Posts Tagged ‘France’


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Special mention

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I missed this protest by Air France workers when it first happened. But apparently, in the days and weeks since, after five of the protesting workers were arrested, the tide in France has turned in their favor.

Many are baffled by the treatment being meted out to the five, who are all members of the CGT labour union.

They were protesting last week, along with hundreds of others, against imminent job cuts, before two bosses had their shirts ripped off, and were sent running for dear life.

Seven people were hurt in the attack, including a security guard who was knocked unconscious and required hospital treatment.

Although 38% of French people condemn the violence, 54% say they understand the workers’ anger.

According to the BBC,

Only France’s far left, and the CGT union behind the demonstration, came out in strong support of the shirt-rippers, with the union reiterating their “total support” for those arrested in the aftermath of the violence.

But then something interesting happened, says Gil Mihaely, deputy editor at current affairs magazine Causeur.

“The wind changed,” he says. “At first people were shocked by the images, but after the emotion died down, something changed. . .

Unions may also be an occasional lightening rod for a working class that feels increasingly powerless and invisible, but when it comes to violent revolt like that at Air France, says Mr Mihaely, the ruling class also bears some responsibility.

“The story here is not just the unions, it’s the French elites,” he says.

“That’s why we have the same re-enactment of the French Revolution – the aristocracy, the legitimacy of violence, the small humiliating the big.

“There are too many officers who were never soldiers,” he explains.

“When you have to announce bad news, every ounce of credibility and legitimacy counts. The future is less job security; it’s work more and earn less; it’s a smaller pension taken later.

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Today, as they have every year since 1889, workers around the world are celebrating International Workers’ Day.

They marched, for example, in Kuala Lampur and Dhaka (on the left and right above, respectively). And they attempted to march on Istanbul’s Taksim Square (but the government sent police and fired water cannons to stop them).

But workers around the world have also developed a new strategy: to take over the enterprises where they work.

In Turkey [ht: ja], for example, a subset of the 94 workers who were fired in January 2013 from the Kazova Textile factory in Istanbul eventually formed a worker-owned cooperative, Free Kazova. It is now in its third month of operation.


And, as the Guardian reminds us, many groups of workers in other countries—in Greece, France, Spain, and Argentina—are doing the exact same thing, taking matters into their own hands and showing they can organize and operate enterprises democratically, without the previous bosses and boards of directors.


Special mention

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Steve Bell 08.01.15

Special mention

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In a piece forwarded to me by a former student [ht: jm], the Economist reminds us of John Maynard Keynes’s 1930 prediction [pdf] that, in one hundred years, a new age of abundance and leisure would mean we’d have to do very little work—perhaps three hours a day, just “to satisfy the old Adam in most of us.”

Well, sixteen years shy of Keynes’s century, we’re still working many more hours than we need to. And not because we don’t know what to do with our leisure time. It’s because current economic arrangements are such that, to earn enough income for ourselves and our families, we still have to work (or, according to the information in the chart above from the American Time Use Survey, engage in work-related activities) more than eight hours a day—which leaves, on an average work day (and after sleeping, eating and drinking, taking care of our households, and so on) just 2.5 hours of leisure.


The problem of time lost doing work is particularly acute in the United States, especially when compared to other rich countries (such as France, Germany, and the United Kingdom). Starting in 1970, Americans worked on average fewer hours per year relative to other countries—and, while the total number of hours worked has decreased since then in all four countries, it’s declined the least in the United States (essentially having leveled off since 1982).

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And it’s not just a matter of “yuppie kvetching” as the Economist (and, earlier, Elizabeth Kolbert) argues—as if we were in a world of “time-poor haves” and “time-rich have-nots” (although the readers of the Economist might like to imagine themselves in those terms). As readers can see in the two charts above, the average annual hours worked by production and nonsupervisory employees almost perfectly tracks the annual hours worked by all employed persons in the United States (the difference in 2011 amounted to merely 24 hours per year).

The fact is, those near the top, who do in fact spend a great deal of their time at work, serve the tiny minority above them by making sure everyone else—the vast majority of the population—also spends a large portion of their time working and, in the process, creating much more value than they receive in their wages and salaries. Those hours—the many hours people spend working not for themselves but for the small group who own and control the enterprises where they work—that’s the real lost time we should be worried about.

And that’s what keeps the entire system—of a great deal of work and very little leisure—firmly in place, especially in the United States.

If only Keynes had been right back in 1930:

Of course there will still be many people with intense, unsatisfied purposiveness who will blindly pursue wealth—unless they can find some plausible substitute. But the rest of us will no longer be under any obligation to applaud and encourage them.

The only way to eliminate that obligation is for the people who work to have a say in how many hours they work and in what is done with the value they create while they work.

Otherwise, as long as things stay the way they are, the rest of us will continue our search for lost time.