On Strike!

I remember traveling through Italy a few years ago where, at various times during our trip, every method of public transportation was on strike. In Venice, even the taxi boats were on strike, stranding us at our hostel on one of the nearby islands. We couldn’t even hail so much as a gondola to take us back to the mainland. But, since it didn’t make a difference to us whether we stayed an extra day here or there, we took it all in stride and busied ourselves eating more grapes and chocolate until a Fabio look alike rescued us with his private yacht.

And now, again, the French are taking their turn striking. Not sure why this is even front page news, really. Isn’t there always a strike going on in France? I guess this time, instead of just the transit workers, or just the garbage collectors, turns out everyone in France is on strike to protest a new law allowing employers to avoid providing benefits to their employees. The school teachers, the Opera singers, the postal workers, everyone is on strike! A snow day, but without the snow! Yeay!

Um, so why don’t Americans strike? Why don’t American employees stand up for themselves and demand better health care insurance, more vacation time, flexible work schedules, maternity leave, etc.? And as members of the Church, isn’t it our responsibility to support work environments that allow us more time with our families and time to serve others in our communities? Americans work longer hours with fewer benefits than pretty much anyone else in the world. And, we’re proud of it!

I think I need a vacation. Vive la France!


  1. a random John says:

    Last time I was in Paris the museum workers were on strike. I don’t remember the demands in detail other than they struck me as petty. What was odd though was that while on strike all the workers showed up to work. They were there inside the museums. But they usually wouldn’t let any customers in. When I asked why they were at work if they were on strike they looked at me like I was an idiot and said, “Because we want to still get paid!” Basically they were holding the museums hostage at no cost to themselves. It struck me as a rather cowardly strike.

    I have no idea if this is the standard for strikes elsewhere in the world. I think that US strikes, though rarer, take more courage.

  2. It’s not just France – it’s all over Europe, including England., where it’s about pensions.

    arj – it’s ceratinly not the standard in England.

    Your right Elisabeth – “Americans work longer hours with fewer benefits than pretty much anyone else in the world”. I’ve discovered this while living here in the States, and I’m surprised there isn’t more action taken

  3. As far as the Church is concerned, until 1989, there was council against being part of an oath-bound society in the general handbbok. We typically take that to meening fraternal lodges like freemasonry. However, the 19th century and early 20th century concerns was over unions (which where also secret societies). The church opposed striking, boycotts and closed shops and promoted “right to work” legislation. John Taylor issued an epistle from hiding to be read at general conference that spoke of these labor organizations (which had commited some pretty bad crimes in the territories):

    A great number of secret societies are being formed with which we cannot affiliate. Such organizations are generally inimical to law, to good order, and in many instances subversive of the rights of man. We cannot amalgamate with them. They are very distinctly spoken against in the Book of Mormon, as among the calamities which should afflict the people.

    Willford Woodruff, presidency wrote in response to questions about temple worthiness:

    In reply, we would say that we are not in favor of our Brethren joining organizations of any kind outside of our Church. But we are more especially impressed with the wrongfulness of their joining organizations which interfere with the rights of their fellow citizens in regard to labor. To illustrate: We think it is wrong, contrary to our religion, and contrary to good citizenship, for men to combine together in any organization to prevent their fellowmen from working because they do not join them or work for such an amount as they think workmen ought to have. This, we think, states our position clearly in regard to those organizations. But this A. O. U. W., as we understand, is not in the strictest sense an organization of that kind. Still we think it would be better for our brethren not to join it. It would not do, however, to refuse a young man who wanted to be married in the Temple a recommend because of his being a member of that organization. (Messages of the FP 3:278)

    President Joseph F. Smith wrote:

    While there is no reason why workmen should not join together for their own mutual protection and benefit, there is every reason why in so doing they should regard the rights of their fellows, be jealous of the protection of property, and eliminate from their methods of warfare, boycotts, sympathetic strikes, and the walking delegate.

