Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Death of European Socialism - France in Flames over Pension Funding


In what should come as a warning to the socialist leaning Obama administration, the great socialistic experiment in Europe the Obama policies seem so inclined to pursue has suffered two more nails in the coffin in terms of being a viable economic experiment.

Much of the liberal leaning main stream media in America does not want you to know about the events that are rocking Europe but we need to take notice for it could be but a harbinger of the future we face under adoption of the Obama agenda.

Early this year Greece, Spain, Ireland and England faced huge budget deficits and took extremely unpopular moves to bring the debt and economies under control. Now the focus moves to France where they are finally forced to deal with the long ignored runaway spending driven by socialism.

In France the issue is the retirement age. In order to avoid economic bankruptcy the retirement age has to be raised from 60 to 62 and full retirement benefits from 65 to 67. That does not seem like a big deal to save the national pension system. All workers in France already are guaranteed 4 weeks of vacation a year compared to 2 weeks in America.

The response has been a national wide union strike that has crippled the economy, shut down the transit system, and threatens to polarize the people and police. Rioting has always been the union tactic in European nations to force the agenda.

The problem is there are a lot of disgruntled people in France because of the long standing social promises for more benefits, more vacations, less work and earlier retirement. The riots over retirement have now given the social activist youth, even high school students, to join the riots even though they will have to pay for any excess benefits throughout their lives.

There are a lot of radical elements in the socialist countries just looking for the opportunity to use the cause of someone else, like the retirees, as a cover to discredit the government and police authority. In France the latest poll of workers supporting the police is around 70% approval while teens are around the 15% approval range.

Youth groups and other radical groups have seized on the unrest to escalate the protests to full blown riots as you will see from the following reports.

Some three million people took to the streets throughout France on Saturday to protest President Nicolas Sarkozy’s pension reform, unions said, as a strike by transport and oil refinery workers went into its fifth day.

As usual, the Interior Ministry saw substantially fewer demonstrators in the streets, saying in a statement that about 825,000 people protested against the reform.

The demonstrations in some 260 cities took place as strikes at all 12 of France’s refineries raised fears that airports would soon run out of fuel.

On Friday, fuel stopped running through a pipeline feeding Paris’s two major airports, Orly and Charles de Gaulle.

While Orly has reserves for 17 days, the stockpiled fuel at Charles de Gaulle could run dry by Monday or Tuesday, the junior minister for transport, Dominique Bussereau, said.

However, Finance Minister Christine Lagarde told RTL radio Saturday that the government has options to provide them with fuel.

“We are confident,” she added.

Railway traffic remained disrupted throughout the country, with about half of all scheduled trains not operating Saturday, the state— run rail network SNCF said.

The pension reform would gradually raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 by the year 2018. It has already passed the National Assembly and is scheduled to be voted on in the Senate on Wednesday.

Unions have called for another nationwide day of strikes and demonstrations on Tuesday, just ahead of the Senate vote.

French truck drivers staged go-slow operations on highways, trains were cancelled and gas stations ran out of fuel yesterday as strikers dug in ahead of a key government vote this week on an unpopular pension overhaul.

Riot police used tear gas and rubber pellet guns in the Paris suburb of Nanterre to break up a crowd of youths who set fire to cars near an anti-reform protest by secondary school students. They intervened for similar reasons in the city of Lyon.

The interior ministry said police arrested 290 rioters in various towns.

Wider strikes will hit everything from air travel to mail today when unions opposed to President Nicolas Sarkozy's plan to raise the retirement age to 62 from 60 have called for another street protest.

With a final Senate vote on the legislation expected tomorrow, this could be a make-or-break week for Sarkozy.

The centre-right government, which has stood firm through months of anti-pension reform protests, assured that public infrastructure would not freeze up despite a week-long strike at refineries that has dried up supplies at hundreds of France's 12,500 gas stations.

"The situation is critical," a spokeswoman at Exxon Mobil said. "Anyone looking for diesel in the Paris and Nantes [western France] regions will have problems."

