Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Now What?

Yesterday's protests against retirement reform were large enough, it seems. Sarkozy en prend acte, says the Élysée, but will stay the course on pushing the legal age up to 62. But François Chérèque, appearing on France2 last night, exhibited the confidence of a gambler who believes he has a good betting hand. Meanwhile, a group of academics, union leaders, etc., is calling for a new approach. Of course many of these same voices have been calling for a new approach for a long time, and their voices have gone unheard.

In watching man-in-the-street interviews on TV last night, I had the impression that all the rhetoric surrounding the legal age had produced a distorted image in the minds of many of the demonstrators, who seemed to believe that they had to paint a rather desperate picture of the physical condition of the typical middle-aged Frenchman in order to "stop Sarkozy." There was a sort of surenchère at work: "In my job, you're worn out at 55." "A cashier on her feet 8 hours a day is washed up at 50." "Movers are afflicted with permanent back injuries by the time they turn 45." Etc. One can't help but notice a certain gap between this sort of rhetoric and the rather bland and unspecific call for a more flexible approach to retirement in the manifesto linked to above. As in other matters touching the economy, a basic effort of education seems in order. People need to have a better grasp of the life cycle of work, the handling of these issues in other countries, and the kinds of work that older workers are and are not capable of doing. Because surely these vociferous protesters are overplaying their hands when they suggest that not only should the legal not be raised to 62, but 60 is already too high.


Kirk said...

Since this whole issue of "pénibilité" has come up, I've been saying that each group is going to claim that their job is "pénible" and deserves some compensation. It's a Pandora's box, and a huge mistake to open it.

Example: yesterday on the news, somone was claiming that his job in a call center was "pénible" because of the pressure. Heck, mine is rough because of all the typing I do every day, and the fact that I'm seated most of the day. But wait, standing 8 hours isn't good either. (I'll call that one out: I've worked in retail, and while it's a bit tiring, it's far from "pénible", and if anything keeps you in shape).

So what we're going to see in France is a battle for every single job to be judged as "pénible." And, since a 10% disability will give you the right to retire early, doctors will be filling out disablility forms for anyone who asks, as occurs in the UK. (The country with the highest level of disability, but I don't know if it's related to retirement.)

In short, the "republican principal" of equality is being overturned here. The French have always told me that everyone is to be treated the same. I'd often asked where there are no AP classes in schools, or classes for slower students, and it was this false "equality" that was cited as the reason.

But now, some workers will be more equal than others, and this is going to lead to extremely complex negotiations, and, perhaps, fighting among unions.

While it's clear that some jobs are certainly more "pénible" - firemen, minors, night workers, and some others. But if cashiers and call center employees start claiming that their work is more difficult, this issue will become tainted with corporatist claims.

After all, I'd think that office workers, who deal with much stress, probably have a tougher time than, say, people who have physical jobs (though not highly stenuous ones).

You hear people cite the fact that "ouvriers" don't live as long as others, but is this because of their jobs, or because they are in a certain social class where they, perhaps, smoke and drink more, exercise less, etc.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Found via Twitter: "
A Montbéliard, 6000 manifestants selon les syndicats, 6000 selon la police. Demain le préfet du Doubs est muté aux Iles Kerguelen"

Less funny, Schneiderman answers the "now what" question:

And the answer is: unions choose to back off.


Anonymous said...

Eric Raoult, Art's favorite thinker (;p), defines "Rom",11776.html

Domenach on CanalPlus believes that people are angry and worried and that it means the "pension reform protest movement" is just starting.
Unlike Schneiderman, then.

Of course, today's news also include Bernard Tapie who was already supposed to get 50 million euros in a fairly shady deal, is actually going to get 210 million. Not likely to make people certain the governement's out looking for their best interest.
Even Laurence Ferrari dared stare at Eric Woerth when he repeated "I'm not lying, I never lied". (Ferrari, who's usually sweet and can be relied upon for softballs: "even when you said you hadn't written that letter we've got a copy of?")
In a Marie Antoinette-worthy delicious move, Jean-Marie Banier went to the protests to gawk and was surprised someone took it the wrong way. Never anger an already angry French worker in a protest. ;-) Especially if you intended to take pictures of the "little people" like an artist-tourist in a zoo.

Anonymous said...

Kirk's right: right now we have groups claiming that the mere fact one is a woman qualifies for pénibilité:
On the other hand, under the proposed system, 80% women would have to retire at age 67, and sexism is still rampant in French companies (enough to make you aghast, like "of course you pay a male engineer more than a female engineer, HE doesn't have a spouse who works to put food on the table" , or "aesthetic" criteria used to hire women, or questions about age, personal situation, etc during interviews....)

Kirk said...

Let us not forget that women have longer life expectency, so if we want to base retirement on such things, they should retire _later_ than men.

This said, I don't know how it is in France, but in the US, pensions for women are slightly lower because of the life expectency. (I worked in pension plan administration in another life.)