    …The unions are forcing our people into an inconsistent and dangerous attitude when they compel Latter-day Saints within the union to make war upon their brethren who are without the union, and thereby denying the most sacred and God-given rights of one class of Saints that another class may gain some advantage over a third person, their employer. Such conduct is destructive of the liberty which every man is entitled to enjoy, and will lead in the end to the spirit of contention and apostasy. (Messages of the FP 6:132)

    The following was carried in the Deseret News in 1941 by direction of the First Presidency:

    No one at all conversant with industrial history and practices can deny that in many places and under adverse conditions labor must have some organization in order to protect its members against exploitation. Furthermore, labor is entitled to a fair return for its work. What is a fair return is not a fixed sum, but is dependent upon the economic conditions of a given time and in a given place. It can never be an amount that does not leave some profit to the owner else the owner closes up and labor is without work.

    …Labor may not legally, nor in wisdom for labor, intimidate or coerce the worker. The worker must be left free to work when he will, be idle when he will, and to work for what he wishes, when he wishes, and where he wishes. Intimidation and coercion spell plain slavery which destroys free society.

    Finally, there must be no “closed shop” because this means the denial of the divine right to work. It is not necessary for the protection of labor and sets up a labor tyranny which too often falls under the direction of concepts, ideals, and pernicious practices foreign to the American way of life.

    Sabotage, intimidation, coercion, the “closed shop” are un-American, un-democratic, uneconomic, criminal, and wholly contrary to the principles upon which any stable society can and must be organized. (Messages of the FP 6:130-132)

  4. …on a personal note…having served in France, I am intimately aware of their propensity to strike. Everythring went on strike at least once it seemed. Elisabeth, if you truely pine for the economy of France than I suggest trying to find work or start a business there. Everything has a price and theirs is ridiculously high unemployment rates, and no economic future. Take you 35 hour work week. I’ll take my opportunities here.

  5. Eric Russell says:

    “Americans work longer hours with fewer benefits than pretty much anyone else in the world”

    Really? If Americans get fewer benefits than other countries, maybe it’s because their wages are so much higher. There’s very little need to strike in America. Our minimum wage is like a middle-class salary in third world countries.

  6. Amem J. Stapley. You want better healthcare, don’t look to England or Europe, or even Canada. They pay a heavy price for what they have. I once had to have a cavity filled, after several days of pain and waiting to be scheduled, the dentist in England put me in the chair and drilled. No novacane, no nothing…It wasn’t pleasant. I asked why he didn’t use novacane. He told me it takes to long to work, which means less patients seen and since you really don’t have much choice too bad!

    I also hurt my food playing football (soccer), went to the emergency got x-rays and crutches. Two days later, when someone was finally available to read the x-rays, it wasn’t broken…so they took the crutches away. I hobbled around in pain for two weeks.

    I’ll take America any day! “Let them strike…and see if they can eat Cake”

  7. Whew!

    I saw the title at Ldselect and I thought “that’s it – if Elisabeth’s on strike, I’m not reading BCC anymore!” Fortunately, the title didn’t relate to you personally. :P

    There’s been a really interesting discussion at Prawfsblawg about whether law professors should cross picket lines. The comments got pretty contentious – they’re at http://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/2006/03/strikes_and_the.html and http://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/2006/03/when_students_s.html . The threads show that striking is a polarizing topic in America – and that the idea of working as a responsibility carries a lot of social weight.

  8. In a nutshell (I’ll let the trained economists fill in the details): The United States has been at or near full employment for the past 15 years (even during the recession at the dawn of the millennium, unemployment was historically low). As a consequence, businesses in the United States typically must compete for workers. For example, in my business, we have to make between 2 and 5 offers in order to have one accepted, and when people turn us down, it usually has more to do with areas of interest than with salary or benefits. Thanks to this competition, American employees end up being able to have more input into their own salary and benefits.

    I tried to hire someone from France once, and I couldn’t because he had to give (IIRC) 90 days notice to his existing employer. Well, the project for which we hoped to hire him would have been nearly half over by then. I’m not saying that this man’s job wasn’t superior in many respects, but it’s a trade off.

