Sunday, May 13, 2007

Politics: France: Winnipeg Free Press gives an entirely alternative understanding of immigrant voters in France

Pembroke Daily Observer carries an Editorial in Winnipeg Free Press May12,2k7) that records how h+rise-housing immigrants voted in the recent Presidential election in France. I noted the absence in the press of mention regarding how these districts voted, but I did notice what the Free calls "a bit of stone-throwing and car burning."

Sarko also did well among blue-collar workers, to the chagrin not just of the Socialist Party's regular supporters, but also of that 10% who voted for ultraleft parties in the first round (where now the enfeebled Communists took only 1.6% of the vote, as against the 20% of the national vote they once commanded in 1st rounds, before they came to the aid of the Socialists in the 2nd round).

In the bitter run-up to the final round of the French presidential election on Sunday, Socialist party candidate Segolene Royal suggested that a win for her right-wing rival, Nicolas Sarkozy, would bring an explosion of ethnic violence to France.

In the wake of Mr. Sarkozy's substantial victory, there was a bit of stone-throwing and car burning at the Place de la Bastille in [downtown] Paris, but nothing like the riots of 2005 that Ms. Royal was trying to resurrect as a fear in French minds, reminding them that as interior minister at the time, Mr. Sarkozy had referred to the rioters as "scum.''

In fact, in those areas, the banlieues, or immigrant ghettos of France where the riots took place, Mr. Sarkozy did surprisingly well when the votes were counted, taking 44 per cent of them. He did surprisingly well among blue collar workers between 46 and 52 per cent across the country. He won the support of the greater part of voters who had supported centrist Francois Bayrou in the first round of voting. In short, French voters stood French politics on its ear and confounded the pundits by breaking away from tradition all of those [who] are Ms. Royal's more natural constituencies.

The election result may rejuvenate France, which is in danger of becoming the sick man of the European Union. Mr. Sarkozy promised that change, with 100 days of action to implement economic reforms, including a longer work week. France's mandated 35-hour work week, the shortest in Europe, is widely blamed for its deplorable productivity rate and competitiveness, a dismal 27th in word rankings; its high unemployment; and its extraordinarily high debt-to-GDP ratio. Mr. Sarkozy promises to address all those issues, and his victory indicates that the French agree with him, at least in principle.

France would seem set for change but Mr. Sarkozy's triumph is also a boost for Canada and the Western alliance. France is naturally a major player, an integral ally in that relationship, but under outgoing President Jacques Chirac, it was a difficult, even a disagreeable one. Mr. Sarkozy is an unabashed defender of the alliance and an admirer of the United States, although no one is likely to accuse him of being America's poodle. Rather, he will try to keep America in step with France and France in step with America, even if that takes some serious double-stepping, enabling the West to present a stronger front in an increasingly fractious world. As a former leader of the Western alliance might have said, on both fronts, domestic and international, the news from France is very good.
That Sarko did "surprisingly well" among blue-collar workers, gaining an estimated 46 to 52 per cent of their votes nationwide, is a factoid worth meditating. This factoid suggests that a good chunk of featherbedded workers now realize that the country must become competitive soon. It would be most interesting to see what the Transport workers did with their votes, as they are among the worst blackmailers among unionized employees when it comes to demanding exorbitantly h+ wages. But France does have a much more entrenched viewpoint pluralism in its system of workers-representation, with parallel unions functioning on the same shop floor, and often bargaining nationally. As I recall, however, France does not have collective agreements with the force of binding contracts, but only "agreements" that settle a strike, etc.

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