VETERANS of successive British governments' wars with the trade unions will be observing with a keen sense of deja vu President Sarkozy's fight with his unions which has brought France virtually to a standstill in recent days. The benefits enjoyed by some of the French public service workers far exceed anything that was enjoyed by British trade unionists in the 1960s and 70s. How would Harold Wilson or Ted Heath or Margaret Thatcher have handled the protests that Sarkozy is experiencing as he tries to push his reforms through? Wilson would have ordered beer and sandwiches for all-night negotiating sessions at No 10, Heath would have asked, rhetorically, who was running Britain, and Thatcher would probably have stuck to her guns much as Sarkozy appears to be doing, although he is so far doing it by proxy through his prime minister Francois Fillon who is at last getting a little recognition. Soon President Sarkozy will have to put his head about the parapets of the Elysee Palace and either tell the French people whether they are going to endure more days and even weeks of disruption or that he is going to compromise. The only sign of relief has been the willingness of the rail union to enter into negotiations; if M. Sarkozy can get some leverage there he would at least be able to make progress on abolishing or reducing the amazing “special regime” privileges enjoyed by half a million workers in state services and industries.


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