    As far as working tons of hours, for about 5 years, I worked every day (Sat & Sun included), and totaled between 100 and 120 hours a week (out of 168 hours in a week). In fact, during 1999, I took 5 days off total–including weekends. Working excites me. I work 55+ hours a week now, and I feel like I’m always on vacation.

    Besides, we Americans live in really big houses with lots of full bathrooms, closets as big as the rooms that we had growing up, and huge cars with gratuitously large engines. We work harder because it allows us to buy more toys. Striking would ruin all that.

    And when was the last time that any of the big socialist European economies had full employment anyway?

  9. We don’t strike because we have it good. Working hard is part of being alive. If we didn’t have jobs we’d be working dawn to dusk just trying to survive. For all the talk about the evils of capitalism, our system does a pretty darn good job of providing opportunities for people who aren’t born with advantages. (This isn’t to say that we don’t have problems–inner city poverty is a huge problem that we’re not solving very well).

    It’s crazy all the talk I hear about how bad things are for American workers. It seems like most of this talk comes from people who have much to gain by painting the current situation in a bad light. I don’t think things are bad (I say this as a non-Republican, non-Democrat who grew up poor-ish). Most people with high school diplomas are able to own a house and a car and have some fun. And if they’re responsible (a big if) most of them can save enough to provide for themselves through retirement. Sure, health care is a big problem that needs fixing. But it’s not our employers’ fault that insurance premiums have skyrocketed. Striking won’t make the cost of health care go down.

  10. I can’t say why Americans in general don’t strike more often. But I can say why one specific group – baseball players – doesn’t.

    Because three strikes, and they’re out!

    (Thank you, thank you. I’ll be here all week).

  11. So, I feel a bit bad about posting those quotes, which are a very interesting insight into our history, then following up with my oppinion in the next comment. I regret it, becasue I don’t want to appeal to those quotes as support for my position. My position is one of empericism and it may change. The Church’s position has obviously changed and I don’t want to conflate the two on this point.

  12. Right, you Yanks, let’s dispense with the bollocks, shall we?! :)
    Don #6,
    When were you on your mission again? Come on, man, times have changed. I heart the National Health Service. I’ll tell you what sucks. Try being a poor grad student in America with kids (me) for whom every trip to the doctor hits hard financially. (I cannot afford ultra-low deductible insurance. Poor old foreigner! But Tom, you know how this feels.)

    All of you,
    Move to Baltimore and watch the urban blacks get on their slave ships (buses) as they are shipped to their crappy, minimum-wage/no benefits jobs in the ‘burbs. White, middle-class Mormon Americans: of course life is good for you!

    Look, I admit, France is no model to envy. In fact, their propensity to strike pisses us Brits off at least once a year (if their air traffic controllers strike, it totally screws up all European air travel). Their unemployment and economy are not great. But America’s record on the working poor ain’t nothing to be proud of. And remember, “France” does not equal “Europe.”
    Note: I love America and would happily live here. I hate European America-bashing, but I also hate the scorn for European social ideals that gets peddled here sometimes. And believe me, Europe has come a long way since the 1970s. My standard of living in England will be the same as it is here, only without the Hummer or the McMansion. No great loss. And if I lose my job I won’t be worried about who’s going to pay if my kids get sick.

    /end Europhilic rant.

  13. Ronan, you make a very substantive point. The current US system is obviously failing in many respects.

  14. I am with Ronan. And so are the numbers.

    To be sure, we have the most innovative medicine in the world. Unfortunately, it’s also the most expensive and least productive health care system in the world. Even people in Kerala, India have a higher life expectation and lower child mortality than the United States.

    Check the data of wealthy states at the World Health Organization. The US is not even a close. Yet we spend twice as much per capita than the Japanese and the Germans who have a much older population.

  15. Ronan, I am now on the university committee that was responsible for making your kids’ health insurance even less affordable than it was previously. That was a joke of a decision that they made two years ago.

