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Tuesday, May 8, 2007

End labor socialism or perish

France gives The Establishment the boot

French voters cast their ballots Sunday like the British did earlier in the week: against Labor. As with the GOP rejection in Oregon last Nov., voters are tired of the worn-out promises from leftist politicians and their failure to deliver. Now, pro-market reforms threaten to bring Europe back from the brink of economic extinction. If only that could happen here.

France's new conservative President, Nicolas Sarkozy, won when voters rejected France's younger, prettier version of Hillary Clinton, Sarkozy's Socialist rival, Segolene Royal. The French showed that they recognize that their country is in danger of slipping into the second tier, of becoming more like labor-locked Oregon than, say, Colorado.

"The French people have chosen change," a jubilant Sarkozy declared on election night. And he is right. The question is: Will they get it? Probably not. For all its charm France is becoming, as The Wall Street Journal puts it, the sick man of Europe. And almighty government unions possess a legalized right to be disruptive and prosecute - at taxpayer expense - an ongoing war for political power that never ends.

Unemployment, while falling slightly, still ranges around 9 percent - almost twice that of Great Britain. France has been running trade deficits for the past three years and shows little sign of rebounding into the black. The country's growth rate lags Germany's and Great Britain's. And analysts say French consumers are increasingly turning to goods from other European nations, which have lower labor costs, fewer defects in workmanship, and fewer barriers to entry into the French market.

The French long have resisted efforts to tamper with their socialist-labor union model, clinging to a 35-hour workweek and caving last year to student protests against a modest plan to give employers more freedom to fire students they hire out of college. Partly as a result, unemployment among France's youngest workers remains above 20 percent. We are moving in that direction, here in Oregon.

But at last, the French themselves made a clear and decisive choice this weekend. They did so despite Sarkozy's raft of bold promises to disrupt the long-standing socialist-labor union order. For example, he proposes to cut taxes on overtime pay in an effort to undo the 35-hour week. For real.

Further, Sarkozy is friendly toward America, though he differs with President Bush on some issues. Sarkozy glosses over such disagreements with a smile, describing as them as differences between "great friends." Couple this pro-American attitude with his stern views on immigration and his harsh rhetoric toward union agitators posing as ethnic rioters in 2005 -- he called them "thugs" and "scum" -- and you have a new French president who's very different from Jacques Chirac and his predecessors.

Who knows? His election may reopen the doors in Oregon to pro-market reforms that roll back the labor union dominance that has been turning our state into an economic basket-case, like France, for too long.

The Oregonian, May 8, OPINION By THE EDITORS

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