Just Above Sunset
April 24, 2005 - Hands Off My Holiday!

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It's hard to tell if the French are their own worst enemies, or their government is.  This government, like all previous right-wing governments here, reminds me of the gang that couldn't shoot straight.  Pow!  Right in the foot.  – Rick Erickson, editor and publisher of MetropoleParis


Hands Off My Holiday!


PARIS, Saturday, April 23, 2005 - It seemed like a good idea at the time. In the summer of 2003 a heat wave in France hastened the demise of an extra 15,000 old folks, left behind and forgotten by a nation on holidays. Many were parked in homes designed for  a mild climate, and they had no defense from continuous high temperatures. When it was over there was much hand-wringing.


The government stepped up with its 'idea of the week.' Thinking to take advantage of natural and national remorse, it proposed turning the national holiday of Pentecôte into a day of work for all, and converting all the tax proceeds from it into a fund for old folks. We could all work on the 7th Monday after Easter and celebrate the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the disciples while happily working to pay for air conditioners in retirement homes. Nobody was against it.


The government, whose ministers had been on holiday like everyone else during the heat wave crises of 2003, finally got a text on the books in June of 2004. The extra day of work is meant to collect two billion euros, with 800 million going for retirement places, 800 million for the handicapped and 400 million destined to support old folks in their own residences. Curiously, 385 million euros are earmarked for 'future years' - possibly for new construction.


Like a lot of other 'ideas of the week,' that was then and this is now. While the fate of old folks is still fresh in the public's mind - TV-news likes to remind us - workers in France have had some time to think since the events of 2003. The first 'working' Pentecôte is this year, on 16 May. A poll last week showed that the French are overwhelmingly not in favor of the measure, with a range of 66 to 75 percent against it.


The measure is still here and the government assures us that all of us will be working. But the national school system, officially working, does not know if there will be any teachers in the classes.  The national rail operator, the SNCF, has classed the day as a holiday. The offices of the security social will likely be closed, as will many city halls. La Poste is unlikely to be open.


Some private companies are staying strictly with the government and are considering Monday, 19 May as a normal working day. Other companies are being supple, calling the day all sorts of things other than working. Banks, for example, will probably be closed, but banks are often closed on Mondays.


Travel agents are unlikely to be closed. The month of May generally has more long weekends than any other month and some people take the whole thing off, but this year the calendar says that the only long weekend is the one with Pentecôte. Everybody wants to go to a bullfight or on a pilgrimage.


The government, which has about 20 other 'hot' conflicts on its plate, says it's going to stand firm. It intends to launch a package of civics lessons, maybe next week, to 'sell' its 'gesture of solidarity.'


Union leaders say that salaried employees aren't going to buy it.  They've already taken two hits - the retirement 'counter-reform' and the loosening of the 35-hour week - and are unlikely to accept working an extra eight hours. Unions are suggesting not working at all, or a day of strikes.


Employees point out that salaries are stagnant while profits and dividends are exploding. Investors are not being asked to 'work' an extra day. It remains to be seen how many government ministers will be working on 16. May. Will they be feeling more 'guilty' than civilians?


The administration of the region of the Gard decided to work on Easter Monday instead of Pentecôte, so that the bullfight weekend at Nîmes could go ahead normally. Parents of students were unable to find out if teachers were working or not. School buses ran, but transported only 2000 kids out of 28,000. The city hall at Nîmes was closed - and will be closed again at Pentecôte - everybody must be a bullfight fan.


It is never mentioned that all the money the government has, it gets from taxpayers. It is not the government's money but you would never know it. This plan to work an extra day is a form of tax of course, invented by the government rather than by public opinion - so it hardly surprising that it is meeting some resistance.


It is also curious to see the government step blindly into another patch of sticky quicksand when it is whining about peddling a 'yes' vote for the referendum about the European Constitution.


The issues are unconnected, but the French seem unable to remember that the same government that is apparently doing so little to reduce high unemployment, is cutting benefits and dreaming up new taxes, and is proposing unpopular social 'counter-reforms' - is truly a government concerned with the best interests of all the French.


Many say that it is the 'liberal'* economic provisions of the European Constitution that are unacceptable. The French should know - what they fear Europe might do, they think is already being done to them by their current right-wing government.


*'Liberal' - as a French word, it is a synonym for Maggie 'Lady' Thatcher-type capitalism, run amok. The leader of France's Socialists assures all that we should vote 'yes' for the referendum because all 25 European Socialist parties are for it. A minority of Socialists disagree, along with the Communists.


Click here for referendum info, in French. There are five weeks - long ones - left until the polls for the referendum open in France on Sunday, 29 May.





Ric’s Paris photos this week –


The Referendum

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The Fiat 500 of the Week -

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Around and about…

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Playing at boules...

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Text and Photographs Copyright © 2005 – Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

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