[URBANTH-L] NEWS: French Students not to be 'Kleenex Generation' (Youth and the City I)

Angela Jancius acjancius at ysu.edu
Sun Mar 19 20:55:53 EST 2006

Financial Times
March 17, 2006

French poor and students keen not to be 'Kleenex

By Martin Arnold and Tom Braithwaite in Paris

France's prime minister is facing a crisis of
confidence as criticism of his labour market reforms
spreads from increasingly violent student protesters to
immigrant youth in poor riot-hit suburbs, undermining
his claims to be helping the most disadvantaged.

Dominique de Villepin appealed for calm yesterday and
said he was "open to dialogue" about his "first job
contract", as thousands of high-school and university
students clashed with police in violence reminiscent of
student demonstrations in May 1968. Police in Paris
fired tear gas to disperse protesters, who threw
stones, set fire to a newspaper kiosk and smashed car

The prime minister argues that the new contract -
allowing employers to dismiss staff under the age of 26
more easily during a two-year trial period - will cut
France's crippling unemployment. But students say it
will bring instability, making them "the Kleenex
generation", used and then discarded. The battle over
the new contract has dragged the prime minister's
popularity to record lows.

Adding to his woes is the growing opposition to the
contract from the poor suburbs, undermining his claim
that it would help people "in most difficulty" in areas
with big immigrant populations who suffer from high

Residents in these run-down areas would like to see the
students marching down the street between Clichy-sous-
Bois and Montfermeil, the decrepit Paris suburbs where
riots first broke out last year among the disaffected
youth of France's poor immigrants.

Sema, a 26-year-old unemployed mother of two inClichy-
sous-Bois, said: "If those students came up here and
saw what it was like, they might still be protesting,
but at least they would have a better idea of why."

Beneath the tower blocks sprayed with graffiti,
surrounded by litter, smashed windows and bricked-up
doorways, there are those who have not heard of the
labour reform plan that triggered the fierce protests
by students and trade unions.

But those who understand it are opposed to its central
principle that gives employers more power to fire
workers in their first two years.

Sema says: "It is unfair. Two years is too long. That
would be too big a risk for people like me to take,
with two babies at home, I could be left with nothing
after two years. The bosses would take advantage of it
to sack people after a few months."

Hostility to the contract from the poor suburbs is a
blow to Mr de Villepin. He had seemed to be telling the
student protesters in central Paris not to worry. As
graduates of prestigious universities, such as the
Sorbonne, they are not the intended recipients of the
new contract. Instead, it is meant for the poorly
educated immigrant children in les banlieues, who set
fire to thousands of cars and buildings across France
last year.

But this argument is being undermined by an increasing
number in the suburbs repeating the criticisms of the
student demonstrators. The important difference is that
the poor of theouter-city ghettos have the added worry
of racial discrimination.

Edilson Monteiro, an 18-year-old school drop-out from
Montfermeil, says: "Before the 'first job contract'
there were enough difficulties for people from the
banlieues, with the difference in our clothes, our
language and our culture, but now they are making
things even more insecure.

"Young people are very worried about entering the world
of work. Now if I make a mistake or upset the boss, he
can just get rid of me without any reason," says
Edilson, whose mother brought him to the local job
centre after he quit as a construction sales agent.

He plans to retrain as a cook's assistant in a six-
month paid training scheme, which, if he passes, will
lead to a full-time contract. He would refuse a "first
job contract" if offered one. "Two years is too long.
I'm with the demonstrators on that."

Many people have a deep distrust of company bosses, and
suspect they are looking for any excuse to fire black
or Arab workers - fears fuelled by recent surveys,
which showed that job applicants with Arab or African-
sounding names, or with addresses in poor suburbs, are
much less likely to be offered interviews than people
with more "traditional" French names.

"If a young black person, like me, finds a job then it
will be the same problem," says Dapton, an accountancy
graduate, queuing at the job centre in neighbouring

A small minority of people in the area support the new
contract, such as Alexandra, aged 19, who has been
unemployed since leaving school last year. "I think it
could be a plus for young people as it gives them a
chance to get experience, even if they could be sacked
at any time." But she supports the student
demonstrators. "It is their right," she says.

Most people seem to agree with Marie-Ange Bernard,a 30-
year-old unemployed social worker from Aulnay-sous-
Bois, who says thecontract is "a nonsense" as it would
not be accepted by banks or landlords as a sufficiently
secure source of income to get a flat or a bank loan.
"Without a full-time contract in France you cannot get
an apartment, a loan, or anything." 

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