"Let Zem Eat Garlic!'' Says Juppe

by Howard Fienberg

the MacDougall, Jan 24, 1996, Issue 24

In 1968, the French people massed in the streets, and shook their government to the core. In 1995, the unions called for similar mass movement. But after three weeks of striking, Prime Minister Juppe was still in power.

The strikes are deemed a protest by an over-coddled interest group: workers in the public sector. Though opinion polls showed general popular support for the strike, it never spread to the private sector. Even so, it turned the country upside-down. The strike is estimated to have caused a loss of 8 billion francs (over 1 billion pounds) and will lead to a heavy increase in unemployment. The rise in unemployment will Juppe no good, having promised to make it a priority to decrease unemployment. the blame, however, belongs squarely on the shoulders of the spoiled brats in the public sector. The Economist notes that Juppe's ``reforms propose nothing for the public sector that others do not already live with.'' The SNCF (France's national railway) has a debt of 175 billion francs (about 2.5 billion pounds). The final deal to end the strike will still allow train and metro drivers to retire at 50, others at 55, with pensions based on their last six months' wages.

Luckily enough, Juppe has managed to maintain the essential parts of his healthcare reform and gutting of the welfare system. Also, certain areas of the private sector emerged in good form. With public transit immobilized, and traffic snarled from the Champs-Elysee to the banks of the Mediterranean, bicycle and roller-blade stocks sold out completely. With tourism and consumerism effectively curtailed, theatre bookings dropped 50%, hotels lost millions of pounds of lost bookings, and department stores suffered sales downturns of 50% in Paris, and at least ten percent in the rest of France. However, sales of gasoline in Paris rose 50% and Pizza hut home deliveries rose 20%. With a paralyzed communications network, Internet usage jumped 22% in one week, cellular usage 15%. There is still hope for France to qualify for the European Monetary Union (EMU) if Juppe manages to carry through these reforms which were already done in Britain and Germany in the 1980s.

Frogs Up in Arms, Limeys Look On ...

The strikers will eventually lose, one way or another. The strikes followed the usual pattern, which is usually short-lived because the unions cannot or do not pay strike pay to their members. If they do not take their pain now, the system could very well collapse, and soon.

All this makes the British politicos pleased as punch. Anything which delays or destroys the plans for EMU is fine with them, which would mean they could avoid making any decision at all on the controversial topic of whether or not Britain should join it. Can Britain survive outside a prosperous EMU? The politicians would rather not ponder the issue at all.

In France, life is back to the usual chaos. No longer do they drive slowly and safely in traffic jeams; they're back to their Autobahn-for-lunatics ways. We think that they drive on the wrong side of the road(that is, not the left), but that is a false assumption. Wherever there is space, the french will put their vehicles there, no matter what side it may be. Double parking is the norm, not the exception.

In the meantime, the French will be hoarding supplies in anticipation of the Communist CGT Union, lead by Louis Viannet, revewing the strikes to hinder reforms. Bonne chance, M. Juppe!

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