Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

What’s French for Strike?

At this point, it’s safe to assume there will be a strike by French public workers more often than the Olympics come around (though, interestingly, they never seem to coincide). Taking none to kindly to proposed reforms by Nicholas Sarkozy, who wants to cut back on pensions that allow public employees to retire at 50 — oui, 50! — railway folks have called an open-ended strike.

Reports the Beeb:

Rail employees stopped work at 2000 (1900 GMT) in an action expected to affect thousands of commuters.

Utility workers are also set to strike. They may be joined by teachers and civil servants on 20 November.

The next few days will be a real test of the French leader’s nerve, reports the BBC’s Emma Jane Kirby from Paris.

“Tomorrow is going to be a hellish day for travellers and perhaps for many days beyond that,” Labour Minister Xavier Betrand warned on Tuesday.

That view was echoed by Prime Minister Francois Fillon who told parliament: “Millions of French people will be deprived of their fundamental freedom, the freedom of movement and even perhaps to work.”

Some cue the translator to say Thanks Union Bosses!

The problem of unionized government employees threatening to bankrupt the public purse or flex to much influence is by no means limited to France. The UK’s Tony Blair warned against government union power, and the problem persists in America (see: Enron by the Sea).

UPDATE (11/14): Reuters adds this quote from a displeased French woman:

“I’m pretty hacked off about the strike. Why? Because my husband is a truck driver, who drives 14 hours a day, who has no bonuses, who has five weeks paid annual leave, who will retire at 60. And he says nothing,” said Christine Meyer, a traveler at Gare de l’Est station. 

Categories: Entitlements Crisis