Macron's suggestion to French workers protesting his policies: Get a job

French president Emmanuel Macron got himself in trouble yesterday when he suggested to workers who were protesting his economic policies that "some of them would be better off going to see if they can get a job over there," referring to a nearby aluminum factory battling to find workers. 

The French Twitterverse exploded in outrage at this commonsense suggestion.  Macron is trying to implement some modest labor reforms and is running into the same opposition the last three French presidents have encountered when trying to mess with the unions.

Reuters:

"Instead of kicking up a bloody mess, some of them would be better off going to see if they can get a job over there," he said, referring to a nearby aluminum factory battling to find workers. "Some of them have got the qualifications to do it," he said, adding: "It's not that far for them to go."

The comments lit up TV channels and Twitter, where they were relished by the far-left and far-right, who are keen to cast Macron, a former investment banker, as out of touch with the common man and a president for the rich.

Florian Philippot, until recently the number two in the far-right National Front party, described Macron as having "contempt" for France's lower-income workers.

A similar accusation was leveled by Clementine Autain, a lawmaker from the far-left France Unbowed party.

"It shows a great class contempt," she said. "He can't stop coming out with unfair comments targeting the masses."

Macron's new spokesman, former journalist Bruno Roger-Petit, was quick to post the full video of Macron's exchange on Twitter, saying some outlets and opponents were circulating extracts that made the president sound worse than was the case.

"Truncated and taken out of context," he said of snippets on social media. "Emmanuel Macron was underlining that the search for solutions on jobs is everyone's responsibility."

It is not the first time Macron has sparked controversy with his language and then shown little sign of contrition.

While his often erudite speeches are laced with literary references that show off his elite education, he has a tendency to use dismissive words in off-the-cuff comments that critics say make him sound arrogant.

Last month, as he was finalizing changes to France's labor rules to make hiring and firing easier, he said he would not bow to "slackers" who resist reform.

In July, visiting a high-tech start-up center in Paris, he talked about "those who succeed and those who are nothing".

There is no more generous state in the E.U. than France when it comes to worker perks. 

At 35 hours, the French have the shortest legal working week in Europe. With it, they have a reputation in some quarters for an easy working life, staunchly defended by powerful labour unions.

This week, there is widespread disruption across the country after France's largest union called a strike over planned reforms to the labour laws. Workers have blockaded power plants, petrol stations, and oil refineries.

So why do the French go on strike more than any of their European partners? Is life for the workforce really so good?

The 35-hour limit was introduced in 2000 and has come to be seen as sacrosanct by many on the French left. It is the lowest in Europe, shorter than the 40-hour limit in many countries including Spain, and far fewer than the 48-hour limit in the UK.

France also mandates 11 consecutive hours of rest between each working day and one consecutive 35-hour period of rest per week, usually a weekend.

French workers go on strike more than any other unions in Europe.  They see those benefits as sacrosanct – immutable, unchanging, forever and ever.  All Macron wanted to do was fiddle with the overtime rules and make it easier for companies to fire employees.

What makes labor reform absolutely vital is that younger workers are shut out of the labor force because of these rules, which forces them to stay in school longer than their counterparts in other countries and live at home longer.  In fact, youth unemployment across the eurozone approaches 25% in most countries – 40% in Greece and Spain.

So French workers believe they are entitled to a little more respect from Macron, who sees the problem in stark terms.  He may have been indelicate in getting his point across, but few can realistically argue he isn't 100% correct.

French president Emmanuel Macron got himself in trouble yesterday when he suggested to workers who were protesting his economic policies that "some of them would be better off going to see if they can get a job over there," referring to a nearby aluminum factory battling to find workers. 

The French Twitterverse exploded in outrage at this commonsense suggestion.  Macron is trying to implement some modest labor reforms and is running into the same opposition the last three French presidents have encountered when trying to mess with the unions.

Reuters:

"Instead of kicking up a bloody mess, some of them would be better off going to see if they can get a job over there," he said, referring to a nearby aluminum factory battling to find workers. "Some of them have got the qualifications to do it," he said, adding: "It's not that far for them to go."

The comments lit up TV channels and Twitter, where they were relished by the far-left and far-right, who are keen to cast Macron, a former investment banker, as out of touch with the common man and a president for the rich.

Florian Philippot, until recently the number two in the far-right National Front party, described Macron as having "contempt" for France's lower-income workers.

A similar accusation was leveled by Clementine Autain, a lawmaker from the far-left France Unbowed party.

"It shows a great class contempt," she said. "He can't stop coming out with unfair comments targeting the masses."

Macron's new spokesman, former journalist Bruno Roger-Petit, was quick to post the full video of Macron's exchange on Twitter, saying some outlets and opponents were circulating extracts that made the president sound worse than was the case.

"Truncated and taken out of context," he said of snippets on social media. "Emmanuel Macron was underlining that the search for solutions on jobs is everyone's responsibility."

It is not the first time Macron has sparked controversy with his language and then shown little sign of contrition.

While his often erudite speeches are laced with literary references that show off his elite education, he has a tendency to use dismissive words in off-the-cuff comments that critics say make him sound arrogant.

Last month, as he was finalizing changes to France's labor rules to make hiring and firing easier, he said he would not bow to "slackers" who resist reform.

In July, visiting a high-tech start-up center in Paris, he talked about "those who succeed and those who are nothing".

There is no more generous state in the E.U. than France when it comes to worker perks. 

At 35 hours, the French have the shortest legal working week in Europe. With it, they have a reputation in some quarters for an easy working life, staunchly defended by powerful labour unions.

This week, there is widespread disruption across the country after France's largest union called a strike over planned reforms to the labour laws. Workers have blockaded power plants, petrol stations, and oil refineries.

So why do the French go on strike more than any of their European partners? Is life for the workforce really so good?

The 35-hour limit was introduced in 2000 and has come to be seen as sacrosanct by many on the French left. It is the lowest in Europe, shorter than the 40-hour limit in many countries including Spain, and far fewer than the 48-hour limit in the UK.

France also mandates 11 consecutive hours of rest between each working day and one consecutive 35-hour period of rest per week, usually a weekend.

French workers go on strike more than any other unions in Europe.  They see those benefits as sacrosanct – immutable, unchanging, forever and ever.  All Macron wanted to do was fiddle with the overtime rules and make it easier for companies to fire employees.

What makes labor reform absolutely vital is that younger workers are shut out of the labor force because of these rules, which forces them to stay in school longer than their counterparts in other countries and live at home longer.  In fact, youth unemployment across the eurozone approaches 25% in most countries – 40% in Greece and Spain.

So French workers believe they are entitled to a little more respect from Macron, who sees the problem in stark terms.  He may have been indelicate in getting his point across, but few can realistically argue he isn't 100% correct.

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