The Phileas Club 139 – Special: Striking in France

On this episode we talk about:

  • Strikes and demonstrations in France
  • Issues with the current retirement reform
  • And more!

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  1. Hi Patrick 🙂 Great episode. It was great to be able to see both side of the argument for once. Until now, I have only seen people from one side of the debate speaking between themselves. It was great to have Cassim.

    There are several point I disagree with. (I’m usually pro-Macron). Before starting, tax often comes in the debate when talking about policies in France, and IMO, there isn’t much more we can expect from them. See here: . Taxing the rich to give to the poor is great, but in France we kinda are at the maximum. We should find other ways to help the poorest. Which brings me to my first point:

    – You say Macron should have started by the more left reforms. I know people are actually unconvinced by this, IMO the most effective way to support the poorest is education. Education obviously for the young, but also for people trying to evolve in their carreer. One of the first things Macron did when he arrived in power, even before reforming the working laws, is to divide the maternelle class size by two. This is starting to show in results. He did other things. It’s not has memorable has a tax change or suppresion of course, but he did things.

    – He actually learned from the gilets jaunes: communication is required to govern. Hence, he started the negotiation on the pension reform since last summer. (And by the way, I believe there was also negotiations with the CFDT union on the working laws. Although more low key.)

    – I’m actually not sure the wealth tax removal was such a great idea. Even though Macron would say he didn’t really remove it since he kept the tax for real estate which I heard kept about 80% of its revenue (number to check). As I said above, revenues from are already quite equal in France. The main point from Picketty is that *capital* is very unequaly distributed. (Although I didn’t read it, I believe that’s what Picketty 2013 book is all about.) And thus revenues from capital (real estates, company dividends etc…) is very unequally distributed. Much more to say on this, and I don’t have a solution or even reached a firm opinion on this myself, but I’m saying a wealth tax isn’t actually so stupid.

    • Ah thanks for the details and comments Valentin. I think both Cassim and I tried to be as conciliatory as possible (while remaining true to ourselves of course), so we’re bound to have missed a couple of points I’m sure. I didn’t realize the work Marcon did on early education, and while that is indeed a great change, it’s not as direct a measure on the daily lives of the poorest, which I think is the main issue there. All of it also has a lot to do with perception as well, but as we’ve learned that does matter. I don’t quite agree that Macron has learned his lesson from the Gilets Jaunes crisis; we could argue about it but the fact that his – since we’re talking about that – image is so bad is all the proof we need… I get he might be treated unfairly, but that’s the game he’s in, and on image at least he’s not winning. And finally, while the issue I have with the tax is more of a philosophical one; I don’t like the double taxation of taxing income AND then taxing wealth. Once you have something, once you’ve paid all your dues and participated in society (proudly) and have helped everyone, then the thing you have is yours, I don’t like the idea that you have to give a bit of it to someone else every single year. I think that’s fundamentally unfair and asking too much. I would much rather have a different way of taxing income (higher, to make up for it), than this. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective again though… 🙂

  2. My idea to finance a retirement system where we could retire at 60 (and maybe earlier 🙂 ), but this would work only in an ideal world :

    >> Government should stop pretending to fight tax evasion, especially corporate tax evasion.

    I understand tax rates are part of a country competitive advantage, but we can’t have within the same free trade region (EU, US), countries/states with 10% taxe rate, when the other are at 30-ish

    If EU consider itself as a common space for its citizen, it should be able to tell Ireland to raise it’s tax rates, while other countries would decrease theirs, so we all have the same tax rate.
    Money gained would be considerable.

    Now, if Ireland can’t sustain with normal tax rates, again, if EU considers itself as one single region, wealthier countries should contributes to solve Ireland issues.

    • Haha I think that would be the ideal situation, but unfortunately we have to deal with reality, and that is not an attainable goal, at least in the short term… I touches on federalization and the EU countries’ sovereignty, and that’s a can of worms I don’t think we want to open further right now. Mind you, I’d be all for it and I think it would solve a lot of those issues, but again, we have to contend with the world we have to get to the one we want… 🙂