Sarkozy, in the northern seaside town of Deauville for talks with the leaders of Germany and Russia, said he would not back down. "The reform is essential and France is committed to it and will go ahead with it just as our German partners did," he told reporters after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Workers at France's 12 refineries were in their seventh day of a strike and protesters blocked access at many fuel distribution depots around the country.

The French aviation authority urged airlines to reduce flights to Paris's Orly airport by 50 per cent and to all other airports by 30 per cent today.

Today will be the sixth major work stoppage and street demonstration since June, but the unrest has intensified.

As many as 1,800 service stations have run short of fuel in recent days. At an empty station on Paris's Champs Elysees avenue, the manager said she spent much of her morning trying to stop drivers unhooking fuel pumps.

Los Angeles Times

By Devorah Lauter, Los Angeles Times
October 19, 2010

Reporting from Paris —

Camille Maupas, a 14-year-old high school student, stood in the middle of a major intersection in the center of Paris, took a deep breath, smiled and sat down.

So did about 150 fellow students, who spontaneously decided to block the intersection at Rue de Rivoli and Rue du Renard, causing a traffic jam near City Hall on Monday, to protest against a government plan to raise the retirement age.

With no pension at stake, the students are a worrisome wild card in the eyes of the government, and a recent addition to an intensifying protest movement against President Nicolas Sarkozy's promise to help reduce the state deficit by forcing workers to legally retire at 62, instead of 60.

Students have blocked entrances to their schools with large objects, and on Monday some youths clashed with riot police and burned cars. The violence was blamed on youths who are not part of the student protest.

As authorities prepared for another national strike Tuesday, a larger swath of the population was already feeling the effect of nearly a week of continuous strikes by workers, especially in the energy sector, who were joined early Monday by truck drivers who blocked major roads around France, driving at a snail's pace in "escargot operations."

Despite government assurances, fears of gasoline shortages pushed drivers to fill up their tanks, causing more than 1,000 of France's 12,500 gas stations to temporarily run dry.

"The most serious concern is fuel," said Richard Laisne, 58, a Paris taxi driver. "Because if there's a fuel problem, there's no work for me." He said he filled up his tank Sunday.

Government leaders continue to assure the public that there was no reason to fear a shortage, and Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Sunday, "I won't let our country be blocked."

A spokesman for the Energy Ministry said trucks were on their way to restock gas stations that ran out of fuel.

Flight cancellations and delays are expected Tuesday as airport and public transport workers plan to strike. The government again advised airlines to reduce the number of flights they have planned to Paris and to arrive with their fuel tanks as full as possible, despite insisting there was no risk of fuel shortages at France's major airports.

With striking workers blocking roads, trains, gasoline depots and refineries, there could be a long delay before hard-hit gas stations are able to function normally.

A crisis unit was created Monday by the Interior Ministry, and key gasoline depots and pipelines have been unblocked by authorities, who said they did not use force. Days after certain depots were opened, others were blocked by new protesters Monday. Workers at all of France's 12 oil refineries are on strike too.

The Senate is expected to pass the retirement overhaul bill by Thursday or Friday, but protesters say they will continue striking.

"It's a political success. Everyone is involved," said Josiane Jousset, 62, of the strikes. "The government got a good slap in the face."

Media coverage of the student protests showed images of burned cars, shattered storefront windows and glass walls at bus stations in various towns across France, and were reminiscent of 2005 riots in the country's low-income suburbs.

In the center of Paris, participants said their intentions were peaceful.

"We are pacifists. We just want to be heard," said Hugo Behar, 16.

Though the Sarkozy government contends that the French need to work longer in order to finance future pensions, Hugo said the reform would mean fewer jobs for younger people, because aging employees wouldn't be able to leave their posts open for the next generation. "I don't want to be out of work at 30," he said.

"We aren't doing this to get out of class. … We hope to prevent the vote" in favor of pension overhaul, said Camille, the 14-year-old student.

Lauter is a special correspondent.

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