Monday, May 01, 2006

Plumbers

About a year ago the French people were called out to vote in a referendum, to approve or reject the proposed treaty establishing a European Constitution. With a result of 45% in favor and 55% against, the treaty was defeated.

Many people and various institutions around the world were surprised - even outraged - at the French vote. Some asked "How could a founding member of the EU reject the Constitution ?", while others warned that this rejection would "send the wrong message to other European countries" and, moreover, might "sound the death knell of the European project" . In June, 2005, one Olli Rehn, a "Member of the European Commission, responsible for Enlargement", went even so far as to lay the French vote at the door of "exaggerated fears", ridiculing the French people:

…/… In such an economic context, it is no wonder that people are prone to exaggerated fears of global competition and labour migration. They resort to that famous phrase of decades past: “Stop the world, I want to get off!”.

However, most of the perils attributed to enlargement or integration are in reality consequences of economic globalisation. It is not Jacques Delors and the EU but people like Michael Gorbachev, Deng Xiao-Ping, Manmohan Singh and Fernando Enrique Cardoso who responsible for bringing some 2.5 billion people from China and India, Russia and post-communist Eastern Europe into the capitalist world economy in the last two decades! …/…


Amerloque wonders indeed at this member's education and training, as well as at his supposed grasp of "globalisation". His fatuousness, coupled with his disdain for the people he allegedly works for, beggars the imagination, in Amerloque's view.

In the international media, France was portrayed as a conservative, arrogant country: it was asserted that the French had voted out of "fear" (voyons !), "xenophobia" and "refusal to change" and that they would "lose their influence in Europe". The non vote, quite simply, was portrayed as a "disaster".

During the debates and discussions which took place during the runup to the vote, a wide variety of facts, theories and extrapolations was devised and bandied about to incite the French voter to vote oui or non. As Amerloque pointed out in his 2005 year-end roundup:

Probably no concept during the debates preceding the referendum symbolized the apparent stake as much as "the Polish plumber". This mythical character symbolized all that was "wrong" - in reality or by hyperbole - with the European Constitution, and, by extension, the Europe of today: "social dumping". Workers from the newly-admitted Eastern countries would be able to work throughout Western Europe ... but only be paid salaries at the same level as those their "home" countries, thus undercutting local (French) artisans and workers and throwing them onto the unemployment rolls.

Ever alert to its image in Western Europe, and especially in France, with which it has historic ties dating back many centuries, Poland caught the ball on the bounce after the "non" vote and turned "the Polish plumber" into a clever marketing ploy to attract tourists.





The Polish Tourist Agency's travel poster, showing a handsome young fellow dressed as a plumber saying "I'm staying in Poland ! Everyone come visit !", was brilliant. It was a given: no Polish plumbers were coming to France !

Guess what ? It's May, 2006 and it turns out that a) the Poles lied and b) the French voter – at least he or she who voted against the adoption of the European Constitution – has been sold down the river once again.

In a few lines on April 4, 2006 the International Herald Tribune stated baldly that the French job market would soon be undergoing dramatic change. The attentive reader was able to see:

France will open its markets to workers from Poland and other new EU member states, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin assured his Polish counterpart Monday. Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz was in Paris for talks on economic ties, liberalizing France's labor market and a European-led peace mission in Congo. He was to meet later Monday with President Jacques Chirac. (AP)

Fast forward to this weekend. For the past several days, the French media (enfin !) have been speaking of the "opening" of the French market to workers from the "new member countries". It turns out that the "plumbers" are coming to France anyway, in spite of the clear French vote ! Not only the plumbers, by the way: something like 61 job classifications have been opened. Workers are on their way for the construction and building trades, hotels, catering and food service industries, agriculture, mechanics and metalworking, sanitation and hygiene … and "commerce" in general. From the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Hungary, Slovakia, and, of course, Poland.

Of course, the rationale behind this probably massive influx of labor is that "there are thousands of vacancies in such jobs". Companies are allegedly, repeatedly saying "we cannot hire enough people to do these jobs" and "these kinds of jobs are unfilled". Well, sure: a lot of these positions are demanding, tiring, badly-paid, no-future positions. The "economic theory" behind this move is that workers from the eight new member countries will be only too happy to be bricklayers, farm workers or dishwashers, say, in France, since the salaries that are paid in France are five or six times higher than the amounts they would earn in similar positions in their own country. There is supposedly no question of these workers' being paid the remuneration prevalent in their home countries: they are to earn the French minimum wage, and are not allowed to work "off the books". The fact that some of these countries, such as Latvia, are undergoing a brain drain appears to be secondary to the Eurocrats and their followers. However, it's hardly a minor issue to the Latvians and to the governments of other countries in the same boat.

