Thousands demonstrate in France against joblessness Same complaints toppled previous government

January 18, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

PARIS -- Thousands of demonstrators and jobless workers poured down the Boulevard du Temple in eastern Paris yesterday, chanting slogans warning the left-wing French government to do more for France's 3 million unemployed people or be thrown out of office, as its conservative predecessor was.

"I've been without work for four years, and welfare is no longer enough for me to feed my family on," said Rodriguez Dominguez, 45, a construction laborer who said his benefit was the equivalent of $365 a month.

Smaller demonstrations in cities across France brought thousands of people onto the streets calling for more action for the jobless.

Demanding actions like a $300 monthly raise in unemployment benefits that Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin has said the country cannot afford, the demonstrators were supported by the union led by the Communist Party and by the Greens, parties that are in Jospin's Cabinet.

"Hot, hot, hot! Things are going to blow!" the marchers in Paris chanted in cold but bright sunshine yesterday, just as they did two years ago when the conservatives were running the country. There were 9,500 marchers according to police and 20,000 according to the union, the General Confederation of Labor.

"We see the movement as an opportunity for the left," said one of the organizers, Christophe Aguiton, a member of a group fighting unemployment.

"We want to use the pressure to encourage the government to introduce the 35-hour working week faster than it planned to, and to do other things that could stimulate job creation like passing a law to make the use of overtime much more expensive for employers," he said.

With unemployment at 12.4 percent, the third consecutive year it has remained above 12 per- cent, Jospin's left-wing coalition won a majority in Parliament in June promising that it would break with unpopular austerity policies intended to qualify France to be among the countries that will introduce a common European currency next year.

But the budget deficit limits remained the same for Jospin as they had been for his predecessor. And his government maintained a squeeze on unemployment benefits that has kept them constant, in buying power, since 1983, while unemployment has risen by about a third.

Pub Date: 1/18/98

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