French farce

Oct 13 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Fancy a job where you work six months a year and can retire at 50?

That was the extraordinary state of affairs that workers at the state-owned Corsican ferry company, SNCM, had come to enjoy thanks to years of ownership by the French government.

But after losing 30m Euros last year - despite an injection of nearly 70m Euros of government money - the French government was finally forced by the EU to stop shoring up SNCM. Predictably, however, its proposals for privatising the company have led to an all-out strike by militant workers that looks as if it will end in SNCM's bankruptcy and, presumably, the loss of their jobs.

Writing in the Guardian, Jon Henley says that for many French commentators, the saga is "a kind of distillation of all that is wrong with France's interventionist, protectionist, over-generous model."

"The SNCM conflict is the quintessence of all the mistakes, all the excesses, all the blockages and all the archaic practices that afflict the French social model," the respected analyst Alain Duhamel wrote recently.

"A lack of dialogue worthy of the name; brutality and clumsiness on the part of the government; conservatism and contradiction on the part of the unions; the pathetic obsolescence of state Jacobinism ... The French social model looks more and more like a time machine."

The Guardian | Trouble at sea