Monday, May 28, 2007

Reply to Francisco on Unions

Francisco wrote (for full comment see previous post):

I wanted first to thank you for the blog. It's so clearly and stylishly written, and it really fills a niche for accessible, sophisticated commentary about France in English.

I'm a bit perplexed that more of a commenting community hasn't grown up around it. I think there's a kind of blogospheric Gresham's Law at work here: it's hard for a blog to attract an audience unless it's dominated by 2-line posts full of snark and irony. It's sad, but it's the way it is.

Many thanks, Francisco. I, too, am hoping to read more comments. I know from the logs that many people are reading, more than 1,500 to date, and quite a few are returning. So perhaps the replies will start coming.

Francisco continued:

One aspect I'm hoping you'll have lots more to say about is the Labor Union's dilemma between negotiating and manifesting. If I'm understanding correctly, Sarko/Fillon's whole plan is to guarantee minimum service during strikes precisely in order to declaw the unions and tilt their incentive structure away from the street and into the negotiating room. (Right?) The goal here is to avoid getting Juppéd, I think.

Now there's a lot to go over here, a whole complex of questions I'm unsure about. The first seems to be about identity: labor's self-image in France seems to be so strongly centered on the mythology of the street, it's difficult for me to imagine they'll forego that route entirely. And Sarko himself seems to want some sort of "baptism of fire" - he seems to cherish a win in a symbolically charged battle with an epic opponent in order to mark a break with the past. So isn't this "minimum service" skirmish ultimately more about ensuring the government's eventual success in a perfectly foretold confrontation than about avoiding that confrontation in the first place? Would Sarko/Fillon really be gratified by a kind of bureaucratic path to the reforms that doesn't even throw up any usable street footage for the TV cameras?
I'm not sure that any of these premises is correct, except that Sarkozy certainly doesn't want to be Juppéd. He already has a tough-guy image, so he doesn't need to break the Air Traffic Controllers as Reagan did or demonstrate that he's an Iron Gentleman in the Thatcher image. I think he'd rather demonstrate that, having arrived at the Elysée, he has other dimensions as well. The unions went into their meeting the other day loaded for bear, having been miffed, or pretending to be miffed, by Fillon's deadlines, but they emerged in a far more docile mood, suggesting they liked what they heard. You mention the mythology of the streets, but the unions by themselves haven't achieved much in the streets in decades, and on minimum service I'm not sure they want to count on others to go to the mat for them. The single labor contract is a another matter, and a far more complex negotiation.

Le Pen conceded the other day that he had underestimated Sarkozy. I think one way to underestimate him is to assume that "usable street footage" is what he's after. Confrontation suited his purposes when he was minister of the interior, but a president has many ways to keep his image before the public and doesn't need to appear with his jaw jutting on every occasion lest he be mistaken for weak. Sarkozy shed a tear at the Resistance memorial. He's seized any number of opportunities to soften his image. And I think he's a crafty enough commander to know that you win battles by engaging the enemy where he doesn't expect to find you.


Quico said...


I'm still learning here, so it's great to have such an in depth response.

I'm not much of a game theorist myself, but a couple of people in my graduate program are working on dissertation on sequential games where the outcome of the first game yields the rules to the second game - and it sure seems like Sarkozy's staged approach to reform could yield a few dissertations along those lines.

I'll pick one medium-related nit with you, though: when you write something like "but they emerged in a far more docile mood, suggesting they liked what they heard" it's imperative that you provide a link! That's the whole point of the blog format - y'know?

Just a bit of advice from someone who's been around the blogging block a few times...

Anonymous said...

i have just begun reading you, referred by the nice folks at TNR -- (and we share a profession, i being significantly less famous than you but translating for people you know) -- and am delighted with the perspective you bring to stuff, esp. (par exemple) the stuff about the reduction in size of the fillon gov't & what sarko is planning & doing (on tremble) -- i am in fact counting on you for interpretation of some things i still do not understand after 30 yrs in france, a cheval entre paris et nyc.

you rule.