France: Is Sarkozy’s Waterloo Just Delayed?

Today, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators turned out in French’s streets to protest, yet again, the already approved, by the French Senate, Sarkozy administration pension plan reform. Once in effect, the new law will raise the retirement age from 60 to 62.

According to both sides( the government and the unions), the overall number of demonstrators across France was far lower than at previous rallies. The authorities say the turnout was half the size of the demonstrations during last week massive protests. Beside the rallies today, one protest included shutting down the power at the finance ministry for about an hour this morning, in what a government official called “an act of ill will”.

So it is a done deal as far as retirement reform in France. The French Congress has already passed the law which is scheduled to be signed into effect by president Sarkozy on November 15. But is this a final victory for an embattled Sarkozy administration or just the first round in a struggle likely to expend? For now the government has won, but French workers, students and the opposition are pledging to keep on fighting against a government they say shut them out of negotiations on the reform of France’s pensions system.

However, this is obviously not only about the pension system. The massive demonstrations and paralyzing strikes are a demonstration of both the strength and the anger of French people towards Sarkozy and his performance as president.

Almost all protesters, since the beginning of the strike, said they were disgusted by the fact that the government had shoved down their throats reforms of such importance without any consensus or even debate with the unions. French wanted a debate that took into account the interest of everyone in the country from the bottom-up. And what Sarkozy is attempting to do is to manage the country exactly the opposite way, from the top down.

Despite the lower numbers today, the protesters are planning other big rallies across France on November 6.

“Social democracy in France is in peril. Sarkozy is destroying the Gaullist tradition of social rights, where unions are accepted as part of the negotiating process. Our president has declared war on the unions, and we will fight him to the end,” said union representative Bernard Fontayne.

So apparently, it will be the strategy of “fight another day” for French workers, and it is likely to be a hot winter and possibly an explosive spring for Sarkozy.


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