Take your mandate and shove it, Sarko.
The desperation is not quite as evident as I would like in Mr. Sarkozy’s voice when he bleats about the mandate he was awarded in the French Presidential elections. Tensions run high in France with an anti-strike protest on Sunday week ago and strikes now concluding their seventh day.
French Unions, once vaunted for their efficacy in breaking the spine of any government which crossed the red lines drawn around special pensions and such measures, have only managed to bring out between 30 and 60% of the workforce. Estimates differ, as one might expect, according to who is giving them – SNCF says 30%, others say higher. This is not uniform according to region – I’ve heard tell that in some parts of the Paris region the strike is scoring even higher still.
Having spoken with a friend who is himself a railway worker in France, it seems a lot of mixed signals are being given by the labour leadership, leading to confusion in the ranks and less than full support. One union – the CFDT – has even urged workers to resume work as they feel the strike is losing support.
In contrast to this, the support for Sarkozy’s government is also ebbing according to the BBC, which shows approval down to 50% and disapproval up to 40% amongst the French electorate. Of those workers who are on strike, the attempts of union leaders to put the brakes on the strike have been met with fierce resistance. Sarkozy has a disapproval rating that Bernard Thibault must envy.
The government forces have not been resting on their laurels either. Amid news of solidarity phone calls passing between students of universities who are currently on strike, French riot police were sent to deal with a protest outside Nanterre University. Propaganda has been forthcoming all the while.
Unaided by Union leadership, the rank and file have been setting up strike committees and attempting to consolidate the strike. Criticism has been expressed that the Union leaderships collectively couldn’t find their bums with both hands and a map. Concern has been mounting that recent union-backed protests have only been organised at the last minute.
Mr. Sarkozy has not yet had his de Villepin moment – and no one who knows what is happening at the moment in France can dare say the unions there are weak. They can only say that Sarko may have more allies than he initially counted on having.