  3. Thanks again for this great episode!
    About unions: it is important to understand the (major) differences between unions in Europe and in North America. Or, as far as I know the subject, between USA/Canada and what I know of France or Germany.
    I have been thinking about doing for a while, following some of Patrick’s comments on unions on Phileas’ Club and Le RdV Tech. Even more with the last episode. I hope it will help all of you better understand how unions works on our side of the Atlantic, and why we cannot really compare them. Or compare them knowing the differences. It will be more about Canada, but it is close to what happens in the USA – with Canada having way less anti-union laws.
    In Canada, union is per plant/building, not per sector or type of work, in other words, I cannot choose to be affiliated to one union of my choosing like in France. I can either work in a place that is unionized, in that case, I have no other choice than to join the union, either I in a place that is not unionized, well, in that case, I cannot join by myself a union. It is very important to understand that unions go per plant/building: one company having 3 plants will have 3 different unions, which can, or not, be under the same national union. But in one “building”, it is possible to have many unions too, depending on the composition of the workforce. For example, where I work, professors, clerks, janitors, blue collars, post-doc and lecturers are each in a different union. As far as I know, the professors are not with a national union, but clerks and blue collars are. This variety of unions in one building is very typical, but not limited to, of universities, hospitals and all levels of government. But there will always be “silos” between the type of employees that are included or not in the union in one “building”.
    Unionized employees have to pay a monthly fee to their union.
    It is possible to start a union if employees agree during a vote (50+1), and then, a process is put in place and a negotiation starts with the employer to adopt a collective agreement. Being with a national union helps a lot to get the skills and help needed to negotiate.
    I am simplifying a lot here, but most of white collars cannot be unionized, the law does not allow it. Also, a blue collar that is promoted foremen is no longer unionized. A lot of professional (engineers, lawyers, computer scientists…) are not unionized, but it is more because some common value that they share, more on the employer side, than because they cannot form an union at their workplace.
    And then, the strike… well, union are allowed to go on strike only when their collective agreement is expired. The law does not allow unions to go on strike whenever they want. The strike will be used when the employees and the employers fail to reach an agreement. Only in that case, the threat of a strike (from the union), or of a lockout (from the employer) emerge. Not before. It is a last resource strategy: a mediator will be called before. If the mediation fails, then the strike/lockout.
    People on strike are paid part of their salary with money collected in the “strike fund”. But if the strike lasts too long, the fund might be depleted. Then, the workers receive no money at all. It is very rare, but some (bad) employers had tried this strategy (or the lockout), eg having endless negotiations in the hope that workers will accept less interesting working conditions.
    So it is simply impossible, in Canada, to be on strike like in France. Because strike is related to collective agreement of one plant/building, and we cannot go on strike for the sake of it, whatever it is a good cause or not. I can say though that we had tough negotiation recently because of retirement, but it does not compare with the energy of French, for sure!

    • Thanks for the details! I think it was, more or less, the way I envisioned it. I do tend to think that there are good aspects to that system (even if it seems like it doesn’t benefit the workers as a whole as much as ours in France / the EU). One thing that sticks in my mind is the unionization in Hollywood, which seems to give a lot of power to the members of the industry. When the union says stop, everything stops… And you mention national unions in passing, but doesn’t that make those organizations wider than just a “building” union as you mention? It seems that being affiliated to a national union would make organization closer to what we have as well in some ways…
      Either way, thanks for explaining all this, I have a much clearer picture of the way it works now!

      • Speaking of Hollywood, I realise that it works a bit the same in our cultural industry. In Québec, actors are part of Union des artistes (UDA). It is mandatory, you have to be a member to be allowed to play on screens, in most of theatres and shoot some advertisement. But I don’t think they ever went on strike. In that case, it is true that it is not per establishment like other unions.
        For national unions, and I am pushing the limit of my knowledge on unions, what they do is that they provide help and resources to their members, especially when it comes to collective agreement negociations. A local union without the support of the bargaining power of a national one does not usually reach a agreement as good as one that is affiliated. National unions can (and do) position themselves on key issues – most of the time on defending the workforce like minimum wage at 15$/h, but also on other stuff like the environment. But claims from the national unions are not claims from their local union necessarily. That said, local union tend to choose a national union that is in line with their values, or that offers the most interesting privileges during the collective agreement negociations: enters the “maraudage” a period when a national union can convince a local union to change their affiliation with another national union.
        In any case, a national union can not be on strike, only their members, that is, local unions, can. At first in history, national unions tended to be specialised, for example in the manufacturing sector, or in education, but it has been less the case for many years.
        I do not know enough French unions, but it is true that it might compare a bit to our national unions. That is a good question for someone working in industrial relations!

      • I have to be honest, this is pushing my knowledge of French unions as well… But in any case, I think in practice we are seeing a lot of national strikes in France and not that many (if any) industry wide strikes in the US / Canada, so clearly the organization must defer. Thank God we don’t claim to be experts at anything on the show! 😀

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