The merciless exploitation of women
Women are being used to justify foreign interventions that wreck countries overseas (“bombing little children so that little girls can go to school’). In Europe, and with less drastic consequences, they are used to weaken democratic representation of the population. It is done under cover of promoting women and defending their rights, but the direct result is that women, as part of the whole population, have less power, not more.
The context here is the local elections in April throughout France.
The seats of 2000 local elected representatives were purely and simply axed in 2014. The places they represented no longer have direct representation as such in local government. This was done, it was said, to involve women in politics.
All women shortlists: For general elections.
In Britain parties can impose Women Only Shortlists for the selection of candidates in winnable seats.
This obviously goes against the Sex Discrimination Act (1975) consolidated by the Equality Act (2010).
So the Labour Party when in power passed the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002 in order to by-pass the law.
The new Equality Act extends this by-pass until 2030.
This means that women are not chosen on merit. They are imposed and not chosen; capable men candidates are excluded because of their gender.
France does not have this system yet for general elections, but it has invented something even more outrageous for departmental elections.
These are elections for the council that runs the ‘département’. France is divided into 101 ‘départements’, which run middle schools and social security payment among many other things.
Hollande’s government decided there would be 50% women elected at that level in 2015, as opposed to the previous 13.8%. Instead of 544 women there will be around 2000. This is a tall order, you might think. But there is a way: you just make it impossible for voters to elect men. It’s as simple as that. Men candidates are only half a candidate: the other half is a woman. When the elector cast their vote, they used to vote for one person, but no longer, they now vote for two people at once, a man and a woman. Perforce, 50% of those elected from now on in this system are women. Candidates are ‘double’ candidates, like two people strapped together parachute jumping. The couple was composed of one man and one woman, resulting in half the total of candidates elected being women. A rarely used word was brought out to name this creation. Voters were told they were electing a ‘binôme’, literally ‘two names’, a tandem, pair of candidates, two person team, twin candidates, a duo.
Did that mean that now there were now 8000 seats?
That would have been a problem.
The solution was to halve the number of seats.
How do you do that? You change the way the department is divided; suppose it was divided in 10 ‘cantons’, each led by one person. This is sensible, since a department can be quite extensive, and cover an industrial area, a mixed area, a rural area etc, each with separate characteristics. The person elected would know his own area well, and bring that knowledge to the departmental council.
Now that same territory is divided not in 10 parts but in 5. The department now has only 5 cantons, with 2 double candidates. So the total of seats is still 10 for that council, and 4000 overall.
The reaction to this piece of undemocratic social engineering has been muted.
The department has lost representation on the ground, and it has lost as well a number of men who had knowledge and expertise but are now debarred on ground of sex, and because their power base has been written off the map. The media has not recorded the protests of those men. They publicized the protest of the perhaps only woman who lost a seat:
the wife of Jacques Chirac used to be elected for a canton that was axed.
Otherwise, the 1500 men who lost their posts have not been interviewed.
Sex equality is a good thing, isn’t it? No one wants to point out that it can have undemocratic results and lead to less and possibly weaker representation.
The reform is a sign that the government wants to undermine local authorities.
All women shortlists: The election of the president
The departemental council is headed by a president, elected by the councilors. Now that was the test of how serious this reform was: if women were eager for political power, they would have voted each other into the president’s seat. Instead they voted for men, and of the 101 departements, 91 are headed by men, and 10 by women. Not a big change from the previous figures of 95 and 5.
This makes such a mockery of the engineering that it must add to the disgust that people feel regarding politicians. They impose regulations on areas that don’t need regulations, but do nothing to tackle the problems that matter, such as unemployment and deindustrialization. But the media pretended that it was all politics as normal, and the only interesting thing was which party won.
For example, in several departements, there was no majority: the Vaucluse department had 12 UMP councilors, 12 PS and 10 FN. The Aisne had 18, 16 and 8. In cases like that, party was the only preoccupation.
Many politicians are associated with a department, for example François Hollande’s local base is the Corrèze, Segolene Royal is the Charente-Maritime, Manuel Valls the prime minister is Essone, Martine Aubry is Nord; the Socialist Party lost all these departements, which reflected badly on the associated leading lights. This is what was discussed, and the forced election of women (and accompanying cutting of representation) was ignored.
As usual the progress of the National Front made the headlines. Last month Froggy said that “The party had only one department councilor up to now; it stands to gain perhaps a hundred, since it is present in the second round in half of places (they are contesting about 1000 seats).” In the event the National Front won 62 councilors, and no majority in any department. For comparison the Communists and the Left Party gained 108 seats, and one department, the Val de Marne in the Paris suburbs.
