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Five Hot Issues

photo: cafe rostand

The café Rostand, only metres from the passing Techno Parade.

Three Old, One New, One Forever

Paris:- Monday, 15. September 2003:- This column of what passes for news from here last appeared with a 25. August dateline. The main stories were about the killer heatwave in France and the August blackout in the United States. On the same day, Le Parisien's front page headlined, 'The Return - the Five 'Hot' Issues.'

Four of the 'hot' issues were - are - leftovers from last spring and early summer. These include the disenchantment with the government's policies by teachers, the unhappiness with the 'reform' of the unemployment rules for workers in the entertainment industries, the stagnating economy, and the eternal conflict in Corsica.

For the fall's return - la rentrée - the government has planned to introduce an ambitious 'reform' of the health branch of the state social security. Compared to the other 'hot' issues, this is the 800-kilo gorilla in a bad mood.

Three weeks after the points of contention were identified by that August edition of Le Parisien, they are still news, still resolved. When France goes on holidays it takes a while to quit being on holidays.

The Heatwave

During the summer's 'time out,' another event happened while the government was dozing in the sun. There was a multiple-week heatwave that set weather records across Europe, and about 15,000 older people perished in France. The last of these - the 'unclaimed' ones - were buried recently.

Whose fault this was is still being assigned at random. Doctors in private practise have been thephoto: techno at sorbonne latest designated culprits, for having been on holidays. Everybody else concerned has already been blamed, but most of the government heads directly concerned have ducked responsibility.

Jolly techno-folk having fun near the Sorbonne.

Emergency unit medical professionals - caught short-handed, with too few available beds - are now warning about a possible epidemic of flu expected to strike France this fall. In principle nobody will be on holidays this autumn, and this time the warning is on record.

Education

So far the return to classes has gone smoothly. Perhaps more so than in recent years. But still smoldering are the spring's issues - the question of teachers' retirement plans, the decentralization of non-teaching staff, new rules for the non-teaching guardians, and the non-replacement of the teachers' aides.

'Decentralization' means shoving non-teaching school staff out of the administrative area of the national education, and onto the budgets of regions or departments. Some workers fear that working for less prosperous regions will mean lower salaries, fewer benefits and lesser pensions.

The creation of the teachers' aides was a Socialist government initiative to hire the young - to do all the little jobs with students that are an extra burden for teachers. The program was a success, but was by contract, of a limited duration. The conservative government declined to renew the contracts, and dumped the aides into the unemployment ranks - in favor of some new scheme.

Apparently, according to a leading parent-teacher association, September's rentrée is short by ten thousand teachers and guardians. Teacher's unions have decided not to strike immediately, while waiting for some sign of government appeasement. Educators will also be affected by the government's yet to be announced plans for reform of the public health insurance.

Meanwhile, during the late summer, the government studied the rules carefully and announced that teachers would lose pay for weekends and holidays falling between the days they were on strike last spring.

Cancellation of Summer Festivals

Many entertainers and backstage technicians staged walkouts during the summer, forcing many summer-onlyphoto: techno, lucha libre events to be cancelled. These workers were upset by a decision made by the employers' federation to modify their unemployment regulations. This was also called a 'reform.'

A jolly latino techno-bus on the Boulevard Saint-Michel.

There has been no estimation of the economic loss caused by the cancellation of hundreds of festivals all over France, so it is unknown whether the fallout for everybody concerned - except the employers' federation - exceeds the cost of the unemployment system as it was.

The only thing certain is that the workers in the entertainment industry are still unsatisfied, and are ready - according to the CGT-Spectacle - to keep on striking 'until the end of the year.'

Last Monday, during a live broadcast shown on France-2 TV from the Sorbonne with the Minister of Education, Luc Ferry, answering questions from the gathered teachers - the show's transmission was interrupted for 15 minutes, possibly by a commando of entertainment workers.

The minister had just said, "The money, when your government wants to find it, it finds it." Then came the blackout, followed by a few minutes of video from an episode of 'Commissaire Maigret.' When the regular broadcast resumed, the debate's host Olivier Mazerolle, neglected to explain the cause of the incident to the show's 3.5 million viewers.

The summer's festivals are over and the sums they normally generate are lost forever. However, many who work in TV and film production are subject to the same new unemployment rules - some films shot in Paris during the summer were done under unusual conditions, for example.

The Economy

While economic indicators are said to be turning positive in the United States, the opposite is true in France. The last time France expected to be pulled into prosperity by the American 'motor,' it only got there years later when the United States had hit a plateau. Then the United States fell into a slump of its own, which France has quickly imitated.

When the Socialists left office, France was solvent but was probably already headed downhill. The conservative majority decided to carry out its campaign pledge of lowering income taxes, and has just done it again. The total tax saving for an average household has been estimated at 55€. A third of households make too little money to pay income taxes, so their net gain is zero.

Repeated calls for lowering the value-added tax of 19.6 percent - which verybody pays on nearly everything - have been ignored.


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