French Socialists censure government over economy

Unions will pick up the baton on Thursday with nationwide protests likely to bring hundreds of thousands of strikers onto the streets to demand more action to protect jobs and wages.

French Socialists censure government over economy

France's Socialist party launched a no confidence motion against the government's economic policies on Tuesday, looking to pile pressure on President Nicolas Sarkozy ahead of a national strike later this week.

Sarkozy's allies have a sizeable parliamentary majority and the Socialist motion has virtually no chance of success, but it will enable opposition forces to shine the spotlight on the government's record at a time of marked economic slowdown.

Unions will pick up the baton on Thursday with nationwide protests likely to bring hundreds of thousands of strikers onto the streets to demand more action to protect jobs and wages.

"The economic, social and political situation justifies a censure motion and the removal of the government," said senior Socialist lawmaker, Arnaud Montebourg.

"Faced by the threat of a heart attack, France needs real electro-shock treatment," he told Le Parisien daily on Tuesday.

Sarkozy last year unveiled a 26-billion-euro ($34 billion) stimulus plan that focused heavily on encouraging investment. Unions and Socialists say not enough is being done to help the consumer and warn of a backlash if more aid is not provided.

Ministers are clearly concerned about the possibility of social unrest in a country where street protests have regularly built unstoppable momentum, forcing governments into retreat.

Earlier this month, unions staged a wildcat strike at a major Paris commuter station, closing it for most of the day and sending social tensions spiralling higher.

Although France does not face the sort of banking woes that have hobbled countries such as Britain and Ireland, its unemployment rate rose steadily in the second half of 2008, hitting 2.07 million in November, up 8.5 percent on the year.

Sarkozy riled the unions last July when he said "these days, when there is a strike, nobody notices", but soon afterwards the economy hit turbulence tied to the financial meltdown and labour relations deteriorated.

His ministers are being less provocative ahead of Thursday's strike, which has the backing of France's eight main unions and the support of 69 percent of voters, according to opinion polls.

"I'm not shocked that there are going to be rallies. Why is that a surprise? We are in a very difficult situation," said Labour Minister Brice Hortefeux.

Public transport strikes have been called in 77 of France's 137 cities on Thursday, including Paris, with stoppages also expected to hit air travel, banks, hospitals, schools, power companies and the magistrature.

"Those who think there is no longer a union movement here are going to see that isn't the case," said Bernard Thibault, head of the powerful CGT union.

Reuters

Last Mod: 27 Ocak 2009, 15:37
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