According to the statistics regularly issued by the French government, unemployment in France has been hovering around the ten percent mark for a number of years: some union sources even regularly declare that the "real" jobless rate is between 12% and 13%. Quite a few individuals and press organs put no faith in the government numbers, believing them to be massaged and expurgated in various ways so as to show "progress" in the latest "fight" against joblessness. Over the past twenty-five years – for there has been a chronic unemployment problem here for at least that long – the French have become quite used to the government's shifting the employment figures from column to column. Both the "Left" and the "Right" have played with the results, which are frequently nothing more that attempts to portray "successes" where none existed.

Recently the French government proposed a First-Job Contract, the CPE, designed to foster the hiring of youths under 26 years of age. This was because "youth employment" was allegedly the "highest" in Europe, well "over 20%" (a precise figure of 26% was quoted in some media). Amerloque (and others !) was certainly surprised: students were included in this astounding figure. Students, by definition, are not looking for work: they are studying. If students are not counted in the French unemployment stats, the jobless rate for the 18-to-24 old bracket comes out to be something like 8%, which is 20% less than the 10% overall jobless rate. Yet the government went ahead with its CPE, which was finally revealed - given the government's lack of arguments - as an attack on salaried workers' job protection, with a bit of age discrimination thrown in for good measure. After weeks of demonstrations – mostly by students - the government withdrew its initiative.

Alas, there are unfortunately places in France where one can find a very high rate of unemployment: in the cités (the "projects"), among immigrant youths. In some venues, it exceeds 50%. This is a tragedy both for the youths and for French civil society. The CPE was designed for the youths in the projects, so as to help them obtain a foothold the job market. As a matter of interest, joblessness was one of the main causes of the spectacular riots last autumn: they were about chronic unemployment as much as they were about racial discrimination, exclusion, general anger and frustration, sheer boredom, emulation and cop-baiting. Since these events, the government has thrown millions of euros into the projects, in various forms, including job training schemes.

Wait a minute. Hang on, here. These training schemes for unemployed immigrant youths are concentrated in the very same sectors that are being opened to workers from the eight new EU nations: construction and building trades, hotels, catering and food service industries, agriculture, mechanics and metalworking, sanitation and hygiene, and "commerce" in general ! Whoops !

What conclusions – at least relating to French society and government - can be drawn from all or some of the foregoing ? Amerloque sees at least three, all fairly clear-cut:

1 - By opening the French labor market to even more foreign workers, the current French government has demonstrated that the ballot box apparently doesn't matter. The huge non vote on the referendum has not been taken into consideration. Many French people simply won't appreciate this, at all.

2 - Street movements and demonstrations, such as the recent CPE fracas, can manifestly cause the government to cave in. "Oh, don't listen to what we say - watch what we do !" seems to be the current credo. Hardly an inspiring method of governance. "Who sows the wind …", goes the saying.

3 - There are elections coming up, both Presidential and National Assembly. Once they put the "Polish plumber" bit back into the teeth of the domestic political equation, the extremes on the left and right will be the beneficiaries. The "Polish plumber" is a reality, not an imagined or exaggerated fear. The political center, already under attack, will crumble even more.

Other issues might arise, too, most notably:

1 - When the French petit patron (a term for the self-employed entrepreneur with a small firm) has a choice between hiring a non-white youth from the projects and taking on a white worker from one of the new member countries, either one being paid minimum wage, what is going to happen ? Which will he choose ? What will the criteria be ? (motivation ? or training ? or color ? or undeclared labor ?)

2 – How will the government respond if immigrant, French youths are shoved to the side (or perceived to be thrust aside) in favor of these new, non-French workers ? Will these French youths sit idly by ? How long ? Then what ?

3 – What will the answer be when the accusation of "racism" arises, as it inevitably will. The "racism" will take the form of: "France should welcome these white, Christian Europeans. They will offset the non-white, not European, Muslim immigrants". (Far fetched ? No, Amerloque heard it en ville only this week… from individuals in the political center.)

Ca promet, as the French say.

What really hurts is that this latest "opening of the labor markets" (aka "the race to the bottom") takes place today, May 1st. It's the French Labor Day, which is supposed to celebrate gains in the workplace, not losses. Traditional French syndicalistes, who for decades and decades worked, suffered, and sometimes died to improve the lot of their fellow workers, both male and female, must indeed be spinning in their graves at this version of European "progress".

Of course, today is also the day when one offers a lily-of-the-valley to one's beloved. At least one can console oneself with a brin or two, while not forgetting that such apparent beauty and rightness is poisonous - like the EU for France.


