Thousands of jobless French hit streets of several French cities to demonstrate Long-term unemployed pressure government to address their problem

January 14, 1998|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

PARIS -- She is university-educated, well-spoken and exquisitely polite, but citizens such as Beatrice, an auburn-haired Parisian who finds herself without steady work as she faces middle age, are making the French government tremble these days.

Yesterday, the unemployed Frenchwoman and thousands like her were in the streets, demanding a less precarious present and a more secure future.

"I'm no longer being given a chance because I am 44," complains Beatrice.

Despite degrees in Spanish and English and a background as an executive secretary, she is now able to find only occasional work as a temp.

Paid $366 in monthly unemployment benefits, she can no longer afford to put gasoline in her car.

She uses a home computer to bone up on the latest work-related software but admits her hopes of finding a steady job are dwindling.

"And what's going to happen when I'm 50?" asks the sad-eyed woman, who did not want her last name printed.

"Nobody is going to want me."

In what might be termed France's Revolt of the Have-Nots, now in its second month, some of the country's long-term unemployed such as Beatrice have been taking collective action to pressure authorities into doing more to solve their problems.

Opinion polls show that the jobless have the support or sympathy of two-thirds of the French, many of whom are wary about where globalization of the economy and European integration might lead.

Yesterday, the jobless marched in Paris, Marseille, Arras, Grenoble and other cities, with as many as 10,000 on the pavement in the capital alone.

Chanting "Unemployed, we're fed up," some 5,000 people pushed empty shopping carts to symbolize their plight as they marched from the Labor Ministry to the headquarters of France's main employers' association.

About 300 invaded the Paris Commerce Exchange in the Halles quarter. Several dozen people, believed mainly to be young anarchists who had nothing to do with the demonstration, trashed office equipment and dumped files on the floor.

Eleven police officers were injured, two of them seriously, when protesters hurled fire extinguishers, wooden planks and pails loaded with gravel, officials said.

"People who used to be just statistics have finally raised their heads," Richard Dethyre, president of one of four national associations of the jobless, said in Paris.

The protests have blown up into the biggest political challenge to face Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin since he took office eight months ago, as well as causing the widest fissures yet in his coalition government.

Nationwide, joblessness is now running at 12.4 percent, more than twice the current level in the United States.

Combating it has been the avowed priority of France's government since it captured power from the center-right last June.

But the linchpins of Jospin's program -- a proposed law to reduce the workweek to 35 hours from 39 and a government-supported jobs program for 350,000 young people -- have not kindled great enthusiasm.

Pub Date: 1/14/98

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