    I see the same crap in Baltimore that you see, and like I alluded to in my comment above, I think lack of opportunity for the inner city poor is our society’s most pressing social justice problem. And it’s a doozy. I don’t know how we’re going to fix it. But I think it is true that Americans in general, even most working class people (I come from a working class family–my dad was a janitor), don’t have a lot to complain about, especially if we compare our situation with our grandparents’ and great grandparents’.

  16. Frank McIntyre will be here any moment…

  17. I went to France once. They weren’t striking, but four different people still couldn’t be bothered to give me directions to the school where I was supposed to take the LSAT. Which is why, a few years later, I initially refused to yield my seat so a Frenchman could sit with his wife. If you thought I could be petty on a blog, try me on an airplane!

    I like Ronan’s point, though, about how quickly Americans are to pour scorn on French social ideals. I don’t know why it should bother us that workers in France want to work a lot less than we do–are they somehow free riding on our efforts? To me it seems American derision of French values is born more of a desire to feel superior than anything else. Not the worst thing in the world, perhaps, but kind of stupid in its own right.

  18. A cultural perspective of the French helps to understand their propensity to strike. Since the French Revolution, their government(s) have acnowledged that civil unrest is a perfectly legitimate form of protest.

    As far as public health spending goes, we do spend more on health care than everyone else. There are excesses and inefficiencies, but we also have innovation and excellence (if you can pay for it).

  19. The short answer to the question is that Americans do not strike more because in order to strike you need a union. In the United States, it’s very difficult to get a union.

    First, you need to get a majority of your colleagues to sign a document that they want a union. Even if the majority has signed, you still need an election.

    You have to conduct your campaign in a climate where your supporters are fired, basically with impunity. Your campaign workers are not allowed on the premises.

    At the same time, your opponents have lists of every voter, which they do not have to share. And best of all, the employers are allowed to conduct captured audience meetings where they can brainwash employees about the evils of collective bargaining.

    That’s why the wages and salaries of the median income have barely kept up with inflation. For the bottom forty percent buying power has actually declined (with the exception of the late nineties).

    (Sorry, I can’t find the Department of Labor stats at the moment. May be, somebody else has them at their fingertips.)

  20. DKL #8 is right:

    Americans work hard so they can buy toys.

    The French work less so they can enjoy wine and cheese and play boules half the day.

    Which would you prefer? The former? Good. God bless America.

    An aging population in France means this can’t last forever, but let ’em enjoy it while it lasts. Anyway, American toys (Hummers, McMansions) mean we’re all gonna be submerged under the melting ice cap, so who can blame them? :)

  21. Mathew (#17): ” To me it seems American derision of French values is born more of a desire to feel superior than anything else.”

    I think it’s also a matter of defensiveness. You hear a lot of talk about the evils of capitalism and how Americans are fat, lazy, stupid, barbaric, etc. (I know, I know, this isn’t the attitude of every European, but we hear the insults, not the praise (if there is any)). So we take a look at ourselves, feel like we’re doing just fine, thank you, and fire back. It’s great fun as long as no one gets hurt.

    What we need is more kids playing soccer so that we can become the world’s soccer power and stick it to everyone that way. We need World Cup trophies to point at and say, “Oh yeah? If we’re so fat and lazy how did we win that?!”

  22. Could it be that people in the U.S., regardless of their financial standing, tend to identify with ownership rather than labor? Or that we don’t think of labor and capital in adversarial terms? Last week I was in a Mixican restaurant and started talking to the vato bussing tables for minimum wage. He didn’t feel exploited at all – he had a plan that would enable him to own the place in ten years. Nothing wrong with that.

  23. Elisabeth says:

    Well, one area where the U.S. lags significantly behind the rest of the world is in providing paid maternity leave benefits. More than 120 countries provide paid maternity leave, including Haiti, but not the U.S.

  24. Come on Ronan! Admit it. You think that French students striking because they will not be guaranteed lifetime tenure at their first job until they have been there for two years are a bunch of carping frogs. Let your inner Francophobe out!

