Weekly Review – 3 September 2017


By Ronnie Smith

Paris, get ready

On Thursday the much anticipated reforms to France’s labour laws were published by the government of President Macron.

The main thrust of the reforms is to render the process of hiring and firing employees less complicated for employers and to make the negotiation of employment terms and conditions more local and flexible. We can call it Thatcher lite, if you like, as one of the fundamental issues in this process is an attempt to weaken the principle of national collective bargaining in the labour market dominated by large trades unions, something very close to Mrs Thatcher’s heart.

Of course, Mr Macron will hope to avoid the levels of conflict that the introduction of Mrs Thatcher’s reforms engendered in the U.K. and already, through a process of consultation and early warning, two of France’s larger unions (FO and CFDT) have announced that they will not take part in demonstrations scheduled to begin in September. This is an important change to the script as those leading the protests against the reforms, the CGT, are associated by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, President Macron’s very vocal left wing opponent in Parliament.

Thus M. Macron has succeeded in politicising the debate with the inevitable polarisation of opinion in which the centre and right will, at least, not actively oppose what he is trying to achieve, while those who protest can be branded and isolated as ‘lefty revanchist extremists’. This suits M. Macron very well indeed. Results of a recent opinion poll indicated that 90% agreed that reforms to the labour law were necessary and in France’s interests. However 60% said they were concerned about how those reforms will affect them. That is M. Macron’s great political challenge, to reduce anxiety in a population that does not often welcome change but remains unhappy with the status quo.

However I believe that on this occasion, M. Mélenchon and his friends in the CGT will have the more difficult political task of winning wider support for their forthcoming action. This winter in France will be important, interesting and with considerable inconvenience for the public in some areas.

London, vote for May in May

This week Mrs Theresa May, who some might remember remains the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, has been visiting Japan. Mrs May has had a thankfully quiet summer, saying little and staying off our TV screens and out of trouble. We are grateful to her.

Her trip to Japan has, of course, a great deal to do with post-Brexit trade between our two great countries and is also about co-operation on security, in light of North Korea’s latest firing of a ballistic missile over Japanese territory. In terms of trade, Japan remains a significant exporter of finished good to the UK and is also a very important investor in manufacturing in Britain. For example, it is rumoured that car maker Nissan plans a very large new investment in car building in Britain that will ensure increased order for parts made by british companies.

This is certainly good news, although we are still looking at overseas ownership of important sectors of the British economy which highlights a failure of British investment at home. It also leads one to suppose that Mrs May has given at least some of the assurances requested by the Japanese government prior to Mrs May’s visit. We’d certainly like to know the terms agreed by our two governments to ensure that Japanese industry continues to invest in the U.K. but Mrs May has had a very quiet summer.

While in Japan Mrs May made it very clear that, notwithstanding her rather major political problems over the past year, that she intends to remain in office for the duration of the current parliament. The next general election is not due until May 2020 and many feel that she is too weak to last that long. However she appears confident and I believe that we might have to accept that her being Prime Minister, in the absence of a credible alternative in her party, suits many of those who actually own the country.

Mrs May is quoted as follows.

“Yes, I’m here for the long term. What me and my government are about is not just delivering on Brexit but delivering a brighter future for the UK.”

A sentence that told me, at least, how grammatically challenged our current Prime Minister appears to be. It also made me think of a football manager whose time is up but who has been publically assured of the loyalty of the club’s Chairman and board of directors. Mr Boris Johnson has expressed his undying support for Mrs May…

As for dealing with North Korea, who knows.

Rain, lots of it

I’ve been watching and reading about the incredible events in Texas this past week, and the brutal devastation that continues to be caused by hurricane Harvey. In particular the sheer volume of rain brought by the storm and the subsequent flooding it has caused is unimaginable, even when you see footage of it. As I write the great sub-issue of the day is the inevitable destruction of a chemical plant near Houston that will either explode or go on fire as the result of the flooding with no way of doing anything to stop it.

Another important sub-issue, brought to light by the extensive coverage given to Texas by the western media, is the unprecedented rain that has recently fallen recently in parts of Africa, notably Sierra Leone, and the Indian sub-continent, particularly Bangladesh. The flooding there has been particularly severe this year and the damage has been more intense than that which we’ve seen in the U.S. More importantly deaths in Africa and India/Bangladesh are being counted in the thousands whereas in Texas we are still in double figures.

But is a selective comparison of the devastation and media coverage really very helpful? Doesn’t it, as usual, stop us from seeing and understanding the really, very big, issue here? Western media has a global reach which is not the case in Africa or south Asia, that is a fact of economics.

In my lifetime I watched the climate in my own area transform from a four season system to two, winter and summer. The summers used to be generally warm and dry to the extent that I actually went back to school and then university with an impressive tan. “Where were you on holiday this year”, my friends would ask. “Largs”, I would say and then watch their faces fall.

Now it rains all summer and during the winter we are subjected to months of stormy weather, often looking something like this.

This happens because the temperature of the Atlantic Ocean, the font of our weather has risen by a few degrees in the last 30 years.

I remember when major hurricanes laid waste to the Caribbean islands and the lands around the Mexican Gulf every five years or so. Now it’s an annual event which even flooded the New York subway in 2012. Major flooding in Bangladesh was a notable periodic event but now it too is a regular occurrence.

Climate change is real. Melting ice caps, and rising sea temperatures put more water into the atmosphere which becomes rain in some places and storms in others. The argument about whether the change is caused by human activity and whether or not it is reported fairly are utterly irrelevant side issues. The change in our climate, wherever we live, is an observable fact. Ask the vignerons who see changing weather patterns affecting their production in the last few years.

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Languedoc Living will be back to full service on Tuesday 5th September.  Thanks for bearing with us, while we took some much-needed time off!