730 Days on…

Yesterday was the second anniversary of Sarko, the sex dwarf’s presidency. I didn’t write anything on the day because I really couldn’t work out what to say about him. Nothing at least that I haven’t said already: which is that two years ago, when faced with a choice between the passive, matriarchal figure of Ségolène Royal and her ‘gentle revolution’ and the strutting and libidinous Sarkozy and his promise of ‘rupture’, this ancient patriarchy, in thrall to the libido, inevitably chose the latter.

Today I still don’t know what to make of Sarko’s record so far. Of course the majority of France (65%) thinks his presidency has been rubbish. (It is useful to note that exactly the same majority condemned Chirac after the same period in office.) My suspicion is that Sarko knows that he’s actually doing ok. Despite the trumpeting tone of the unions, last week’s grand Mayday rally saw half as many people on the streets as there had been for the general strike of March 19th.

In fact, I fear that the French democratic model, which dictates reform (or lack of it) from the streets, is in serious jeopardy. The eight unions may well have plastered over their differences in order to get their supporters marching together on Mayday in a big show of unity, but they are, in reality, at each other’s throats. Why? Because Sarkozy, through a very clever political sleight of hand, and without new legislation, managed to change the rules by simply rolling back the arbitrating power of the State and inviting management and employees to negotiate with each other directly. This was a disaster for France’s main trade union movements who have dominated labour relations and politics since the war, not because of their “representativity” (number of members) but because of their so-called political “legitimacy”.

By encouraging direct negotiations, Sarkozy subtly but radically changed the landscape. Henceforth, only “representative” unions, i.e. those whose members make up at least 30 per cent of a company (and in the years to come that will increase to at least 50 per cent) are allowed to negotiate labour reforms – a move towards democratisation against which nobody could decently object.

This move not only brought to the fore an array of far more radical unions (like Sud) that had hitherto not had a look-in, thereby fragmenting the base, but it has severely reduced the political clout of union dinosaurs like the CGT and the CFDT.

As Charles Bremner pointed out yesterday (as ever, quicker off the mark than me) there is no one remotely credible to stand against Sarkozy. From memory, these elements – a nation in moral and economic crisis, in search of a new identity and leadership that is at least perceived to be strong, with an opposition in disarray – generally lead to a second term.


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