    There are actually two issues involve here. The first is the issue of labor mobility (how easy is it to hire and fire people) and the second is social insurance (what minimum health and welfare benefits are you entitled to). What is at issue in the French strikes is mobility, not social insurance. I am sympathetic to the critique of America that says we ought to put more money into social insurance. I am much less sympathetic to the attempt to defend the immobility of French labor markets by pointing to gaps in American social insurance. Even someone who think that we ought to have big transfer payments for the poor ought to realize that French-style job tenure is a stupid idea. Indeed, if you actually want to have big transfer payments what you need is a dynamic growing economy that produces wealth for you to redistribute. On this view, French-style limitations on labor mobility are the enemy of generous social insurance.

  25. Nate, as ever, reminds us of the real issue!

    Look what happened at this post, folks, it’s instructive.

    1. Elisabeth wants to bunk off work like the Frogs.
    2. Stapley quotes dead prophets.
    3. The Yanks get all uppity and slag-off 1970s English dentists.
    4. Ronan gets pissed at Yanks and goes on about social justice.
    5. Kaimi cracks irrelevant jokes.
    6. DKL tells us how big his toys are.
    7. Mr. Lotz agrees with his European brother.
    8. Nate reminds us that what the strike is actually about.

    Rinse and repeat.

    We see what we want to see. Why are those Frogs striking again? Dunno, but oh the schadenfreude! (Good French word. Or German. All the same.)

  26. rleonard says:

    hey elizabeth,

    Its hard for most of the LDS guys and gals I know to get worked up over maternity leave.


    In my ward almost all the women of childbearing age are SAHM. So the issue does not resonate with a lot of LDS.

  27. Q: What’s the only area of medicine where costs have consistently decreased over the past three decades?

    A: Elective medicine. It’s cheaper than ever to get a boob job, get a face lift, or get your eyeballs corrected. Funny thing: the government won’t fund it, and insurance won’t cover it.

    Ronan, you seem to think that your problem is that you can’t afford ultra-low deductible insurance. I have four young daughters, and I opt for the highest deductible that my work’s program will allow. My annual health care bill is smaller that way–and I have blown through my deductible every single year. In fact, I wish I could have a higher deductible. If I had my way, I’d get health insurance with a 5k or 10k deducible (both of which are substantially less than what I currently pay yearly for insurance).

    The reason it won’t work for me to go out and get high deductible insurance on my own is simple (aside from the benefit that my work offers by paying for a fraction of my insurance–frankly, I’d rather have the cash, but health benefits must be handled in a uniform manner): Americans cannot tax-deduct insurance premiums unless they are provided by work or school. Thus, if I paid out of pocket for health insurance, then I’d pay at least 1/3 more for my policy than anything I could get at work (other things being equal). Once that is factored into the overall expense, the option of getting my own policy is economically disadvantageous. This economic disadvantage reduces competition and raises insurance prices even for those who cannot get insurance through work (e.g., employees of very small businesses or part time employees). Moreover, the government limits the number of policies that a company can offer, creating a one-size-fits-all group of policy packages that don’t really satisfy anyone’s needs.

    Personally, I don’t want government footing the bill for medical expenses, because that makes private health choices (e.g., smoking, drinking, exercising, wearing a seat-belt) into political issues. These spheres should be kept as separate from each other as possible. Funny thing–the same people who cry and flail about the government “invading the bedroom” are the same ones who invite him into their (and my) fridge, medicine cabinet, and doctor’s office.

  28. Ronan,

    1. Well she’s a blogger, ain’t she?
    2. Would you rather be hearing about Zylene?
    3. Damn straight.
    4. It’s hard to get pissed when you’ve only got zero point Joe to work with, mate.
    5. My jokes are never irrelevant
    6. Mine are bigger than his.
    7. Germany and England agreeing – what’s the world come to?
    8. You’re right – it all comes back to gay marriage.

  29. Steve Evans says:

    Someone’s been visiting pedantic.com.

