The French are going through terrible times.
As a principle target for the Moslem terrorists, Paris, with two bloody attacks in the past 18 months, now has unlimited security concerns, bracing for further attacks.
The government of Pres. François Hollande, a socialist mind you, has taken the country’s restrictive labor laws in hand to make that peculiar if highly personalized French work ethic internationally competitive. France’s unions – actually a smaller portion of the work force than in most countries – are in revolt, as much among themselves as with Hollande, with daily strikes in transportation and other services. The old former Communist CGT is leading the pack, often violently.
In that inimitable French sympathy for the downtrodden, the public is largely supporting the strikers. So Hollande has had to resort to extra-legislative action to get the ruinously restrictive labor laws off the books. They not only make firing a worker almost impossible but also block the organization of new businesses through hiring restrictions. Eventually he will have to tackle the 35-hour workweek which was adopted in 2000, supposedly to minimize unemployment and to enhance quality of life in an industrial system demanding more of workers. Most observers believe it has failed on both counts.
Most of the economic indicators are grim. In the first quarter, the economy grew at only a half percent. Ten percent of the workforce or over 10% is unemployed, a rate almost twice that of the rest of the European Community. The worst is that among the young the figure is closer to 25%. The French government is borrowing at a rate higher than theoretically permitted by the EC. France’s enormous overstuffed public sector accounts for almost 60% of its GDP.
To aggravate the situation even more, Paris and most of central France, is suffering a record flood. The Seine has burst its bounds and threatened the Louvre, the world’s most historic museum, with paintings being carted off for safety. [Leonard da Vinci’s Mona Lisa was housed on an upper floor.] The terrorist threat, labor snafus and the flood are bound to cut into tourism, accounting for 3% of the GDP as the most favored destination in the world with almost 90 million foreign tourists in 2013.
It is common for Americans to denigrate France and the French. The rapid collapse before the Nazis in 1940 set that pattern of thinking. But the French deserve better of us. It has to be remembered that American independence might not have been achieved without George Washington getting the help of the French navy at Yorktown. It was the autocrat Napoleon Bonaparte who took the French Revolution’s promises of liberty, equality and brotherhood to the rest of Europe where they remained, at least, as goals of future governments. Nor can it be forgotten that France led world technology through the 19th and early 20th century. That hideous monument to Gustave Eiffel’s engineering skill, still towers over Paris as well as his constructions all over the world, in Vietnam, for example, where his railroads are still remarkable engineering achievements. The Panama Canal was his concept, even if the French companies failed in their attempt to create it.
France, traditionally has accommodated large numbers of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. But it is now handicapped with an Arab Moslem minority, given sanctuary after Charles DeGaulle recaptured power by abandoning the French military bitter victory in the Algerian War. For various reasons, the seven million have resisted the normal francoization and former indigestible and depressed separate communities around Paris. [Hollande does have a female Moslem minister of labor.] But it is increasingly clear that all of Europe, including Germany, has a similar growing problem of absorbing Mideastern and African migrants.
France still has a great deal to contribute to the wealth of Western culture. And it will likely get through the current crisis with its own inimitable solutions. In the meantime, it deserves the sympathy of American friends, and where possible, their assistance.