French workers hold on to their lives

The right-wing French government attempted to reduce French workers’ holidays, and the French resisted.

Until now, the French have enjoyed 11 national holidays. Right-wing Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin suggested that the government abolish the Monday holiday after Pentecost. The right-wing government claims that the free work hours French workers involuntarily donated that day will be dedicated toward paying 35% of the $7.5 billion needed to improve health care for the elderly annually. However, it is always the goal of capital to remove workers’ control over working hours. Disengenuously appropriating a term from the left, the right-wing government called the holiday abolition a “day of solidarity.”

Many sectors of society objected to this regressive form of improving health care. Half the country stayed home Monday, May 16, 2005. France’s main unions urged workers to strike. 35% of postal workers went on strike that day. Many of the country’s town halls were closed. In Bordeaux, thousands of people marched behind banners declaring, “No to Free Work.” Dozens of cities and towns including Lille, Strasbour, and Bordeaux went without most public transportation. Principals and teachers decided whether schools remained open. The main federation of parents urged keeping children home from school. 90% of students stayed home. France’s communist-backed labor federation the CGT called on the government to work on a more equitable way to care for the country’s elderly. The French Confederation of Christian Workers called Monday a day of “forced labor.”

Reported unsympathetically in the New York Times 5/17/05: A4.

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