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.

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