French Workers Hold their Boss Hostage: Why Do the French have an Uppity Middle Class and We Don’t?

This just out…

french-worker-imagesThe workers are being helped by 500 supporters who are protesting outside and are bringing them food.

Why do the French protest and we don’t?

First, the reason why the French shouldn’t be protesting. If they lose their jobs, they have long and generous unemployment insurance and a solid welfare system after that. They won’t lose their homes, go hungry, or end up living in the streets.

If their life’s savings are wiped out in the market, they still won’t be destitute in their old age, because their equivalent of Social Security for old age pensions is strong – when you get old, you’re safe.

If they lose their jobs they don’t lose their health insurance, and their health care system is among the best in the world. And they won’t have to pull their kids out of school or college, because public education – all the way to a PhD or MD – is free or close to it for intellectually qualified students. For those who want to pursue the trades, trade schools are also free.

We have the opposite – if we lose our jobs, we’re broke, homeless, future-less, and in danger of dying from lack of health care. We have to pull our kids out of school. We literally can die from lack of a job.

Which, counter-intuitively, is why they’re protesting in the streets and we aren’t. They have the kind of security we were approaching in the 1960s and 1970s when we were at 35% unionization in America. So they know that if they get arrested and can’t make it to work or school the next day, losing their job or being kicked out of school isn’t a disaster. There are always other opportunities.

We, on the other hand, have succumbed to the plan that Reagan and Greenspan put in place in the early 1980s to prevent any future “unrest” or “instability” among the middle class. Conservatives in the ‘60s and ‘70s in the United States and the United Kingdom saw all the protests in the streets and were horrified. These people had too much safety, too much security, and thus too much of an attitude. As Alan Greenspan bragged in 1997 to The Wall Street Journal, he saw his job aas head of the Fed starting back in the 1980s as being first and foremost to “prevent wage inflation.” That’s code for “keep down the middle class.” He talked about how whenever the economy got too good, he’d raise interest rates, slowing down the economy and raising unemployment, to maintain a “certain level of insecurity” among workers.

So now the American workers and students are fearful and docile, the victims of 29 years of Reaganomics. To a large extent, Thatchernomics produced a similar result in the UK, although their social safety net was so strong before she came into office that her damage to it wasn’t as bad as the damage done by Reagan to the United States.

We should look to the French workers – and the broader situations of their lives – for some lessons about how to reinvent America in a way that rebuilds a strong – and occasionally uppity – middle class.


Scotth (not verified) 13 years 50 weeks ago

To make everything sound so simple is so easy. It is not. The one thing you are missing here, and it is the fundamental building block of society, is who is paying for all those benefits? The other peice you convieniently gloss over is no jobs, no unions, and thus no benefits. I think former Russia is a very good example of this.

Quite frankly, I hate unions. I was born and raised in a union household. My dad is a show steward. They are die hard union supporters, but the see the folly of the union. It strangles the business. I would not be close to where I am today if my company was union.

In my opinon, Unions are for lazy people; people that are to lazy to better themselves. Unions make everybody the same. I thought liberals think everyone was unique. Seems to me this goes against the indviduality concept of a liberal. I am not the same as the guy next to me nor do I want to be treated like the guy next to me. I am willing to stand on my own two feet to prove it. I am willing to work harder, smarter and faster to get that bigger raise. I don't want my potential capped, or anybody's else's potential, earnings or otherwise, capped because of a contract negociated by someone I don't know. The common point between a person and all their problems is the person, not everyone else.

In the USA, we are free to go and get another job. If you don't like the job your, get another one. If you can't get another one I think it is time for some self evaluation. If you want a raise, earn it. A person does not deserve a raise just for showing up to do their job. A raise is a reward for good work. In the real world this is called the risk/reward ratio. Unions remove the risk/reward ratio and therfore reduce the desire to improve and become more efficient.

The perfect examples of this concept are Welfare and Medicare. Welfare receipients have no desire to get long term employment. If they can get a job for a few weeks, or months, they can quit and get back on welfare. If there was no safety net, you bet your bottom they would be working somewhere to get some food. With medicare, there is no desire for a doctor to go the extra mile on any customers. They get paid the same as the next doctor for their services even though they could using 10 year old techniques and technology. Worse yet, they could be a poor doctor, but they are again treated the same as the best doctor.

It is the reward that drives people. For some it is tangible, like money. Others, it is intangible. Either way, unions take away any and all incentive to get better. With the advent of the internet and global trade, every person is now competing with every person in the world, not just the guy across the street. Answer these questions: If your not getting better at your job, why should management keep you around? What is your value add to society and the business? If your not getting better at your job you will be out of one soon enough. Maybe that will be the incentive you need to get better at your job.


lonnie l. (not verified) 13 years 50 weeks ago

I have been a union member for many yrs. If it were not for my union it would be very difficult for me to get med. coverage for my children or pay for there college.
The gap between the rich and the middle class has never been so great, I make a good liveing wich is not in the interest of the corperations i work for. if they had their way I'ld be a minimum wage TOWERCRANE OPERATOR. is that what you want a person in charge of one of the most dangerous pieces of construction equiptment, who has not had the benifit of a comprehensive training program.

Tom thank you for being an advocit for the little guy.

