A column in the April 5 New York Times asks whether perhaps the once widely-hailed "philosophy" of Henry Ford, dubbed Fordism, which argued that paying workers higher wages so they could afford to buy the goods they made, is no longer an appropriate economic operating principle for America.
Putting aside whether Ford ever really believed that idea, or whether fair pay was ever really the practice in America, it seems to me the real question of the moment in the U.S. should be why young people here aren't taking to the streets along with their French counterparts to demand better treatment from employers and the government. A second question might be why the U.S. labor movement isn't out on the street with them.
French young people are angry that they face 20 percent employment, and they're angry that the government's "solution" to this crisis is a law that would allow employers to fire them "without cause" any time within three years of their being hired.
Young Americans face similar jobless rates, but forget three years' probation; they can be fired any time throughout their careers without their employer having to give a reason. Heck, they can be fired for having the wrong bumper sticker on their car in the company parking lot. The only people who cannot be fired casually like that in America are the 9 percent who still have a union, and even then, it's getting increasingly easy for the boss to give workers the sack.
Why the militancy in France, and the lack of it here in America?
We Americans like to think we're tough. And lately, we've taken to characterizing the French as sissies. But when it comes to gumption, young French people have shown us up. They're not taking this abuse. They may not drive around with "Fear This" stickers on their SUV windows, with gangsta rap blaring, but they're bringing the French economy to a halt by sitting on rail lines, blocking trains, by blocking major traffic arteries, by closing down the centers of major cities.
American workers, in contrast, are bemoaning their declining wages, watching quiescently as companies declare fake "bankruptcies" in order to void long-standing pension obligations and union contracts that leave them facing old ages of penury, and signing up for "retraining" programs so they can go from $25/hour automotive jobs into $6/hour burger saleswork--if they can even find them.
Americans are voting into office political hacks who then endorse trade agreements that subsidize the export of jobs to low-wage, anti-union countries like China, India and Indonesia, who gut worker rights here at home, and who in myriad ways act to empower and enrich the rich and the corporations while disempowering and impoverishing working people.
France remains one country where lifestyle and culture are valued. French people still insist on taking time to enjoy life, on having vacations when they are most enjoyable (summer), on receiving a fair wage, and on having some security in one's job and health. Here in the U.S., we Americans are working longer and harder every year even as our standard of living falls, no one is secure in her job, health benefits are being gutted and our hope of retirement security is being undermined by political charlatans and an administration that is bankrupting the country with outlandishly expensive imperial wars.
The youth of France are standing up and fighting against the effort by a conservative government to Americanize their economy. Good for them!
When will we Americans wake up, take to the streets, and demand that our economy be humanized?
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