Friday, October 26, 2007

French Unions

French labor relations are indeed peculiar. The rate of unionization is extremely low, under 8 percent. The frequency of strikes has been diminishing steadily. Yet workers have every reason to be unhappy. Wage compression in France is also extreme. The ratio between the wages of the first and fifth income deciles is significantly lower than in most other industrial countries. In other words, wages are unusually concentrated at the low end of the scale. Compensating somewhat for this is a relatively high minimum wage (SMIC).

Might France's skewed wage structure have something to do with its system of labor relations? A Le Monde op-ed today raises the question of occult financing of the unions by employers. Denis Gautier-Sauvagnac has admitted the existence of a secret slush fund at UIMM, to be used for "lubricating social relations." Yves Gattaz, former head of UIMM, has said that the system has a long history. Laurence Parisot, the head of the MEDEF, has spoken of the revelation of "family secrets." The Hadas-Lebel Report documents the opacity of union financing. The question thus arises: What are employers getting for their money (the sums involved at UIMM appear to be colossal)? Might the answer be wage compression?

ATTAC noyauté?

ATTAC, which has been hamstrung by internal turmoil for some time, has just lost four more of its top leaders, "convinced that they no longer have a place" in the organization, which, according to them, has been taken over by a mixture of "indigènes de la République, SUD, members or sympathizers of LCR, and a few trade unionists from the CGT and FSU." Quite an assortment of infiltrators!

The Poverty Map

Le Nord, Bouches-du-Rhône, and Seine-Saint-Denis are centers of poverty in France according to a new INSEE study. For a map of poverty, see here.