May 27, 2016
French labour law: withdraw, negotiate or force it through?
There were scenes of violent clashes and paralysis in France on Thursday. Rail, metro and air transport were down. Petrol and electricity shortages occurred as seven of France’s eight petroleum refineries remained shut last night, and sixteen of 19 nuclear power plants are also on strike. Newspaper editors accused the CGT of blackmail, after the union prevented the publication and distribution of all daily newspapers except the communist L’Humanité on Thursday. It was the only newspaper that agreed to publish a one-page opinion piece by CGT leader Philippe Martinez.
On the political front, Francois Hollande and Manuel Valls continue to refuse to be blackmailed by one trade union. But for a government to get trade unions in such an outrage is against the Socialists’ instincts. This is perhaps behind Michel Sapin's outburst when he suggested yesterday that the contentious article 2 of the labour law, which gives priority to an accord within a company to sector-wide agreements with labour unions, might be re-written. Manuel Valls rejected this immediately, but left the door open by writing that “modifications and improvements are always possible.”
Valls has three options now. He can withdraw the law, similarly to what Francois Hollande did with the law stripping citizenship from terrorists. But this would most certainly trigger his resignation, as he has put too much political capital behind this reform. The second option is to make changes to article 2. This would not meet the CGT’s demands for complete withdrawal, and it does not look like they are in a mood for compromise. The third option is to force the law through by decree, and risk the loss of some of his MPs, alienating the public, or disruptions to the Euro 2016 football tournament. An Elabe poll for BFMTV showed that nearly seven in 10 French people now want to see the law withdrawn.