The Byzantine French labour code
This phrase comes from an Irish Times article (see below) about reforms to make labour more flexible and less costly in France. The Irish Times quotes the prime minister Manuel Valls:
“We’re working to restore the competitiveness of our businesses by reducing the cost of labour,” he says. “That represents €40 billion in cuts in social charges on business, of which €25 billion are already in place . . . At the same time, we’re saving money, €50 billion over three years, which has never been done before by a French government. I believe we can be more efficient and spend less, although we have huge costs, particularly military.”
Another way to make labour more flexible is to reduce workers rights and the obligations of employers.
These are written down in the Labour Code, the Byzantine, 3,000-page French labour code mentioned by the Irish Times, in a phrase copying French commentators.
There are various reasons why the Labour Code is large. It has to accommodate different size of firm. To see how this works, the paper Le Monde published a diagram with the various obligations in terms of worker representation according to size of firm: you move the cursor along a line which starts at 0 employee and goes to 2200 employees, and various boxes light up. http://www.lemonde.fr/les-decodeurs/visuel/2015/04/23/loi-rebsamen-comprendre-les-seuils-sociaux-en-une-infographie_4621525_4355770.html
Another reason for the complexity is that the Code has accumulated legislation over the years, to do with discrimination against handicapped people and women for example.
Then there is the multiplication of bodies representing the employees and the employers, and the state.
On the employees side, you have union reps, non union reps and health and safety committee reps; trade unions are divided by trade and by political affiliation; unions compete with each other for workers votes; health and safety committees have seen their responsibilities increased over the years, to include for example bullying and sexual harassment; they are usually headed by the employer or a representative of the employer.
Employers are represented by a variety of bodies. Then there are Works Councils which firms of over 50 employees must have.
The Labour Code sets out who sits on these bodies, and how often these bodies meet with the employers, and what topics they can discuss, and all this varies according to the number of employees.
Obligations increase with the number of employees; this explains why there are 1600 firms with 49 employees, and 600 with 50 odd employees. The argument goes that obligations discourage employment, and therefore removing obligations will encourage employers to take on more workers.
It may well be that the Labour Code needs simplifying. But who will simplify it and how?
The minister for Labour, François Rebsamen, called a meeting of unions and other interested parties to negotiate changes; then he presented a set of proposals which was put together without the agreement of the meeting’s participants, to the Cabinet, to be discussed in Parliament.
Since the Code is extremely complex, so are the measures intended to simplify it; let us give two examples: in a firm, the three types of employee representatives mentioned above will be gathered together into one body, which will have fewer obligatory meetings per year and will be able to discuss fewer topics.
The 4,6 million employees of Very Small Firms will have a regional body to provide employee representation, but its members won’t be allowed on the firm’s premises.
Reform of the Labour Code requires that the employees are not systematically suspicious of the employers and don’t see the state as necessarily on the side of the employers. The website of the CGT, old CP supporting union, does not even bother to mention the Rebsamen reform, it’s assumed his law will diminish workers rights; the union FO worries about the diminution of the number of elected reps, of hours allocated to negotiations, of compulsory meetings per year.
The CFE-CGC, union of technicians and managers, makes the point that for worker representation to be effective, communication needs to take place in good times as well as in bad; that means that workers know what the firm is doing when it is doing well, and therefore they are prepared and informed for when they need to react to bad news. Its leader, Carole Couvert, thinks that the ‘one representative body’ reform imitates the German model, and she calls for the adoption of the whole of the German model of worker representation: add ‘co-décision’ (joint decision making), and a work contract entailing automatic union membership.
The MEDEF, the main employer union, walked out of the talks at this point.
It looks as if the government will have to impose the law, as it did the previous Macron law reforming work practice, such as Sunday work and road transport. The CFE-CGC will not lead the other unions into adopting the German model; it sets itself apart, for example by not marching on the 1st May. The other unions adopt a hostile stance which prevents negotiation when negotiation is probably what is needed. Moreover, they are very divided, celebrating the 1st May in separate marches in different parts of Paris.
The intention behind reforming the Labour Code is probably to reduce workers rights, but it doesn’t seem to have achieved this; the right-wing paper Le Figaro was disappointed by the proposal: “No reform of the Labour Code’ was its headline on 22 April.
They say that when you drive on the motorway in France and you spot a lorry with French number plates you make a wish, as on a shooting star; Norbert Dentressangle was a French firm, and it is just now being bought by an American firm. The French are caught between the low cost East Europeans drivers and the predatory American firms; this is the type of question that politicians should be addressing. The Transatlantic Partnership Treaty will do nothing to improve the situation, and politicians should be stopping it; they may not be able to stand in the way of the Americans buying French firms, as legislation stands; but they should have an influence on further legislation on that subject. People can see that politicians play with social engineering instead of addressing the big questions.