A French Lesson

In the comments under this post, dearieme makes the following remark:

It’s not that The Young are radical, though they certainly are prone to hysteria (American influence?); they don’t want to pull the whole system down. They are conservative; they think that the present system is just hunky-dorey but they want to replace their parents as beneficiaries of it.

I fully agree with this, and was indeed the point I was trying to make. What is interesting is that there is a precedent for this, albeit we must cross to my side of the channel to see it.

Back in 2006, Dominique de Villepin, the French prime minister, attempted to relax the country’s notoriously inflexible labour laws in the following manner:

The law is intended to encourage the hiring of people under 26 by allowing employers to dismiss them without cause within two years.

Youth unemployment in France was, and still is, very high mainly because once a company hires somebody they are impossible to get rid of. Therefore the incentive to hire a youngster with no experience or track record is low, and companies prefer to hire a handful of graduates who studied sensible subjects in the top universities and forget about the rest. De Villepin was an experienced and well-regarded politician – no bumbling amateur he – and believed that by allowing companies to fire any youngster they took on who turned out to be useless they would hire more of them. In other words, this change in the law was ostensibly proposed in order to benefit students.

So what happened? This:

A 36-hour strike, which began Monday night, set the stage for demonstrations in more than 250 towns and cities across the country that brought more than a million people into the streets, according to the police. Some of the labor unions put the figure much higher — at close to three million.

The worst violence occurred in the heart of Paris, as the demonstrations were winding down and groups of youths confronted the riot police. One police officer was reported seriously injured when a large firecracker thrown by protesters exploded in his face. The police eventually turned to tear gas and water cannons to clear the protesters away.

The turnout was the largest since protests against the new law began last month, gradually backing Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin into a corner. France’s students and unions are demanding that he rescind the law, which he pushed through Parliament without consulting the public.

The main opposition to de Villepin’s law aimed at helping students find jobs came from students themselves. The message was clear: France’s unemployed youth don’t just want jobs, they want jobs with exactly the same terms and conditions their parents enjoyed. If they can’t have this, they prefer to be unemployed. The proposed law was scrapped and little has been done to address the problem. A graph of France’s youth unemployment in the years since looks like this:Perhaps Macron can succeed where de Villepin failed? Time will tell.

At the time I though the French students were utterly deluded, but an illuminating post written by the now-silent Oilfield Expat made is worth considering:

In effect, France’s major corporations often seem more like an employment vehicle for the graduates of their grandes écoles than commercial enterprises.  And as with the government and the electorate, stuffing the upper echelons full of well-connected elites results in a huge disconnect between the management and the workers.  For it is largely true that, no matter how hard one works and how brilliant one is, you will never surpass the chosen few from the grandes écoles in terms of promotion and prestige.  For sure, many try, and considerable efforts are made by the company management to convince the ordinary folk that if they show sufficient compliance, obedience, and work themselves to death they will be admitted to the hallowed ranks of the chosen few.  But in reality, they are being sold an absolute lie.

What we are seeing in France is the result of workers having realised that they are being treated like second-class citizens in the workplace by a small bunch of privileged elites who have been parachuted into management positions for which they are wholly unsuitable, and have decided that they need to get aggressive if they are to have any share of the spoils.  No wonder France has militant Unions that demand ever-increasing benefits for their members when the ruling elites treat them with such contempt.  They’d be pretty foolish to rely on the good nature of this bunch to take care of them: they’d end up with nothing.

Perhaps the British youth feel the same way about their own ruling classes?

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9 thoughts on “A French Lesson

  1. Hmm that may go someway to explaining why Frances Tax Freedom Day doesn’t occur until late July.

    As for the British youth and say zero hour contracts the demand is sky high, although some like Corbyn and the press criticize them. Some also say that it was the youth that led to Labours increased seats in the recent election. Without hard data its hard to say as somebody may just be promoting their biased view, a view that can actually work against their very own interests.

    We have created a position in our firm called “Assistant XXXXX” which intentionally falls outside of our registered employee bargaining agreement and any other industrial instruments. I was visiting a site in a regional area today where we have two youngsters employed under this arrangement on $50k per year with no maximum hours. One of them just started yesterday and had replaced another Assistant that didn’t work out after two weeks trial, both of them seemed fairly enthusiastic about their job and career outlook.

    Scrapping minimum wage and employer termination clauses exposes youngsters to far more job opportunities that will accelerate their career paths far better than would otherwise apply under a traditional workplace agreement. I think that kids with potential will see it that way as well. Vested Interests and the MSM may not but that will eventually work against both of them in the long term.

  2. Yep. French youth gripe endlessly about being on “stage” after “stage” – a stage is the French for a temporary traineeship/internship.

    Part of the thing is that people want the security of not being liable to firings/redudancies at will etc. What they just don’t grasp is that the quid pro quo for that is that you have to be very very productive in an organization that is productive and risk averse.

    There’s an excellent reason why Sophia Antipolis “a.k.a. Silicon Valley on the Riviera” (according to its boosters) has less than half a dozen actual local start ups and a heck of a lot of larger corporations. You can found a company in France relatively easily but as soon as it gets over various thresholds (50 is the biggie but there are, IIRC, others at 5 and 10) you get swamped with required paperwork and a complete inability to downsize if sales go south.

  3. “no matter how hard one works and how brilliant one is, you will never surpass the chosen few from the grandes écoles”: I knew a bright young Frenchman who got a lectureship at Cambridge. He told me that he’d never have got the equivalent job in France because his first degree was from a humdrum French university.

    “But you have a Cambridge PhD.”

    “They wouldn’t care about that.”

    Mind you, I had to point out that there was no equivalent job in France. 🙂

  4. “They wouldn’t care about that.”

    My outfit sees Oxbridge as being equal to polytechnique. Anywhere else – Manchester, for example – and you might as well have left school at 16.

  5. Macron (grande école, international bank, socialist finance minister) has pulled off the trick of being an insider but persuading the electorate that he’s an outsider.
    A harder task will be to persuade employers to give CDI contracts straight out of education or unemployment. It’s even hard to terminate someone useless before the CDD period is up.
    So naturally employers fish in the pool of workers who’ve already got some proof of diligence, i.e. they are already employed.
    One minute we’re told his government is radical, the next that it’s technocratic. Do the French know what his policies are? No.
    Half of them are going to furious when they find out.

  6. The curse of the “droits acquis” (acquired rights) which can never under any circumstances be challenged, even if the economic situation which sort of made them possible at the time has ended.

    I do not know of any other country where the youth (as in high school age) were demonstrating in support of “la retraite” some years ago (as in, do not change anything).

  7. As for the British youth and say zero hour contracts the demand is sky high,

    They were a response to the minimum wage. Just as whatever fudge follows zero hour contracts will be a response to the banning of zero hour contracts.

  8. One minute we’re told his government is radical, the next that it’s technocratic. Do the French know what his policies are? No.
    Half of them are going to furious when they find out.

    Yup. And I bet we’ll not hear a peep from the metropolitan Blairites in the UK who are currently singing his praises.

  9. You can found a company in France relatively easily but as soon as it gets over various thresholds (50 is the biggie but there are, IIRC, others at 5 and 10) you get swamped with required paperwork and a complete inability to downsize if sales go south.

    Oh yes. You need the CE, cafeteria, RTT days, union involvement in management, etc.

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