BY MICHEL DUGRÉ
PARIS - "It is not in the nature of the French nation to live through reforms passively," said president Jacques Chirac during his recent visit to the United States. The French daily Le Monde expressed doubts that this attempt to downplay last December's massive labor unrest in France would be convincing to U.S. capitalist investors.
Still reeling from the impact of these mobilizations, the biggest in France in over two decades, French capitalists are now confronting a new downturn. Unemployment in France has increased steadily since September and now stands, officially, at 11.7 percent. More than a third of the 3 million unemployed have been out of work for longer than a year.
On January 30, the Chirac government announced a series of measures aimed at increasing the demand for industrial products. "Indecision in Paris, Determination in Bonn," is how Le Monde compared these measures to others introduced the same day by the German government.
Losing ground on the economic front, the French imperialists have taken a series of steps aimed at strengthening their position vis-a-vis their imperialist competitors in Europe. Announcing the conclusion of France's current nuclear testing program on January 29, Chirac spent most of his speech defending the program itself. "I have the feeling," he said, "that I have accomplished my first responsibility in giving France, for decades to come, the means of its independence and security." Despite what he called the "frightening" power of nuclear bombs, he insisted France's arsenal would "serve the interests of peace."
France, Chirac said, will now "play an active and determined role in favor of disarmament in the world and also for a better European defense." French capitalists are using their nuclear power as an edge against their rivals, in particular in Germany and Japan.
The recent decision by Paris to return to the NATO military command after three decades of developing an independent nuclear arsenal and its decision to integrate French nuclear forces with those of its imperialist allies in Europe and North America is aimed at maximizing the influence of the French capitalists in the world.
France remains an important economic power. It is the fourth world exporter of products and the second of services. Exportations per capita are higher from France than United States or Japan.
But Paris is losing ground to its main imperialist competitors. Its reintegration into NATO is also a reflection of the dominant role of U.S. military power in the world today as can be seen in Yugoslavia. French troops in Yugoslavia are now under NATO's command, largely dominated by U.S. military forces.
Paris's reintegration into NATO is an implicit confession of the inability of the governments in France and other countries in Europe on their own to build up a military intervention strong enough to seriously attempt the reimposition of capitalism in this part of the world.
While at a much lower level, labor resistance to the bosses' offensive continues. The General Confederation of Labor (CGT) has called for demonstrations in several cities on February 11. The mobilization is for wage increases, jobs, reduction of the workweek, and the withdrawal of Prime Minister Alain Juppé's austerity plan.
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