horz line

Strange Monday

photo, banner, vote non, marche sunday

Parisians angling for 'non' votes on Sunday.

Phoney Palm War

Paris:– Monday, 16. May 2005:– I had to worry when I turned on the regional TV–news tonight and it wasn't there, possibly on account of the news producers being on strike. This started out earlier in the day when I found the local post office open but not in business. Two posties were manning it but the only thing open was the door.

France has gotten through its day of 'solidarity for older dependent people' in the way that France usually gets through these things. Some people went to work like the government wanted and some people didn't, probably setting a new record for national civil disobedience and confusion.

While most of Paris' public transport operated more or less normally the same was not the case throughout the country where 27 systems did not work at all. In another 50 cities the traffic was running about 50 percent at best.

The government tried to be upbeat about the affair and the prime minister, Jean–Pierrephoto, mairie 14th Raffarin, is expected to show up on France–2 TV–news tomorrow evening and tell us how well he is coping with the situation. He told Le Figaro that he can still 'look at himself in a mirror.'

Many city halls in France were only semi–open today.

Tonight the most common criticism was that the 'donation' measure was borne by salaried employees, both in the private sector and in the administrations. The self–employed – doctors, lawyers, artisans, farmers, and shopkeepers – were not required to contribute.

Losers for the day were local and regional administrations that remained open and functioning. The cost of staying open was estimated at 90 million euros, which will likely be recuperated through local tax hikes.

Early reports from weekend areas that depend on the Monday of Pentecost being a holiday estimated that receipts were off by 10 to 30 percent, which will also be reflected in a fall–off in value–added tax collections.

In a way it hasn't mattered one bit whether anybody worked today or not. As soon as the solidarity law was passed last year, the tax collectors at Bercy started sucking in the cash – in advance.

A Little Solidarity Anyone?

In ordinary years the month of May has so many public holidays that many working people in France consider the whole month to be a long weekend, but for this year three of the four holidays fall on Sundays. One of these, Pentecost, is always on a Sunday and the following Monday is always a holiday too.

So far the only long weekend this May has been Ascension, and it included 'Victory in Europe Day' which was aphoto, poster, oui, ps Sunday. So, having 'lost' a day off, the French are looking forward to having Monday, 16. May off.

In the summer of 2003 there was a rare heatwave in France. As is usual in summer many were away on holidays and some of these included hospital staff, nurses and doctors, as well as public sector administrators. Unforeseen, unforeseeable, the blistering heatwave cooked the defenseless, hastening the deaths of an extra 15,000 older residents, many in hospitals and retirement homes.

In average years France has a temperate climate so there is little reason to take measures against temperature extremes. But the French learned in 2003 that if the climate got out of hand, especially in summer, those standing guard would be too few and practical remedies wholly inadequate.

When the right–wing government returned to work in the fall its solution was to declare that a holiday, seemingly useless or vague, Pentecost for example, could be sacrificed in the name of 'solidarity.' The government proposed that everybody work the day for nothing and the taxes collected would be placed in a special fund destined to aid older residents. The government estimated that two billion euros would result.

There wasn't enough time available to arrange this for 2004, so it is this May's Pentecost Monday that will be scratched as a holiday. The French have waited until now to indicate that they don't like the idea one bit.

One national union asked the state's Council d'Etat to declare the suppression of a national holiday – and the obligation to work the day – illegal. The legislative body rejected the appeal. There having been dark mutterings about 'forced labor.'

Other unions, the entire alphabet–soup collection of them, have called for a day of strikes. Teachers' unions and Parent–Teacher associations have called for strikes and class boycotts. Administrative support staff at some schools won't be driving the buses or making school lunches.

Private companies are not obliged to stick to Pentecost as the day of solidarity because they can come to agreements with their unions and pick some other day. But the general lack of agreementsphoto, poster, oui, ump means that the default day will be Pentecost. Many firms will make a 'gift' of the day. Others will work but class the day as a holiday, with holiday pay. Some others face strike threats.

The national train service, SNCF, has proclaimed Monday as a holiday, and is preparing its schedules for the final day of a long weekend. The rail unions have an agreement that a solidarity contribution will be based on seven hours of work, divided by a year, which comes to one minute and 52 seconds of extra work per shift.

Many doctors, if they are receiving patients, may be charging normal fees. But others will be applying the Sunday and holiday rates, which could drive the cost of a consultation up to 39.06€, nearly double the standard rate. The Social Security, which handles the reimbursements, has said that it won't repay this inflated amount except in 'case of emergency.' Other doctors will make themselves unavailable for the day.

Some regional ad local administrations, city halls, and other civic employees have been invited to stay home. Not all will be on holiday but it is unclear exactly who will be working or enjoying a long weekend.

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