France. In January, the unemployed demonstrated in Paris
against high unemployment and the government's unemployment
policy. Demonstration waves have grown since the police on
January 10 suspended unemployed who had occupied 21
unemployment offices around the country for just over a
month. The day before, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin had
announced the government's plans to set up an emergency
relief office for the hardest hit by the unemployed.
However, this measure was rejected as inadequate by most
protesters. Clashes between police and the unemployed took
place in Paris when the riot police were deployed to
disperse the demonstrators.
To try to reduce unemployment, which at the beginning of
the year amounted to about 12% of the workforce, the
National Assembly in February passed a law on working time
reduction from 39 to 35 hours per week. The law, which was
finally adopted in mid-May, starts to apply in 2000 to all
companies with more than 20 employees. The smaller companies
have the opportunity to wait until 2002 to introduce the
shorter working week.
Countryaah, school students gathered for joint actions and
demonstrated in early October. When the demonstrations
culminated in the middle of the month, about 500,000
students across the country are estimated to have
participated. The requirements presented were for
improvements to the neglected French elementary school: more
teachers, smaller classes and more resources for teaching
and material. Students also occupied, among other things.
the railway station in Bayonne and a power plant in
Saint-Malo. The government met with representatives of the
students, and Education Minister Claude Allegre was able to
announce in French radio in mid-October that they had agreed
to jointly address the problems immediately.
The sitting government, a left-wing coalition comprising
the socialists, the communists and the Greens, won
significant successes in the regional elections on March 15.
The whirlwind of the 1997 parliamentary elections thus
persisted. The left coalition gained 36.5% of the vote and
gained control of 22 of the country's regional parishes;
previously they had power in only two of these. The takeover
of power could have been even greater, but through
settlements with the right-wing nationalist party National
Front (Front National), the center-right coalition managed
to retain power in five of the regional assemblies that
would otherwise have received the left majority. The
protests against the agreements, however, became fierce,
even from people within the two largest center-right
parties, the Union pour la Democratie Française (UDF) and
the gaolists of the Rassemblement pour la République (RPR).
The first step on the road to abolishing the general
military duty and forming a French military occupation was
taken when this year's 18-year-olds were given only one
full-day "military duty". Information, reading and writing
tests for one day replaced the previous 10-month long
military service. These defense preparations are compulsory
for all men over the age of 18, an obligation that is also
extended to women in 2000. Instead, the active armed forces
should be transformed into a completely professional one.