Sunday, April 02, 2006
Differing Goals and Issues for U.S. and European Workers
There was an interesting article in the Christian Science Monitor today contrasting the recent labor strikes in Europe and the U.S. Students in France are protesting against a new policy that allows young workers to be fired more easily from their first jobs. Apparently, a lot of people in France - particularly those who work for the government - get to hold onto their jobs for life. Dreary, office-bound, pen-pushing jobs at that. The spectacle of "wild youth" demonstrating for the right to join a bureaucracy is ironic enough to give one pause, and certainly worthy of the culture that invented the theater of the absurd. The demonstrators in the U.S., on the other hand, are foreign born workers who simply want the right to work, whether they get fired or not. No one in the U.S. entertains even the fantasy of permanent employment anymore.
The problem with those permanent jobs in France is that there are two few of them to go around. It's like a game of musical chairs where the spell between rounds can last decades. Unemployment is a lot higher over there than here, despite the likelihood that workers in the U.S. are forced to find new jobs far more frequently. The author of the article suggests that the flexibility of the American system, versus the rigidity of the European one, makes our economy more dynamic - although he admits that neither system is perfect. The elasticity of the American job market would not exist if American firms did not have the power to hire and fire at will. To survive, the Europeans may have to become more like the Americans, and say au revoir to their four day work weeks, their six week vacations and their jobs for life. As a chronically overworked and too often downsized American, I will miss knowing that there is still some place left on earth where the grass always at least appears greener.
Deregulating the job market in Europe may give its economy a shot in the arm in the short term, but we in the late stages of a "flexible" economy know that things can swing the other way entirely. For what is the "flexibility" we're talking about other than a lack of resistance among the work force to the will of the bosses? Now the bosses are becoming the Immovable Objects that obstruct the flow of the economy, extorting tributes from the shareholders so vast that they nullify the profit of the companies they were hired to salvage.
The best economic system is not one at the absolute mercy of either the workers or the bosses, but one that synthesizes their demands, allowing a little "rigidity" and "flexibility" to factor into both sides of the equation.
For more on the recent European labor unrest, see the articles below:
?For workers in the Europe, US, different aims?, from the Christian Science Monitor
"Paris Strikes: More 1984 than 1968" from Spiked-Online
"Youth vs. Youth" from The City Journal