“What next?” are the two words on everyone's lips as the situation in France remains confused despite the French Upper House passing the law raising the retirement age from 60 to 62.
A joint parliamentary commission is to meet next week to give its final approval to the law, considered a mere formality. The unions have said they will not stop here. This law and the intransigent manner in which Nicolas Sarkozy's government has chosen to handle the crisis has generated unprecedented anger. Two more strike calls have been given for next Thursday and for November 6.
“Just because an unjust law has been passed does not mean we passively accept it. All we wanted was discussions on how to improve the law. Even that was denied us. Now we are calling for its suspension,” said Francois Chereque of the CFDT trade union.
Demonstrations at oil refineries continued. An administrative court ruled on Friday that the government's order requisitioning striking workers to man the plant was illegal since France was not facing a national emergency. On Friday night, the government promptly issued another requisition order. With the courts closed until Monday, workers have no option but to obey.
Striking workers at the refinery which serves the Paris region were visibly upset following scuffles with the police. “I have never seen this in my life. I am obliged to break the strike or else I shall have to face a five year prison term. Is that democracy?” said a weeping striker who was forced to man the plant.
Workers held a mock funeral service burning a black coffin bearing the inscription “Right to strike”. As the match was lit bugles played The Last Post and many strikers wept openly.
Political analysts say with the retirement law now in the bag, the government would be wise to show some magnanimity and open discussions on specific provisions of the law considered particularly unjust. “But will Nicolas Sarkozy be sanguine enough to do it? He is a driven man who loves a good fight and enjoys rubbing his adversary's nose into the ground. It is difficult to predict the outcome of the present crisis. But one thing is clear, unless the President adopts a more conciliatory attitude, he may well ruin his re-election chances in 2012,” said Laurent Joffrin of the newspaper Liberation.