Bravo Monsieur le president Macron! You have gotten off to a most impressive start. France’s five-year national depression – known as ‘morosité – has lifted and been replaced by a sense that the republic is not doomed after all. In fact, quite the contrary.
France’s new 39-year old president has astounded nearly everyone. Like the silver-tongued Barack Obama, he appeared out of nowhere and captured the imagination of the nation. Like Obama, Macron is accused of being a cat’s paw for the deep state and/or powerful financial interests. Macron used to work for the influential Rothschild bank arranging deals.
Yet Macron, with limited political experience and few evident allies, chose the perfect moment to enter the lists of French politics. The French public was disgusted by its feckless, self-serving political parties of left and right. The economy was mired in stagnation. France’s former role as leader of Europe had become a distant memory.
In love and politics, timing is everything.
Emmanuel Macron declared himself and his new ‘En Marche’ party above politics and dedicated to ending the vitriolic battle between left and right that has wounded France since the 1930’s. French were sick of the left-right bickering and trench warfare of their professional politicians. Americans should take notice.
Amazingly, France’s Socialist and Communist parties pretty much collapsed in the recent presidential election. So too the far right National Front and the center-right Republicans. The defeated Socialist president, Francois Holland, bore heavy responsibility for the Socialist’s rout. His sad sack image and inability to lower unemployment doomed Hollande’s presidency and his party. Poor Hollande, a decent man for a politician, was so unpopular he decided not to run for a second term. Almost everyone was happy to see him go.
Macron’s brand new party took over France’s legislature and, of course, the reins of government. He appointed a cool new prime minister, Eduard Philippe, and many new faces from left and right in the cabinet.
The new president lost no time in announcing that his priority would be to attack France’s biggest problem: its stagnant economy weighed down by over 10% chronic unemployment, belligerent left-wing trade unions, and absurd labor laws.
In fact, Macron threw down the gauntlet to the left: either reform and modernize or face full-scale war. But all of Macron’s predecessors vowed to modernize and reform France’s labor laws. All failed.
Only 8% of France’s work force is unionized, less than Germany, Britain, or the US. Back in the 1950’s, the number was over 30% unionized. However, joint union-management work councils have given the left inordinate power over industry. Unlike Germany, where labor usually cooperates with management, the relationship in France is too adversarial and ideological.
Worse, five powerful unions are recognized by the French government as labor negotiating partners. Except for a leading moderate union, they are dominated by Communists, Trotskyites, and militant socialists, backed by free-enterprise hating academia and the leftist media. These extreme labor groups are concentrated in transportation, telecommunications, power, trucking and food distribution. They also dominate parts of the farm and fishing sectors.
It takes only a few phone calls for these unions to shut France down. The center right may control the government in Paris, but the left controls the streets, highways, airports and metros. Every time Paris and its union foes fight, up go the barricades and roadblocks and the public suffers. Striking is France’s national sport.
Up until now, union blackmail and violence has won almost every confrontation. It’s become a ritual: they make outrageous demands, up go the barricades, and the two sides palaver until government finally gives in to union demands.
The result has been to make France a no-go zone for industry. Labor laws make firing workers and closing plants almost impossible and hugely expensive. One would be crazy to open a manufacturing business in France. Blizzards of government regulations smother enterprise and hand power to bitter government bureaucrats who hate their jobs and their lives.
The net effect of this Marxist miasma has been to deter French firms from hiring, 40% youth unemployment, and a widespread sense of despair in the business community. Even France’s once glorious gastronomy has been degraded by the Socialist’s daft 35-hour work week and high taxes. The majority of French restaurants now use pre-prepared food in portion packs – much like airline meals. This is unforgivable.
Seizing the moment, Macron plans to reform the labor code by decree. He calls it ‘the Mother of All Reforms.’ The truculent CGT labor union has already called for strikes and demonstrations on 12 September. This will be the beginning of a ‘battle royale.’
Macron has invited US President Donald Trump to Paris for the 14 July Bastille Day celebration. That should be very interesting.
Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2017