'The Government Can't Do Everything'

photo: jacques melac wine restaurant

The period of the grape harvest opens in Paris at
Jacques Melac's wine-bistro.

Jospin 'Truth' Statement Unwelcome

Paris:- Sunday, 19. September 1999:- Near the end of August or at the beginning of September, French political parties hold 'summer university' sessions. These are political meetings for the party faithful, and they are usually informal as well as being held at some warm location.

With the summer 'news-hole,' these meetings get good newspaper and TV-news coverage; but there is usually little hard news.

Then, in mid-September, party leaders are put on TV-news to give the public some general notion of their party's strategy for the coming political season.

About ten days before Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's TV appearance on last Monday's France-2's primetime evening news, the Michelin tire company announced record profits - and its plan to lay off 7500 workers.

This was welcome news to the world's financial markets - profits up, costs going down. However, the surprise news was not welcome to Michelin's employees worldwide. In France, the company's action was severely criticized, especially in Clermont-Ferrand, Michelin's home town.

On Monday, TV-news wanted to know what the Prime Minister and the government was going 'to do' about it.

France got another shock when the Prime Minister - after expressing his shock - said that people shouldn't wait for the government to do something.

Although Mr. Jospin had plenty of air-time and was prepared to answer the question in advance, his phrasing left the French confused. He added that the layoffs were not yet done; that the outcome could be other than what people imagined.

Michelin made capital markets happy, while ruiningphoto: resto la fee des herbes its labor relations - which it didn't have to do. With the size of Michelin's payroll, more than 7500 workers will probably leave the firm voluntarily over the three-year period announced by the company.

Bistro 'La Fée des Herbes' is left out of nearby harvest.

In fact, if the company's plan is successful - increased productivity, lower unit costs - it will create a net gain in employees over three years. But this is a mystery to its PR department.

The Prime Minister did suggest that Michelin's employees and its customers could 'do something,' without spelling out exactly what.

Here, French news organizations fumbled the ball - by not having the wit to translate the Prime Minister's simple phrase of 'do it yourself' into 'boycott Michelin products.'

This, watching those same financial markets, is something the Prime Minister could not say, for reasons apparently unclear to all involved.

There is a big history in France of demonstrations against injustice - the current farmer's actions are an example - but there is a void of understanding on all sides about what the bottom line represents.

Instead of dumping fresh produce on the front steps of city halls or agitating inside supermarkets, it doesn't occur to farmers to withhold their produce until wholesale prices go up.

Similarly, nobody in France has to buy imported US beef that is loaded with hormones - I'm sure France has enough home-grown beef to go around. And a lot of the French are fussy about what they eat; not everybody would run out to buy 'doctored' beef no matter how much cheaper.

But the call is always for the government 'to do' something. Lionel Jospin saying that the government 'can't do everything' was fresh news - although largely misinterpreted or denounced.

The Prime Minister also said the government couldn't 'regulate the economy' with laws and decrees. To most of the French, this was astounding news.

The RPR Turns On Its Bilge Pumps

The RPR party machine, of which President Jacques Chirac is the nominal head, has been floundering for years, while it drifts ever closer to dangerous rocks.

At one time, the president was eader of this main right-wing party, and its entire purpose was to elect or re-elect its candidate to the nation's highest office.

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