  30. Elisabeth says:

    Nate, the two issues you identify – labor mobility and social benefits – are not so easily separated out. If you allow for more mobility (and less job security), employees wind up with fewer social benefits – which generally increase with seniority (i.e., pensions). The protests and strikes are about both labor mobility and social welfare issues (as well as a reaction to Mr. Villepin’s shoving the new law through without consulation from interested parties)- not only to guarantee job security.

  31. Elisabeth: Yes and no. The link depends on how one structures one’s social insurance system. For example, one could uncouple retirement benefits from seniority — which the US has done through social security and 401(k)s. The issues are very much connected, however, to the extent that a generous social insurance program will only work if you have an economy that can pay for, and it is unlikely that an economy with chronic stickiness in the labor market can do it.

    I agree with you, however, that M. Villepin is a jerk. I think it goes with being a Gaullist…

  32. Elisabeth, pensions? I will probably never work anywhere that offers a pension. I doubt that most people ever will. Most companies now match 401k funds instead of providing a pension.

    Nate (and others), if you think that the protests are about social injustice or worker mobility, then you’re giving the protesters far too much credit. The protests are about vandalism and looting.

  33. Elisabeth says:

    LOL, Nate and DKL – I’m not making any claims about how the French labor and employment system SHOULD work. I’m saying that the new law undermines the stability of the current structure of both the French workforce and its social benefits programs – and this is why people are upset.

  34. Elisabeth: Even if you buy into the French system of social insurance (eg linking pensions to seniority) then the new law makes sense. By making it easier to fire new workers it increases the liklihood that they will be hired, and hence have a chance to get on the pension escalator. Under the current regime they face not a life of happily guaranteed lifetime employment followed by a generous pension, but no employment at all…

  35. Elisabeth says:

    Nate – makes sense to me. Tell that to all the people protesting in Paris (well, they’re probably asleep by now. At least some of them).  Young French workers are no doubt feeling even more frustrated and alienated without guaranteed job security and social benefits – even though your explanation makes sense. To clarify #33, I should say that the new law undermines the expectations of workforce stability and social welfare programs.

    And the French pension scheme alone is completely unsustainable given that country’s changing demographics.

  36. “…makes sense to me.”

    Then quite romanticizing French labor unrest forthwith ;->…

  37. DKL (#27), I think the issue is for students and the working poor that even with high deductible insurance one must meet the deduction. And many people live on very, very tight budgets. The costs are high.

    Of course a lot of this can be solved depending upon where you live. For instance you can get pretty amazing, comprehensive and cheap insurance in Utah. Go to California though and you’ll be paying through the nose for insurance, housing, food, and taxes.

    The problem is that many people just don’t want to move. Yet the job market in the US really requires you to be willing to move.

    Finally the biggest problem in the US is that many of the jobs that required little personal incentive/risk, required little education or intelligence, are simply gone as high paying jobs. They’ve either been outsourced, shipped overseas or taken over by illegal immigrants. That’s part of the fluidity of a global market. Yet what the US hasn’t dealt with is how to handle the people who can’t (or perhaps won’t) become educated sufficiently to get many of the jobs available or else can’t handle the personal responsibility of creating a business.

    DKL is right in that there are numerous opportunities out there. But one just can’t be quite as passive about getting them as one once could. And that social change just hasn’t been acknowledged and is leading to huge wage gaps and other societal pressures. As I recall in the US the upward mobility index is much less than most European countries. (i.e. how much the poor move up to become the middle class or rich) This is often seen as due to opportunities. But I personally think things are more complex.

    But definitely we are failing as a society and our failures aren’t just in the inner cities.

    Of course I do think France is in a far worst situation. It is going to have to compete more and more with other nations. It has 20 – 25% unemployement among the youth and far worse among minorities. And it doesn’t want to change.

  38. Elisabeth says:

    Vive Le Resistance!

  39. OK, OK, enough of this Frenchie-loving. And as for Hellmut and Ronan getting along, well, just don’t mention the w**.

