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French Socialists vow to create jobs for unemployed

march May 21, 1997
Web posted at: 8:52 p.m. EDT (0052 GMT)

From Correspondent Jim Bitterman

PARIS (CNN) -- On a hot spring day in the working class city of Loos, in northern France, the semi-annual boules tournament is in full swing.

And for a Socialist on the campaign trail like Martine Aubry, stopping by to watch a match and shake a few hands seems as natural as the clinking of steel balls.

She knows instinctively that if the opposition Socialist Party can depend on votes from anyone, it is from French workers such as those at the match.

In Loos, as elsewhere throughout the country's rust belt, factory and heavy industry jobs disappear daily. The unemployment rate, around 12.8 percent nationally, is running at 15 percent in the region where Loos is located.

Aubry

The first part of the two-round parliamentary election is Sunday; the second is June 1. The snap general election was called nearly a year early.

Many French wary of Socialists

Along Main Street and everywhere else the Socialists campaign, they emphasize plans to create 750,000 new jobs, to reduce the work week to 35 hours without a pay cut and to lower the retirement age.

"This is a medium-range goal, not only to share the jobs, but also so people live better, and can enjoy their leisure time," Aubry said.

But living with Socialists is something the French did for 14 years under the late President Francois Mitterand, and not all believe it was living better. Many still blame Mitterand for spending the nation into debt and encouraging a closer union with Europe, which some say is costing jobs at home.

Loos, France

Socialist leaders deny Mitterand ever intended to create a Europe purely for economic interests. They promise that if elected, workers' rights will be protected, and that employment, housing, and education will be high on their priority list.

'Another vision of democracy'

Some economists may be dubious about how France will pay for it all. But it's what the Socialist faithful, worried about all the changes in their world, want to hear.

"They have no future, they have no job, and violence is rising and it's a problem for the world society anyway," said one young woman at a campaign rally.

The Socialists suggest they are better suited to solve France's problems.

"We want to introduce in our country another vision of democracy, another vision of relations between people and the government," said former Socialist Minister Jack Lang.

Chirac

Another hot spring day in Paris, and Socialist and Communist workers marched together. It was a united effort to defeat the incumbent Conservatives whom they feel have no respect for their rights.

"It's an everyday struggle to save the social right that exists, but to also gain more," said a young man wearing sunglasses.

The left-wing candidates may not deliver what some in the streets want, but they may be the only realistic hope for those who oppose the Conservative majority of President Jacques Chirac and French Prime Minister Alain Juppe.

 
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