Following up on my last posting about the brinksmanship of digital camera manufacturers, I think it only makes sense that we move on to discussing French politics. As the French transportation strike lumbers on into a second week, Sarkozy still has done nothing about it, leading to questions as to exactly what he’s up to. Given that he’s not known to take a low profile with regard to anything, let alone running the government, the only thing people are certain of is that he is up to something. One theory, as reported in Time, is that he’s simply letting the two sides soften each other up, watching how the negotiations play out before he steps in and saves the day with a compromise. Too boring to be a plausible explanation for politics in France, if you ask me.
While acknowledging that speculating about French labor policy is about the last thing I’m qualified to do, I think I have a good guess as to what he’s up to, and I hope I’m right. He’s not waiting for a compromise to present itself, he’s waiting so that the government doesn’t have to compromise. By letting the strike drag on, he’s letting the frustration of the people fester while they bike and walk and beg rides into work for weeks. Sarkozy knows that even the most hardened leftists get blisters. He is not going to act until he has the support of the people of France to hold a hard line against the strikers, and I doubt it will take much time for that to occur given the political climate for change and the shaky state of the financial system in Europe. Solidarity with the workers will soon start to soften, eventually giving way to outright resentment for bus drivers who are willing to compromise the livelihood of their fellow workers so that they can enjoy retirement perks not even well educated French white collar workers have. Ã‰galitÃ© has its limits, even in France.
The influence of unions has been suffering a prolonged and well-deserved death in most of the world. Organized labor long ago exceeded its useful life as an idea, and most unions have grown into lumbering self-destructive concentrations of power, abused by their corrupt leaders at the expense of their own rank and file (not to mention society as a whole). As western countries see their industry flow east, and inflation eat away at real incomes, people are starting to have little patience for welders who expect the security and pay of tenured university professors, or airline pilots that make $250k for about 90 days of work. And prospective union members are rightly starting to wonder about the level of security that could possibly be offered by an institution whose numbers are so rapidly dwindling.
Sarkozy was elected to reform the French economy, and the unions are a good place to start. As the strike lingers on, he smells blood in the water. So do the unions, apparently, except they don’t realize it is their own.