Early elections - no respite for the unions
The President of the French Republic's decision to dissolve the National Assembly and to call early legislative elections in May-June 1997 has prompted numerous reactions from the unions, which fear the beginning of a shift towards liberal economic policies.
French trade unions have all reacted swiftly to President Jacques Chirac's decision. Their analyses have all been the same, considering it as an attempt on the part of the Government to distance the deadlines which are on the European agenda for 1998 from the legislative elections which were normally scheduled for the same year.
Certain unions are critical of the fact that the constraints involved in the implementation of the European single currency are being brought up again. In the opinion of the CGT-Force Ouvrière (CGT-FO) for example, "the dissolution of the National Assembly (...) when there is a large government majority is an acknowledgement of failure or at the very least of impotence (...). The long march towards the forced application of strict criteria to bring European economic policies in step could possibly lead to the implementation of further austerity measures for which workers, the unemployed and pensioners would foot the bill." The CGT-FO will not tell its members to vote in any one particular way, but it is demanding "a change in economic policy" in line with republican values, which would entail a strengthening of purchasing power, measures to boost economic growth and adequate public services.
For Louis Viannet, secretary general of the CGT (Confédération générale du travail), Jacques Chirac "announced more austerity and belt-tightening". As a result, Mr Viannet believes that the criteria for economic convergence imposed by the Maastricht Treaty on European Union which were referred to by the President, are in total opposition to workers' desires for job-creation and investment policies, wage increases and a reduction in the working week.
Nicole Notat, secretary general of the CFDT (Confédération française démocratique du travail) considers that the dissolution "does not change the nature of the problems facing French society". She reiterates her "commitment to European construction and meeting all major deadlines," but states that she would like to see "Europe placing as much importance on problems of employment as on political, economic and monetary ones".
The CFE-CGC (Confédération française de l'encadrement - Confédération générale des cadres) stresses for its part that it could "under no circumstances accept a drift towards ultra-liberalism". Whereas the CFTC (Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens), while considering "it a good thing for the French to be given the possibility of voicing their opinion on the policies to be adopted in response to economic and social problems", notes that "anxiety is rife among working people".
If slight differences in the appreciation of the political situation and its social consequences can be detected among the unions, they are all in agreement in their opinion that the impending election campaign will not give any respite in labour relations.