Violent French Protests

In March 2006, students demonstrated on the streets of France: 300 Held Police detained some 300 people around France after nationwide student marches against a new labor law turned violent, as street cleaners cleared away torched cars Friday and the government braced for more protests. A quarter of a million people took to the streets in some 200 demonstrations around the country Thursday, in a test of strength between youth and the conservative government of 73- year-old President Jacques Chirac. Most of the violence—and the arrests—were around the Sorbonne University in Paris, where police fired rubber pellets and tear gas at youths who pelted them with stones and set cars on fire. […] Many trade unionists and students oppose the new youth employment law because it allows new workers under the age of 26 to be dismissed within a two-year trial period. [1] If, like most readers of this book, you are a student in the United States, it is unlikely that you have taken part in violent demonstrations about labor policy. It is not that such demonstrations are unheard of. In Madison, Wisconsin, in 2011, there were extended protests concerning proposed changes in public sector contracts. Still, in the United States, it is accepted that the government has a limited influence on contracts between workers and firms. It is part of economic life in the United States that employment is not protected by the government. In Europe, however, many countries have extensive laws on their books that are designed to protect workers. For example, in much of Europe, unemployment insurance is more generous than in the United States. Unemployed people obtain larger benefits and are eligible for these benefits for longer periods of time. In many European countries, it is also much more difficult to fire workers than it is in the United States. The proposed new job contract that led to the demonstrations in France was intended to reduce the nearly 25 percent unemployment rate of the French youth. Perhaps paradoxically, the contract was designed to make it easier to make young people unemployed. The logic was that firms would be willing to hire more workers if the costs of firing them were lower. The different systems in the United States and Europe each have their defenders. Supporters of European labor laws point to the greater job security enjoyed by workers in Europe. Supporters of the US system argue that the United States enjoys greater flexibility in the labor market, leading to a more efficient economy with less unemployment.

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