Wednesday, March 29, 2006


A few people have written to me about the strikes in France. I don't know what sort of press it's getting in the US, so I'll just briefly explain...
France has a system of work contracts for nearly all people. The current contract is immediate -- that is, right when a person is hired, be it their first job or fifth, they are immediately protected. They cannot be fired (without reason, without the employer going through prescribed steps, etc) as it would be a breach of contract. If a person's contract is broken -- specifically, if they are fired for what they consider to be a bad reason -- they can actually file a lawsuit against the employer.
The new contract states that there is no protection for people under the age of 26, during the first two years of work.

Now, this is hard for me to entirely understand, as we simply have a different system in the US. I don't know many people who are simply fired with no notice, although I do know it happens. Similarly, we have an understanding of the 'entry-level position' which we (both the employer and employee) assume will be appropriate for a 2 - 3 year time frame, after which the employee will look for a better job, etc. Of course, this is only my experience in the professional world, but I do think it's a common one. To me, the French seem to have a mentality of "Well, this is how we've always done it!" -- which is both good (lots of parades with people dressed up in medieval garb, along with any number of wonderful and charming traditions) and negative.

When I've talked to teachers here, they seem indignant that the government would stoop so low. They assure me that employers will exploit young workers, hiring them for three or four months, then throwing them out for a new person. Why this would happen is not explained... but they insist that it will happen. When discussing this situation with one teacher, I explained my point of view, explaining that our contract-less system seems to have worked out a mutually-beneficial understanding -- thus, my uncomprehension over the distress of the French.
"Yes, but...we're more socially advanced in France," she said.
"Excuse me?"
"Well, that's just the theory. We are advanced in the way we want to assure security for all of our people."

Well, everyone except the immigrants.... Arg. Just thinking about this conversation has gotten me worked up -- I'm certainly not a defender of the social protection in America, as I think it could be far better; however, these people are simply turning a blind eye to their own, similar deficiencies.

Hmpf. So, where was I? Oh, they've been striking. It seems silly to me that things have gotten so violent and destructive, but the French really do like a good romp with the poilce in the name of a righteous cause. I thought we were going to miss out on all the action, but lo and behold! Today as I was walking to school, I heard a rythmic banging that grew louder and louder as I approached the lycee.

There they were - my very own students barricading the school! They were beating on garbage cans and shouting protest songs.

I spoke to a few teachers outside, since classes are obviously cancelled, and their attitude surprised me.
"They're only out here because they don't want to be in class."
"They are concerned because they're lazy, and if they don't have contracts, they'll surely be fired."
"There's far worse things that happen in France every day, and these kids couldn't care less. This is just for fun."

It's an interesting situation all around. Will it make a difference?... well, nothing happened after all of the riots in the suburbs last fall, so I'm curious to see if this will do anything.


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