  40. “Heaven is where the police are British, the chefs are French, the mechanics are German, the lovers Italian, and it’s all organized by the Swiss.

    Hell is where the chefs are British, the mechanics are French, the lovers are Swiss, the police are German, and it’s all organized by the Italians.”

  41. Actually, I have it on good authority (viz., the Bible) that Heaven is run by a Jew.

  42. Clark (#37): “But definitely we are failing as a society and our failures aren’t just in the inner cities.

    Do you mean that we have, as a society, have failings or that we get a failing grade overall?

  43. I think that we have failings. I don’t think we as a society fail. Overall I think we’re doing fairly well.

  44. BTW, when I was in Paris for a week for my 20th, it was delightful. So were the French, and surprisingly, they appear to have mostly left off smoking.

    Three course meals in the Latin Quarter for eight euros (tip and tax included).

    I was impressed, even if there are serious issues, much like ours with the deficits.

  45. Ronan, my fellow Marylander,

    Check out eHealthInsurance.com. They carry a plan of BlueCross CareFirst that has no deductible, pays 100% (after a $20 visit co-pay), and only costs my family of seven $538 per month. That’s not cheap, granted, but it’s a price every non-Medicaid-qualifying American family can afford. Families might have to reprioritize their budget (no cable subscription), but it’s worth it.

  46. May I make a late comment? I think Mark IV (comment #22) has hit the nail on the head. Most Americans assume they can one day become the man/woman in the front office and therefore don’t mind being exploited while they are on their way up the ladder. I am no expert on European labor trends but friends of mine who are from Europe tell me that blue collar jobs are also respected in Europe more than they are in the US. A craftsman or factory worker may be more satisfied with his/her job because they have sufficient benefits and because the work they do is valued in their society. That seems to be contrary to life in this country. When that status is threatened by changes, or proposed changes, in the social safety net, those workers are quick to strike or do whatever is necessary to maintain their status quo. I also agree with the comments that Europeans seem to “work to live” rather than “live to work” as opposed to the attitudes of most of my American co-workers.

  47. Elisabeth says:

    I also agree with the comments that Europeans seem to “work to live” rather than “live to work” as opposed to the attitudes of most of my American co-workers.


  48. Lamonte, people who work longer hours do tend to earn more money–disproportionately more money, in the sense that if they work 10% more they earn more than 10% more. There are exceptions to this, but it’s generally the case. For my part, if I took a job that could guarantee me 1/4 the hours I work now, I’d earn about half my current income. Moreover, Unionized blue-collar workers in America have shorter work weeks, better benefits, and more job security than their college educated, white-collar counterparts at the same take-home income level–these guys have no security at all since they’re just employees at will.

    In any case, I find your statement that most Americans don’t mind being exploited to be overly general, and the notion that this exploitation is somehow inevitably universal is offensive to business owners.

  49. In my preceding comment, I intended to say “1l4 fewer hours” instead of “1/4 the hours.”

  50. DKL – I agree that my statement that Americans don’t mind being exploited seems overly general. I meant to say that, ehoing Mark IV’s earlier remarks, American workers think of an ownership future rather than remaining in the labor force. In that regard they are willing to “be exploited”, meaning they are less willing to take to the streets and organize a strike in their workplace, because they see themselves in management position at some time in the future. I suppose if there were significant exploitation the workers would organize and find a way to express their displeasure but even in white color jobs, I have seen significant changes in the last fifteen years where workers have lost previously held security and benefits – losses that would cause quite a commotion elsewhere. But there has been little more than common griping. On the other hand I have noticed that employees seem to be much more mobile than they used to be and therefore it seems logical that employers are less loyal if their workers follow the same track. OK, now I’m rambling. It seems that at least in Europe (I know even less about Asia, Africa and South American work conditions) there seems to be less likelihood of upward mobility – both the possibility and the desire – because 1. There is more of a social safety net and 2. because the blue collar work is more valued. Their satisfaction with their current state of being makes them more likely to be protective of the security and benefits they have. And just a final point – I am disturbed by how many workers in my profession gauge their self worth by how many hours they put in at the office.

