There have been multiple meetings at Matignon – the French prime minister’s Paris residence – with many callers asking for some gesture to assauge the wave of student anger.
Trade union leaders say they have tried to explain just why they are against the so-called CPE measure. They admit that while it may make it easier for employers to take on youngsters, it could make it even harder for under 26-year-olds to find permanent jobs. But while the French government seems to be digging in its heals, is it winning over the wider public? According to the latest opinion polls, the answer is “no”. Nearly 60 per cent are blaming the administration for intransigence. While strikes and street protests may be part of French life, most do expect a certain amount of give and take. And while many want something done to cut the one-in-four youth unemployment rate, the polls show a public uncertain if this is the right way to go about it. Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has said he is willing to discuss the two year trial period incorporated into the law. That is when new young workers could be sacked by their employers without explanation. Villepin says this flexibilty is vital to stimulate the employment market. But students blockading their universites are unimpressed. They are calling for more investment and job creation schemes rather than a revolving-door policy of hire and fire. So far, classes at two thirds of the country’s universites have been disrupted by strikes and sit-ins. Lycees or high schools are equally affected. What was supposed to help jobless youngsters in France’s poorest communities in the wake of last year’s riots is now being opposed by those better off. Not everyone is supporting the blockades. Students preparing for exams are calling for an end to the disruption. Although Villepin still enjoys the support of President Chirac, critics say a report on his own presidential aspirations could almost read “must do better.”