L'Amerloque


Text © Copyright 2006 by L'Amerloque

6 Comments:

Blogger Cellequilit said...

Hello, Amerloque.

Cellequilit finds the whole Europe-thing to be like some horrible dream from which one CANNOT wake. Elections, votes, referenda, etc., all meaningless window-dressing.

The technocrats have decided what Marianne needs and that is what Marianne shall have. (She'll thank us for it later, you'll see!)(She says no, but she means yes. How could she not want what we, the technocrats, want so much?)

A truly cynical person would merely point out the bags already packed, the airline tickets and the passbooks to Swiss bank accounts tucked safely away along with the deeds to manors in Quebec. (Just in case things get a little hot, you know: ça passe où ça casse.)

Sorry for the bile. Something has evidently gone wrong with Cellequilit's medication. She's going off for bit of a lie-down now.

Better-natured e-mail to follow in a couple of days.

3:56 PM  
Blogger Cellequilit said...

Ahem, "a bit of a lie down", Cellequilit meant. (She returns cold compresses to her forehead.)

6:02 PM  
Blogger Pumpkin Pie said...

Very nice post, L'Amerloque! I must say that I agree with you almost word for word.

I am worried about the future of my new country. I am not a fan of the EU at all.

6:19 AM  
Blogger Sandrine said...

Hello L'Amerloque,

Very interesting post...

I personnally feel european, and around me, people feel the same. We were really sad when the "no" won last year. It was such a stupid thing, we were completely devastated and also very sad for our country.

I do appreciate to be able to travel all around the European Union, just with my ID card (I still don't have any passport). I appreciate the Euro, the currency, even if the prices raised a lot. It was new and it was new for so many countries at the same time, that we felt strongly european (and so happy about that feeling) when the euro arrived.

I of course don't want the polish plumber to take the job of a french one, but hey, if it costs less money, then I'll hire the polish guy (if he does a good job of course).

I'm more worried concerning the people from the banlieues. And I had the same problem with the CPE (I was against), why would a boss hire a black or arabic looking person instead of a white one, for the same wages ? French people are xenophobic, and it is true ! They won't change unless they are forced to. And it's obviously not for tomorrow.

3:45 PM  
Blogger Tomate Farcie said...

Thank you for that informative post, Amerloque, and thank you, too, Cellequilit for making me laugh out loud!

12:30 PM  
Blogger Frania W. said...

Well, as you say, L’Amerloque, ça promet! Et où va l’Europe dans tout ça?

The opening statement of L’Amerloque’s “Plumbers” reminding us of last year’s referendum of the European Constitution, made me go back to the years immediately after the end of WWII & review “le chemin parcouru” from the proposed creation of a peaceful, united Europe, up to the referendum of May 2005, rejected by France & the Netherlands. I wanted to understand why one of the pillars of the creation of Europe (France, whose former president, Giscard d’Estaing, wrote the constitution) rejected that constitution, which brought me to the realization that the two countries of Europe where people like to argue the most, France & the Netherlands, rejected the constitution. And since these people are far from being stupid, there must have been a reason… In my eyes, this rejection does not mean that the making of Europe is impossible, but it means that Europe is not going to be created by forcing it down the throats of people. Since the Romans, there have been several attempts at making Europe a united entity, or rather, a united “something”. Charlemagne almost succeeded, but his sons saw otherwise. However, the modern reality is that, over one thousand years after Charlemagne, the making of a united Europe is difficult because of the well-established “countries of Europe”, each with its own language and making of cheese. These countries have taken centuries to arrive at what they are today, unlike the United States that was formed from an “empty” land & with a desire to make it one country in a very short time, and with one language. The same arguments used for the creation of the “United States of America” cannot be used for the creation of “United States of Europe”, the processus being reversed - hence the choice of name "European Union". However, with the reality of globalization, if it does not fall flat on its face, the fact is that the countries of Europe will have to get together in order to save every one of them from the modern Attilas. As I see it, the Polish plumbers will come to France, and if, aside from being cute, they are good at being plumbers, why not? The real problem will be the assimilation of the others, the ones that are not Europeans & non Christians, and whose immigration is looked upon as an invasion. Which brings us to L’Amerloque’s “third issue that might arise”: 3 – What will the answer be when the accusation of "racism" arises, as it inevitably will. The "racism" will take the form of: "France should welcome these white, Christian Europeans. They will offset the non-white, not European, Muslim immigrants". (Far fetched ? No, Amerloque heard it en ville only this week… from individuals in the political center.)

11:40 PM  

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