French Workers Return to Streets in Protest
|March 27, 2009||Posted by Jeffery J. Smith under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
French Workers Return to Streets in Protest
Looking for Support in Hard Economic Times?
What can we do together to increase economic security and press for policy reforms such as shifting taxes and subsidies to end privilege and defend rights, especially our rights to a healthy world and a share of Earth’s worth? Like Abe Lincoln said, “Nothings fixed until its fixed right.” We trim and blend two 2009 articles from (1) the Washington Post Foreign Service, Mar 20, on French workers by Edward Cody and (2) an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in Sojourners magazine, February, posted Mar 23 on AlterNet, on mutual aid by Chuck Collins, senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and co-author with Mary Wright of The Moral Measure of the Economy (Orbis, 2007).
by Edward Cody and by Chuck Collins
- French Workers Return to Streets in Protest
More than a million French workers staged a general strike and marched in demonstrations across the country in a second round of protests against the government’s response to the world recession.
The protests, which drew substantially more people into the streets than a similar outpouring Jan. 29, were depicted by union leaders as part of a sustained campaign to pressure President Nicolas Sarkozy to do more to defend French people against the economic upheaval that has unfurled across the planet since the fall. In particular, they called on him to raise low-end wages and unemployment benefits and to make it harder for business leaders to fire employees when profits sink.
More than 90,000 French workers joined the ranks of the unemployed in January, pushing the total to 2.2 million and leading economists to estimate the unemployment rate at 8%. In addition, an increasing number of factories have put workers on part-time schedules, drastically reducing their pay and increasing fears of more layoffs.
In reaction, Sarkozy’s government last month announced $3.2 billion worth of aid, including extended unemployment benefits, tax breaks for the poor and a one-time payment of $650 to unemployed youths who were not on the job long enough to qualify for unemployment checks. But the bulk of his $33 billion in anti-crisis spending has gone to banks and businessmen.
Union leaders have denounced Sarkozy’s aid to workers as half-measures that betray an inability to understand the feelings of insecurity and unfairness spreading through the working-class population. Prime Minister François Fillon acknowledged workers’ concerns as legitimate but noted that the crisis was worldwide and said the French government would be irresponsible if it promised more spending now.
Unions said 3 million people participated in the demonstrations; police put the number at 1.2 million.
“There is a feeling of injustice,” said Jean-Jacques Abekassi, 49, an employee of the Paris Chamber of Commerce and union activist. “We need a general rise in salaries and a better distribution of wealth in this country.”
- Looking for Support in Hard Economic Times?
As theologian Walter Brueggemann writes, we need to shift from autonomy to covenantal existence, from anxiety to divine abundance, and from acquisitive greed to neighborly generosity.
The common security club model was born out of work done in the last few years by people struggling with overwhelming indebtedness. Its participants experiment with ways to make practical, political, and spiritual changes.
Activities have included teaming up to help each other weatherize their homes, helping each other rework their personal budgets and reduce debt, and forming food-buying clubs.
Everyone in one group called their credit card company and threatened to cut up their cards unless fees were waived and interest rates were cut. Almost everyone was able to save hundreds of dollars in interest payments and fees.
The three main functions of the clubs are:
- 1) Learn and reflect — Through popular education tools, videos, Bible study, and shared readings, participants seek to increase their understanding of the larger economic forces on our lives. Why is the economy in distress? How did these changes happen? What are the historical factors? How does this connect to the global economy? What are the ecological factors contributing to the changes? What is our vision for a healthy, sustainable economy?
2) Mutual aid and local action — Through stories, examples, Web-based resources, a workbook, and mutual support, participants reflect on what makes them secure. What can we do together to increase our economic security at the local level? What would it mean to respond to my economic challenges in community? How can I reduce my economic vulnerability in conjunction with others? How can I get out of debt? How can I help my neighbor facing foreclosure or economic insecurity? Can I downscale and reduce my consumption and ecological footprint and save money?
3) Social action — The economic crisis is in part the result of an unengaged citizenry and government. What can we do together to build an economy based on building healthy communities rather than shoring up the casino economy? What public policies would make our communities more secure? Through discussion and education, participants might find ways to engage in a larger program of change around the financial system, economic development, tax policy, and other elements of our shared economic life.
The ideal size club is 10 to 20 adults who make a commitment to an initial five meetings with a facilitator. Clubs then decide whether to continue meeting and self-manage. Starter sessions have been developed and include: The Roots of the Economic Crisis, Personal Responses to Economic and Ecological Change, Things We Can Do Together, and Actions to Transform the Economy.
Common security clubs are part mutual aid association and part social action group. To join or start one, see click here.
JJS: May peoples struggles lead them to fundamental transformation — geonomics. At a time like this, we should not deal with symptom but instead change the system.
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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