Wednesday, October 14, 2009

French popular referendum rejects postal privatisaion

Lisbeth Latham

French people have sent a strong message to the government of Nicolas Sarkozy with 90% of respondents in a poll rejecting its moves to convert the national postal service, La Poste, into a publicly company. The poll result has highlighted public opposition to Sarkozy’s neo-liberal assault on public services.

While France, like other capitalist countries, has been undergoing restricting under both centre left and centre right governments since the 1980s, however these reforms have been to an extent blunted by working class resistance, most spectacularly during the 1995 strike wave against attacks on the public sector and the student led movement that defeated the First Employment Contract (CPE) legislation in 2005. Since his election Sarkozy has made clear that he intended to continue to push through further neo-liberal reform of the French economy with assaults on social services including deregulation of university education, increased costs for patients in the health system. On July 29, the council of ministers adopted a bill, to be taken to parliament in November, for the partial privatisation of La Poste.

The push to convert La Poste into a public company has been met with opposition from French unions who argue that it is an attempt at privatisation by stealth. French postal unions called unlimited strike action, beginning September 21, i n Paris post offices where 140 workers have been sacked already this year. In addition unions and other progressive organisations have demanded that the government conduct a referendum on its proposal, which the government refused to do (public referendums can be initiated if supported one fifth of MPs and 10% of registered voters – around 4.5 million people).

Opponents of the privatisation, organised through the National Committee Against the Privatisation of the Post (CNPP) which brings together 62 union, political and social organisations, initiated their own referendum on the question which closed on October 3. People were asked “the government wants to change the status of La Poste (the postal service) to private, do you agree with the project?". Across France more than 2.1 million people participated in the vote with more than 90 percent opposing privatisation. On October 5, the CNPP issued statement that called on “the president and his government to hear the verdict and permanently renounce this Act” and reminded the public that “La Poste is for you all, no change in the status can be made without a referendum”.

In response to the outcome government spokespeople have attempted to pour cold water on the outcome and undermine the legitimacy of the vote. Christian Estrosi, Minister of Industry, dismissed the vote on October 3, telling Radio France International “No doubt, there will be 99% per cent against it”.

As part of its October 5 statement, the CNPP called on its local committees to begin meet immediately with the senators and members of their department and district government to demand the withdrawal of the Bill. On October 13, the CNPP issued a new statement outlining the expansion of it campaign against the privatisation. This included:

  • Launching a petition card to send to the President of the Republic, this postcard will be posted on the website will demanding respect the vote of October 3; withdrawal of the bill on the agenda of the Senate and National Assembly; an open public debate; the holding of a referendum on the future of public postal service.
  • Calls a week of mobilization against privatization, development of public postal service and the organization of a referendum from October 31 to November 7.
  • On October 31 the National Committee calls for further initiatives underway, such as organizing rallies at post offices involving population, politicians and postal workers.
  • On 2 November the national committee decides on a rally outside the Senate in the presence of representatives of local committees and elected officials.
The CNPP statements indicated that if the opposition to the privatisation of La Poste is ignored and the law is approved in the Senate and the government the campaign will be further escalated. The CNPP plans to organize satellite events on the same day in November and will initiate a discussion at the local level a national mobilisation in Paris in December.


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