Hope For France

It seems as though France has found another young girl to lead them from defeat – as 21-year-old Sabine Herold leads a fight against the entrenched French union system.

With schools and government offices closed yesterday, Channel ferries halted, and airlines cancelling most of their flights to and from France, Mlle Herold called the union members "reactionary egotists"

They "claim to defend public services but are just defending their own interests", she said.

With her pale blue mascara and long eyelashes, she makes an unlikely Joan of Arc. But her words have found an echo in large protests by students and parents against repeated strikes by teachers and threats to disrupt this summer’s exam schedule.

She has also become an emblem for the many in French society who believe that economic reforms are long overdue. She blames President Jacques Chirac for caving in repeatedly during his career to union pressure. The many British travellers who have been affected by the strikes in France can only hope her campaign succeeds.

Mlle Herold has taken a brave stand for ending the endemic problems caused by France’s unions. Her influences?

Since then, she has been devouring the great texts of "classical liberalism", seizing on thinkers such as Hayek, one of Margaret Thatcher’s favourites, and wondering where France went wrong. Liberal conservatives are a rarity in France where the Right-wing parties are much more centrist than in Britain or America.

Well, if you mean "socialist" by "centrist" then yes. The Telegraph‘s biases aside Mlle Herold’s principled stand for real reform is badly needed in France. The unions are making life miserable for millions of French people, and it is time that someone stood against the unions and the endemic corruption in the French government.

4 thoughts on “Hope For France

  1. Au contraire, unions are a vital component of civilized economies, and the only way that the excesses and inherent dysfunctions of the free market can be effectively countered while still maintaining a capitalist system. Just like corporations or any other empowered institution, unions are prone to a level of corruption and self-servitude. They also make their share of mistakes, and French unions are a clear example of that. I also admire the peasants of France for having the stones to stand in solidarity towards a power structure who would benefit from their disempowerment. If only more Americans were bright enough to figure the dynamic out, perhaps more Enron and WorldCom employees wouldn’t be in soup kitchens these days, with their former pension funds paying for Ken Lay’s new mansion.

    But if this wet-behind-the-ears 21-year-old ideologue thinks she’d be better off without them, she’ll have plenty of opportunity to discover the glamorous world of non-union labor as the tentacles of the global economy continue to strangle economies with a high quality of life, including her own. If she honestly thinks erasing unions will solve France’s short-term and long-term economic problems, she should realize that her labor will be priced out of existence union or non-union, as long as it’s being done within the borders of France. The ideal that the world would be a better place and jobs would be preserved if union employees take a pay cut is less relevant than ever in the global economy.

    At one level, I can understand her frustration. The financial pyramid of France (and indeed all of the Western world) is collapsing around her and she knows she’ll be buried by it. But to embrace the return of either Thatcherism or the 19th century values it was based upon as a solution has more than 100 years of history screaming at her to look for other solutions. Whether she (or other misguided ideologues from the right around the globe) hears the screams of the ghost of plutocracy past crying is yet to be discovered, but the future of civilized society depends on it.

  2. I doubt she’s advocating the elimination of unions, but rather a reduction in their power – considering that they are putting a stranglehold on French society, it’s a call that needs to be listened to.

  3. Jay, you’re on to something here, which one of us had better tackle before the topic gets cold!

    France’s problem is the same one Margaret Thatcher tackled in the UK 20-odd years ago; Unions are a perfectly good thing (I’m a union member myself), but when they start writing the laws themselves – when they make themselves a legal institution, or exempt themselves from restrictions to which other institutions are subject – they can become gravely dangerous.

    I don’t know that I’ve heard anyone credible actually call for abolishing unions. But then, that’s not what spin is about, is it?

  4. Europe is the only place where unions are strong. Here in America, an increasing number of workers are perfectly intent to piggyback on the accomplishments of unions from previous generations and accept the fact that they’ve “outlived their usefulness”. Meanwhile, their employer takes advantage of the lack of organized oversight over their business transactions enabling him to loot pension funds and slowly erode benefits. It’s hard to tell where an effective balance would be, but certainly there has to be an effective middle ground between Americans playing the cowboy riding their horses straight into Death Valley, and the French unions who paralyze their economy.

    And Mitch, by the way, you would find thousands of Americans who want to eliminate unions, and I bet hundreds of them reside on Capitol Hill. Just listen to the rhetoric and judge for yourself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.