Street protests are obviously not an unusual occurrence in France. The country is known for its love of demonstrations, and anybody who's lived in Paris for even a bit knows how frequently a strike or a march can throw you off your daily commute. But recent demonstrations in France have been something different entirely, and they're making the government increasingly nervous.
First there was January's one-day strike protesting the economic crisis, and now today another nation-wide strike has gone ahead, with unions claiming that three million people have taken part. 200 towns across the country have seen demonstrations, in which all eight of the country's big unions are demanding more protections for workers in the recession. And as unemployment has risen to two million, they are demanding more is spent in any rescue package on more unemployment benefits.
Benoit Hamon, a leftist rising star in the Socialist party, has been at the forefront of the protests, saying French President Sarkozy has been aggravating the crisis my making the "wrong economic and social choices."
The huge numbers these two strikes have attracted are causing the French government increasing worry. Sarkozy's popularity is perilously low, and the number of French people supporting the strikers is increasing. 74 percent of the French said today they support this week's protests. according to BVA. That's up from 69 percent in January. There is increasing talk of violent revolts this spring. And as evidenced by Hamon's increasingly prominent role, the hard left is gaining power and influence. Olivier Besancenot, a postman and the leader of the New Anti-Capitalist Party, has also been gaining popularity. A recent poll put him as the candidate who could pose the most viable threat to President Sarkozy.
And this is all happening in France, which analysts will be the least affected by the crisis among major European countries. All of this is making leaders across Europe increasingly concerned about a "spring of discontent."