT (Confederation Francaise Democratique du Travail), Francois Chereque, at the start of two days of meetings with the five union leaders.

"We will mostly listen to him and see what he is proposing," Chereque told reporters as he arrived for the meeting at Sarkozy's temporary offices in Paris.

"We will insist on the method and on the approach for the months and years ahead," said Chereque.

Sarkozy's tough talk about putting France back to work has irked the unions who charge he is trying to unilaterally change the rules of labour relations.

Sarkozy has promised to hold four employer-labour conferences in September to tackle such issues as improving work conditions, providing equal pay for women and helping the jobless.

But he has also pledged to move quickly with legislation that will allow overtime to be exempt of taxes, a measure that would de facto bust open the 35-hour workweek adopted under the Socialist government in 2000.

He wants to submit a bill before the end of the year that would guarantee minimum services during strikes, notably in transport, to ensure that trains are running despite the labour action.

The leader of the CGT (Confederaton Generale du Travail) union, Bernard Thibault, has warned that setting a deadline for reaching agreement with labour on the minimum services bill amounted to "putting a gun to our heads."

The head of Worker Struggle (Force Ouvriere) union, Jean-Claude Mailly, warned that any "forcing through" of measures would have a "boomerang effect."

Previous French governments of both left and right have tried to introduce economic reforms, but have repeatedly been forced to back down in the face of massive union-led street protests.

Sarkozy's campaign director Claude Gueant warned last week that the unions did not have the legitimacy to challenge the president-elect's proposals as he had won a strong mandate in the presidential election to push for change.

Only eight percent of French workers are unionized while 85 percent of the French people turned out to vote in the election, Gueant said.

Divided French Socialists form battle ranks for legislatives
PARIS, May 14, 2007 (AFP) - Bitterly divided following the defeat of its presidential candidate Segolene Royal, France's Socialist Party (PS) bunkered down Saturday to draw up a battle plan for next month's legislative elections.

Reeling from its third consecutive presidential election defeat, the party is struggling to forge a common front ahead of the June 10 and 17 vote to elect the lower house National Assembly.

On combative form, Royal opened a meeting of the party's 300-member national council in Paris with a call for unity, vowing to remain a driving force in opposition despite her emphatic defeat by the right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy.

Greeted by powerful applause, Royal told party members she was "available" to lead the renovation of her party, and would "obviously take full part" in the legislative campaign.

Going further, she set her sights on the next presidential contest, blaming a lack of unity behind her candidacy for her defeat, and calling for the party to move fast to choose a new candidate and "mobilise fully behind him".

The PS is torn over what role the 53-year-old Royal -- who polls show remains its most popular figure but whose authority is contested by senior rivals -- should play in the party's future.

Commentators believe she may now try to conquer the party leadership, with a view to making a second presidential bid in five years time.

But she faces stiff opposition from heavyweights including Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a social-democrat who wants to "renovate" the PS, and Laurent Fabius, a former prime minister who believes its place is firmly on the left.

Royal's bold stance earned her immediate rebukes from both camps.

Strauss-Kahn ally Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, said he was "slightly alarmed" to see Royal "play leap-frog" over the legislatives to focus on the presidentials, while Fabius ally Claude Bartolone said the time was not for "self-proclamations and score-settling".

Party first secretary Francois Hollande, who is Royal's partner, also said her talk of 2012 was premature.

Hollande, who will be in charge of the coming campaign, said it should be "simple and collective", warning of the risk of electoral fatigue after the long and hard-fought presidential race.

Following six hours of talks, the PS agreed on a slogan -- "The left that acts, the left that protects" -- and a campaign centred on four major themes: employment, wages and industrial innovation; welfare protection, the ageing population, education and housing; Europe and globalisation; democratic reform.

The talks in Paris also aimed to decide on possible alliances with the far-left or centre.

The most thorny question is whether to strike an alliance with the centrist Francois Bayrou, who has broken his links with Sarkozy's right-wing camp and this week founded a new party, the Democratic Movement.

Royal's supporters are ready to consider accords with the centre, but Fabius loyalists are fiercely opposed to any "rightward shift", while Strauss-Kahn has stopped short of backing any alliance with the centrists.

There was no announcement on the subject although the PS leader in the National Assembly Jean-Marc Ayrault, a Royal ally, told Le Monde newspaper the Socialists may consider a second round deal with like-minded centrists concerning up to 15 constituencies.

Electoral accords have been reached between the PS and two fringe parties on the left while talks are underway with the Greens and the Communists.

According to a poll published Thursday, Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement is expected to easily retain an overall majority in the 577-seat National Assembly, while the PS is expected to win 158 to 200 seats.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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