IN OTHER WORDS: French riots

For the second time in four months, French streets are filled with riot police, tear gas and rampaging youths. But the similarity between then and now is deceptive. Back in November, it was the sons of North African immigrants in their dreary suburbs exploding in frustration at lack of jobs, prospects or programmes. This time, privileged university students are protesting what they see as an assault on the job security that they consider their birthright. The connection between the two waves of unrest is that the labour reform to which the students are so opposed was proposed by Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin as a partial answer to those who set fire to the suburbs.

A new law essentially allows companies to fire workers under 26 within the first two years of employment without having to give a reason. The idea is to encourage employers to hire youths on a trial or temporary basis. There is an obvious downside: young workers could be fired on a whim. But the alternative is the current state of affairs, in which jobs are sinecures. Unemployment is at 22.2 per cent among the young.

Before it gets any worse, students should stop defending their privileges and heed President Jacques Chirac’s call for a creative dialogue about how they can help resolve the real problem facing their generation.