State workers' strike defies Juppe

MARY DEJEVSKY

Paris

France's seven public sector trade unions yesterday threw down a challenge to the government of Alain Juppe, announcing a one-day general strike for 10 October in protest at plans for a public sector pay-freeze next year. The strike call, the first time France's unions have acted in concert for more than a decade, came a day after the minister responsible for the public sector, Jean Puech, said he was suspending pay talks with the unions until the second half of 1996.

The prospect of labour unrest in France's 5 million-strong public sector will be a blow to the government's intentions to improve finances in 1996: public sector pay already accounts for almost 40 per cent of government spending. But it will also test the public's appetite for the economic and social reform they voted for in electing Jacques Chirac as President.

The public sector has become a touchstone for reform in France. Deregulation is required by the European Union; the French exchequer needs to cut costs. President Chirac is pledged to both. But both he and Mr Juppe were hoping to approach the subject by stealth. Instead, it was thrust into the limelight by the dismissal of Alain Madelin as economy minister last month, and has refused to go away since.

Mr Madelin's "crime" was a statement to the effect that the real opposition in France was no longer between left and right, but between the "protected" (public) sector, and the "exposed" (private) sector. He spoke of "benefits" that amounted to "privileges" and compared pension arrangements in the two sectors.

The rebuke from Mr Juppe came back sharply: "You don't solve France's problems by setting one category of French people against another category of French people."

One television programme broadcast this week offered the spectacle of normally well-mannered French people bawling at each other. The programme was a live debate entitled: "Are public sector workers privileged?" In the "yes" corner were shopkeepers, farmers, lawyers and employers. In the "no" corner were trade union officials, nurses, doctors, Telecom and railway workers.

The arguments of the private sector are that public sector workers are underworked, make life difficult for the public and have to work only 37-and-a-half years for a full pension calculated on their 10 best years of earnings. Everyone else works 40 years for a pension calculated on their average pay over 25 years.

Public sector workers retort that they are poorly paid, do the jobs others would not, and that their bonuses are not taken into account when pensions are calculated.

The problem for the government is that the views of the private sector majority cannot be translated into a mandate to curb the public sector. Although private sector workers believe the public sector has a cushy life, these views coexist with a degree of approval for the public sector. Assuming the strike goes ahead, the government cannot count on public support if it decides to take on the unions.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
people
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Principal Arboricultural Consultant

£35000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Principal Arboricu...

Trainee Digital Forensic Analyst

£17000 - £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Trainee Digital Fo...

Planning Manager (Training, Learning and Development) - London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glob...

Asset Finance Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - ASSET FINANCE - An outstanding...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment