PARIS, OCT. 23 -- France's Socialist government is finding that its retreat from leftist economic dogma in favor of moderate fiscal policies and budgetary restraint has spawned a new wave of social discontent.
A series of autumn strikes, culminating today in the paralysis of the country's judicial system, has demonstrated that many sectors in French society are unhappy with Prime Minister Michel Rocard's brand of "tempered capitalism," which has subdued the government's political opposition on the right and won praise from international bankers and other conservatives.
Also today, public transportation workers and some taxi drivers in the capital and 26 other cities and towns struck for higher pay in the latest of France's periodic transport disruptions. Later this week, electrical and gas workers are expected to walk off their jobs and march for higher wages.
On Monday, thousands of students marched on the Education Ministry to dramatize complaints about a teacher shortage, uncomfortable classroom conditions, and increasing violence and inadequate security in the schools. The student protests have grown more vehement in recent weeks, as have demonstrations by dockers and farmers, who say they are getting no sympathy from the government as their incomes deteriorate -- largely because of foreign competition.
When the Socialists regained control of the government from the Conservative Party in 1988, it was widely expected that France would revert to the fiscal policies that the Socialists employed when they ruled during early and mid-'80s. But instead of increasing assistance to farmers and laborers, Rocard's government has kept a tight rein on the budget and earned the disapproval of many of its supporters, some of whom have complained that they see no difference between the Socialists and Conservatives.
The most remarkable example of France's growing turmoil was today's upheaval inside the staid judicial establishment. Hundreds of judges, prosecutors and prison wardens turned normally stuffy courtrooms into scenes of militant labor revolt as they protested funding and equipment shortages. Wreaths were laid on the steps of courts across the country in mock funerals for the legal system.
No prisoners were released or taken into custody today as court operations ground to a halt. Robed magistrates marched through Paris to present the prime minister with a list of grievances that included what they called an inadequate judiciary budget increase of 6.7 percent. They are seeking a much larger increase that would boost pay for lawyers and prosecutors. Rocard told judicial union leaders that they should direct their demands to Justice Minister Henri Nallet.
In addition to the judicial workers' budgetary concerns, observers say there is a simmering crisis of conscience over the judiciary's lack of political independence. In June, outraged judges launched their first strike after the nation's political parties approved an amnesty law protecting party officials from prosecution for illicit campaign financing.
The law generated an outpouring of scorn and cynicism directed at the political establishment of the government and opposition. Judges, in particular, criticized leading politicians for blatant interference in their work. When a minor Socialist Party official, Christian Nucci, was let off the hook under the law despite his alleged involvement in shady financial deals for the benefit of his party, some judges retaliated by granting pardons to people being prosecuted for minor offenses.