  51. Sorry for the multiple comments – just to conclude my final sentence above – no matter how many hours we work, in my office, we get paid the same so it seems to me that the goal would be to limit the time here and maximize my time away from here. But for many, it seems just the opposite.

  52. My mind is still reeling over whether Matt really thinks nearly every American family can afford $538 a month. I hope he was being sarcastic.

    And how much does he really think you can save by not having cable? This isn’t the first time I’ve heard the idea of canceling cable offered up as some panacea for economic woes and tight budgets in the bloggernacle. I’m not saying cable is necessary, but it’s an annoyingly simplistic opinion. Find me a decent health plan that doesn’t cost more than three to four times more of what even a premium cable package does. I will be impressed.

    It all illustrates how far removed the apparently quite affluent commenters are from the harsh economic realities that lead to strikes and labor movements.

    As a proud participant in an effort to organize the workers in my field I can only say that strikes are always a last resort, and I suggest that one reason they’re less common in America is that we’re such a litigious society. Contemporary labor movements have found that the law suit is a much more effective weapon against management.

  53. John Mansifeld says:

    These student protests are a counter demonstration to the immigrant riots of a few months ago. Guaranteed job security at the cost of 20% unemployment among 18 to 25-year-olds is a good deal for the university students because the unemployed won’t be them.

  54. Space Chick says:

    Funny, I recall hearing about teacher strikes, nurse strikes, and airline strikes over the last few years. Maybe those were all only threatened strikes, and never actually went as far as the strike itself, but I don’t think the strike itself is a dead concept in the US. And if the strikes were merely threats, then the issues apparently got resolved before the strike went into effect, which implies that the threat itself was serious enough to win concessions from the school district/hospital/airline involved. Are we sure Americans don’t strike because they don’t want/need to, or are we unaffected by strikes because grievances are addressed before they reach the point where it impacts the customers? Maybe the “establishment” in places where a strike is occurring refused to yield in time to avert the strike, and what we seeing is due to differences in how organizations handle employee issues, not how employees themselves behave.

  55. It seems to me that there are two reasons that we don’t have more strikes in the United States:

    1. Unions rely for their strength on the existence of legal rules that avoid the free-rider problem. The labor movement in both Europe and the United States long ago gave up trying to solve this problem by contract, opting instead for various legal rules that allow them to avoid free-riding without unanimity. Union membership in the US peaked in the late 1940s, which also happens to be the point in time at which the U.S. stopped passing laws making it easier to corrall workers into unions.

    2. Unions seem to require long term allegiance to a particular line of work. European labor markets are more static than American labor markets. As a result, it makes less sense for American workers to tie their fortunes to the International Brotherhood of Buggy-whip Repairmen.

    Of course, I am a member of one of the oldest unions around — the bar — which perpetuates a particularlly pernicious form of labor organization: the closed shop.

  56. I actually like Villepin’s labor law. The problem is that he rammed it through with special rules foreclosing debate. Consequently, people are taking it to the street.

    Things would have been different if the matter had been negotiated in parliament. Villepin could have used the debate to educate people, build report for reform, redesign the bill etc.

  57. jjohnsen says:

    Check out eHealthInsurance.com. They carry a plan of BlueCross CareFirst that has no deductible, pays 100% (after a $20 visit co-pay), and only costs my family of seven $538 per month. That’s not cheap, granted, but it’s a price every non-Medicaid-qualifying American family can afford. Families might have to reprioritize their budget (no cable subscription), but it’s worth it.

    My satellite subscription costs 1/12th the amount I pay for health insurance each month. I have a feeling you are on a far different budget than I am. Other than a mortgage, my health insurance is by far the largest cost I have each month. In fact, I could probably add up every other monhtly expense I have (water/electrical/gas/etc) and it would be less than I pay for health insurance. And this is after my company chips in a little.

  58. Slate has an article by another Elisabeth on the strikes. She pays some attention to the relveant economics of the youth labor market in France.


%d bloggers like this: