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French labor tactic-kidnapping

Friday 24 April, 2009

I don’t know if you caught this article by Greg Burns in the Chicago Tribune France boss kidnappings: Workers considering hostage-taking just a part of labor negotiations but I found it quite interesting.  Where I depart with the author is where this action fits in the greater scheme of things.  For Americans, it’s a big deal because French laborers “kidnapped” American managers.  For the French, this isn’t as big a deal that the workers sequestered their bosses, wherever their headquarters lies.  My point is, because of broad general differences, we look @ this same situation quite differently.  The main difference in my mind is the general differences in orientation of the economies in Europe & America.  Across the pond, labor still occupies a much larger share of mind, while here, all that matters is rampant consumerism.

In Europe, the economy revolves are the worker, while in the US it’s centered around the consumer.  When living, working, & traveling in Europe, there were many times when I, & many colleagues, accepted slower customer service to be understanding of the plight of the waiter, clerk, or retailer.  Labor has a seat on the board of directors of firms in a number of countries.  Although declining somewhat, unions still play a much greater role there.

In the US, workers are replaceable parts, to be simply jettisoned at the 1st sign of economic trouble.  Firing workers is comparatively easy & done often.  After shareholders, the consumer is king, & all efforts of the business are focused on serving consumers.  Employees are a much smaller part of the equation than in Europe.

There are advantages & disadvantages to these mentalities on both sides of the Atlantic.  Many products are more expensive in Europe because they are locally produced by more expensive labor.  Consumers pay a higher price for keeping their laborers employed.  Because they have less labor flexibility, many new manufacturing jobs are going to eastern Europe & elsewhere.  Americans pay the cheapest prices for many products not only for their economies of scale, but also flexibility to buy from anywhere in the world with cheaper labor.  Consumers get the advantage of lower prices in exchange for American workers losing their jobs.

fyi-I’m in no way endorsing keeping the boss in the office against his/her will, just recognizing that part of the outrageousness attached to it is biased against the European favoritism towards labor.

So while we’re outraged that bosses @ American firms have been detained, for the French, it’s no big deal.  Their workers’ rights might have been violated & therefore they may get much more consideration than they would get here in the states.  These situations take place in context, & our American writers aren’t recognizing that.

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