Monday, June 3, 2013

Labor Day...

Labor Day is celebrated differently here in Europe than in the US.  It seems that labor is quite capable of reminding folks here of their value and purpose in culture and society.  They don't sit meekly in a corner somewhere wishing and hoping that an already wealthy corporate fat cat will give them a job.

Growing up in America, I learned that labor unions are corrupt, give away dues to politicians you might not like and, perhaps mostly importantly, union were not needed and only stood in the way of people making an "honest" living.  Mention was seldom ever made, however, as to corrupt corporate influences on government.  Nothing is done when banks feloniously launder drug money.  The media and "culture" were largely mute on these points.

Instead, there are web sites devoted to helping people find ways of avoiding unions, and others that try to passively explain the rise and fall of unionization in America.

In the mean time, corporate profits have risen to all time highs and America's labor pool has been left behind to try in live off the scraps companies throw their way in the form of low wage jobs and minimal social benefits. 

It has been suggested that the fall of unions in the US is a significant source of increased corporate profitability, but there are many dimensions to this issue.  This is not simply a "union" issue.  We need to consider the contribution of falling corporate tax rates to bottom line profits.  In cases where tax rates are deemed still too high, corporation have found ways of "sheltering" monies off-shore.  Where American labor is seen as too expensive, corporations have moved jobs and intellectual property to China.  This, even though it has been known for nearly a decade that the costs of engineering, product development, and manufacturing between the US and China were quickly becoming largely equal.

A view of the Eiffel Tower from America leaves one, many times, with a quaint feeling that "socialist" France is waging a loosing battle against "globalization".  Labor costs are (supposedly) high which, frankly, should leave French businesses in a lower state of "competitiveness".

Yet France remains the world's fifth strongest economy and France has done very well in spite of "globalization".

Reading Graham Robb's "The Discovery of France - a historical geography", I learned a little about France's "stage" apprentice system.  Guilds implemented an education approach that would lead an apprentice from town to town where they would study with the local masters in their craft.  After six or eight years the apprentice would return to their home village after having become, themselves, a master.

The "stage" system created the foundation for close knit groups of laborers and skilled craftspeople.  These guilds were to become the first unions in Europe.  It is easy to see that American labor does not have hundreds of years of history of sticking together, supporting one another, with or without unionizing.

Understanding how my skewed up-bringing has colored my view of the world, I wanted to see, first hand, what an active unionized labor force might look like.  Boy, was I in for a surprise!

First, labor unions here in Paris are proud.  They are proud of the work they do.  They are proud of what they accomplish.  Second, they are strong.  Their strength comes in numbers.  There is nothing like a huge manifestation (strike) to drive home a point.  Third, unionized peoples can occupy large, open, public spaces.  Groups are large enough to effectively shut off traffic from passing through la Bastille for a day or more.  Forth, unions bring forth a plurality of ideas, demands, and expected outcomes. 

Fifth, I saw something that, as an American, I had a difficult time putting into a nice neat framework of US cultural and media generated fear inducing commentary.  You see, in the US, potential "terrorism" is seen in the faces of anyone from an Arab or Persian country.  They're supposed to be angry Allah loving Islamists ready to blow up Jesus love'n 'merikans, right?  No.  Not even close.  They could care less about 'merika, except where family members had been killed or executed by political powers supported by the US.

Here were Turks,  there Iranians, Iraqis, and an enormous group of Syrians.  All singing, dancing, carrying flags, cooking great BBQ, handing out la lutte leaflets, and getting ready to participate in the parade that was forming to head off deep into the 11th arrondisement and parts uncharted.

In 2013, on May Day, Europe's Labor Day, I walked through the vast la Bastille occupying crowds.  I saw unions celebrating by BBQ'ing food for one and all.  I listened to a surprisingly wide variety of music (both live and pre-recorded).  I read a broad range of leaflets which described an astonishing number of luttes (struggles) contre legitimate forces of greed, political power, and corporate interests.

I could imagine American tourists who happened to be looking on saying things like "you fools, go get a job!", or "this isn't right!", or screaming "socialists!!", or "you're too damned expensive and deserve to have you job shipped to China!!!"  Living in the US, I've heard all of these things, and more. 

When I hear Americans in Paris saying things like "oh, not ANOTHER strike!  Don't these people have better things to do?", I want to remind them that this isn't the US and you can't expect things to work in the same (broken down) way they do back home.

I see France living out on a balancing act of UMP/Sarkozy, NF/lePen form of corporate greedists against a large active labor union environment where putting food on the table takes precedence over a PDG/CEO putting another few Euro in their pocket.  Corporate interests are held to a much higher standard than they are in the US. 

Things can clearly be tipped to the working classes.  After all, it has been several quite large angry groups of Parisian laborers who put to spike the heads of the rich bastards.  If that wouldn't put the fear of the masses into a greedy self-serving monied-man as a means of keeping him in line and doing the bidding of the people, I don't know what would.

No comments:

Post a Comment