Kristopher (not verified) 13 years 50 weeks ago

I am a veterinarian and my fiance soon to be wife is an M.D. and I can categorically say that if your doctor is only using the best techiniques and is in practice because of the potential to make more money then he should nto be a doctor. A good Dr. is one who does it becuase they care about their patient, not their pocket book. I don't presume to understand your ideas about morality, but I think it's probably safe to assume that if the best dr. in the US refuses to treat you because you can't afford his services you would think he is an amoral ass, and he would be, but that is the system we have right now. If you look at France, doctors are paid more not based on their precentages (therefore doctors don't deny patients just becuase they are higher risk) but on principles any doctor can get behind in good conscience, such as getting a higher precentage of his patients to quit smoking, or to lose weight, etc. You need honestly reevaluate your entire premise and I am sure you will discover that it is completely false.

Danny (not verified) 13 years 50 weeks ago

Scotth -- You paint a caricature of unions. I know that the difference between the French being free to protest and the U.S. workers afraid to do the same is the strong French unions that stand up to abusive bosses and protect the workers against unfair tactics. The effect is that even non-union workers are free to protest, too.

belletiane (not verified) 13 years 50 weeks ago

There is one thing that I think is not correct in your title, "the uppity middle class." In France workers are not considered part of the middle class and indeed they are not. Their salaries, their life styles are quite different from the real middle class.
I would venture to say that the middle class, in a large majority, disaproves of the action of occupation of the factory, as it is called., though perhaps less now that widespread anger is mounting over increasing disparities, unemployment and general sense of insecurity. This perhaps explains the increased amount of saving. in spite of the fact that there is an extremely low rate of return.
The unions lost much of their influeence with the collapse of the communist party and outsourcing of jobs to Asia but still come to the front when there is social unrest. At any rate social change rarely occurs in France through negociation.

Lee Hirz (not verified) 13 years 50 weeks ago

I don't want the last word to go to someone who so obviously a right wing hack spouting hateful, disrespectful words. I am sorry for him.

It is not true that union people or the French are lazy. This person clearly doesn't understand the idea of social contract and has probably never read Rouseau. The way people live today requires a social safety net. It is only recently (within the last hundred years) in this country, that is has become impossible to exist outside of the political realm of our social contract. 100 years ago a person that wanted his freedom could go into the outlands, hunt start a farm, climb a mountain and survive on nature.

Nature was the social safety net and it is no longer accessible. That is why the homeless crowd our cities. There are no unowned lands where they can live off of the bounty of nature. In order to be free people need to have some security and that is why it is important to have a minimal level of guaranteed support. It is the level that has always existed and has never stopped mankind from progressing.

Almost all human beings want more from life than just be be fed and sheltered. They want respect. They want to fulfill their end of the social contract, which is to contribute to the well-being of their fellow men, brethren, countrymen.

Lee Hirz (not verified) 13 years 50 weeks ago

BTW: Thom needs an algorithm that randomly orders comments so that the first or last comment isn't alway the first one read, so that each comment is handled with equality.

TracyG (not verified) 13 years 50 weeks ago

My husband is an active Teamster. He drives a city bus. Without the union, he would probably be making minimum wage and have no benefits. Blue-collar workers need unions, especially government employees, for the simple reason that labor is considered an expense. When company expenses increase, or when a company is failing, what is the first expense to be cut? Not the CEO's six- or seven-figure bonus. Usually not even the salaried employees in middle management. The first employees to be cut are those on the bottom. Without unions, company management has little to no incentive to pay employees a living wage or give them decent benefits, unless they choose to do so out of the goodness of their hearts--which let's face it, many of them don't. And many people assume what Scotth has assumed above--that these low-wage employees can just go get another job if they want to. Really? In this economy, where are they going to go? I live in North Carolina. We have an 11 percent unemployment rate here. Does anyone think that one in ten people in my state *choose* to be unemployed, or are too lazy to work? We were a strong manufacturing state at one time, until some greedy CEOs discovered that they could ship operations to China and pay a 10-year-old a dollar an hour to produce the same goods that American adults were producing here. This started in the early 80s--as Thom has often mentioned on his show, this started with Reagan, who in my opinion is the worst President we've ever had and ruined the country.

As far as incentive: it is hard to have incentive or drive when working for $7 an hour for an oppressive or even abusive employer. It is hard to go back to school and learn new skills when you are having to work two jobs just to keep a roof over your head and feed your children. This is why Wal-Mart management is so afraid of unions, and had meetings back in the fall in which they told their employees not to vote for Obama. What are they afraid of exactly? That they wouldn't be able to force their employees to work overtime without pay anymore? That they might actually have to pay them a decent wage?

It is *illegal* in North Carolina for state employees to enter into a collective bargaining contract. That goes beyond ridiculous. That is immoral. It is no wonder that state employees' benefits decrease year after year.

Thank you, Thom, for sticking up for the laborer who often has no voice. I enjoy your show. A lot of good common sense there.

Allen (not verified) 13 years 50 weeks ago

It's also "illegal" for state employees in Virginia to enter into collective bargaining. We haven't had a raise in a number of years. In fact a Virginia General Assembly Senate Committee came out with a report several years ago that stated that state employees in Virginia in general, were over 17% behind the private sector in compensation.

Thom thanks for standing up for the lower and middle class.You are truly a Renaissance Man.

Dori (not verified) 13 years 50 weeks ago

To Scotth,
Please be careful. A lot of ppl break their arms patting themselves on the back so hard!
And where do you get your "facts" about welfare recipients? Everyone was so sure things would really change when AFDC became TANF and got a 2 year limit. Turned out there wasn't much change at all because most ppl are only on it for 2 years max anyway. Turns out, hmm, they didn't need you hard-wrkg know-it-alls to make sure they went to work after all. gee. Maybe most ppl actually like to work.
Maybe you aren't so special after all, Scotth. Sorry if that hurts a little, but maybe I saved you a broken arm.

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