Monday, October 17, 2005

Unraveling

In the USA the past few years have seen outsourcing and offshoring take their places among the leading methods for companies to improve their bottom line. Too, not a day goes by but that more bad news on the economic front hits the front pages: venerable companies thrown into receivership and bankruptcy, pension plans cut or eliminated altogether, companies looted by amoral executives, blue- and white-collar employees laid off in their thousands.

Still, media in the USA trumpet to the (endlessly ?) gullible American public that they have never had it so good. Still, the USA dares to hold up its indebted economic model as the one to be adopted by others, even though the quality of life in America, for the many, is manifestly regressing, not progressing. (One has only to visit after an extended expat sojourn in Western Europe to see for oneself, alas). Still, misinformed (or ignorant, or malicious, or simply bribed … one wonders ...), deskbound American newspaper columnists and partisan media outlets laugh at France, pillory the French, denigrate French solutions, deride French concerns and relegate France and its society to the "losers" column – without fully realizing (or caring) just how good daily life for the "common man" is in France, compared to other countries, including the USA.

This is not to say that everything is perfect in France, of course – oh, far from it ! Low cost excellent healthcare and free education for everyone are hardly the only yardsticks of success, after all. Nevertheless, it is glaringly obvious that in both France and the USA, for basically the same reason ("competitiveness"), the social safety net is being unraveled. Decades of consensus and acknowledged social partnership are being thrown into the trashcan in a frenzied race for "economic performance" – a concept couched in the easily saleable and apocalyptic term "survival".

In France, the unraveling (le détricotage) is called la perte des acquis sociaux ("the loss of social entitlements"). With globalization, immigration, European Union expansion, unemployment and public safety, it's right up there among the leading causes for French unease, discontent and gloom. It's one of the reasons the French voted against the European Constitution, since it has become apparent to many French people that the European Union, with its insistence on "competition" and "free markets" - neither of which are conducive to maintenance of the social safety net à la française - is indeed part of the problem and not just the solution.

Here's a simple example of what's happening in France: British Airways (BA) – which posted 300 million euros in profits for fiscal year 2004 – has embarked on a worldwide costcutting program. Among the measures is the outsourcing of ground operations at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. From January 1, 2006, ticket sales, passenger and baggage registration, boarding, business client services, and aircraft handling/refueling will be entrusted to a subcontractor. BA will be sacking about 190 employees outright … and transferring approximately 400 employees to that subcontractor, Globe Ground. These employees will work every day where Globe tells them to work that day, and not necessarily at BA.

Globe has promised to maintain the salaries of the transferred workers – but has also sworn to renege on the collective bargaining agreements signed between the workers' unions and BA.

So, concretely, just what will the workers lose in January; straight away ?

- their bonuses linked to their individual job performance;
- their bonuses linked to company profits;
- their commuting/travel allowances;
- their restaurant tickets; and
- their uniform allowances.

The unions estimate that these losses represent, from 300 to 600 euros for those workers earning between 1200 and 1300 euros net per month, depending on the individual and her/his seniority. That's somewhere between 23% to 50% of earnings. (No prizes, by the way, for guessing which airline employees marched in uniform – a first !- during the demos at the beginning of the month.)

The BA story above sounds like it could have happened in the USA, of course. So what ? Why is it so "French" ?

Every day, on TV and in the press, the French are informed that yet another small brick in their societal edifice has been reformed and remodeled to the detriment of the people - and the commonweal, i.e., the structures in the society. Both in the USA and France, the unwinnable race to the bottom is on, thanks to "competition". Quite simply; the French social model, for all its failings, has a much longer way to fall to reach that bottom, since the quality of life in France for the common man was better to start with than that in the USA.

If one multiplies the BA story a tenthousandfold, one can see that the destruction is enormous. At least some of the BA workers still have a job, which is not the case for thousands of French men and women. From the average French person's perspective, what is taking place is not acceptable.


L'Amerloque


Text © Copyright 2005 by L'Amerloque

3 Comments:

Blogger Jean said...

Well said! The commentary in the US on France is biased and based on a lack of understanding often combined with bad faith. I am not only talking about the obviously slanted commentary on Fox. Sad to see that France has become a straw man and a whipping boy for conservative idealogues in the US.

12:28 PM  
Blogger Moms' Style said...

It seems to me that Europeans in general are aware of their place on the economic ladder and the value of their real assets: That is to say a worker in France knows she is a worker, who does not own the means of production and therefore she, as a worker, must make the best bargain she can for her labor- whether the worker in question assembles aeroplanes in Toulouse or writes sophisticated computer code in Grenoble. Americans have been hoodwinked into believing that they live in a classless society wherin anyone can become the boss one day, so it is best to give the boss the deal she wants, because tomorow you may win the lottery and be the boss. The fact that it is far more likely you will fall through the cracks and lose your health insurance or your house is hidden from people. The American ideal of a classless society has been turned into a tool of the powerful to obtain whatever they want from the weak. The promise of opportunity has made the weak comliant, while assuring that in tomorrow's America only the strong will survive.

As for Americans turning the French into a whipping boy ... it is because the French are the only Western country trying to mount a resistence against American-style, winner takes all, loser eats dust, regime that they must be derrided.

12:32 PM  
Blogger jean said...

Your are right, mom's style. This is what underlies the need for certain elements to continually berate the French. If the French model is acknowledged as remotely successful, the American winner-take-all model cannot be viewed as the only reasonable alternative. France is the neocons' worst nightmare.

3:36 PM  

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