Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The 35-hour week and so on

The FT was fairly sniffy (about Chirac) : 'Last year's much trumpeted pension reform , to bring public sector pensions gradually into line with the private sector. excluded the railway and power workers because of their militancy. The president has supported the 35-hour week, which the business community blames for a decline in France's international competitiveness.' (Leader, 4 Sep)

SIAW wrote that France and Russia were 'both of them, funnily enough, still capitalist states the last time we looked.' Well yes, there is a lot of empty rhetoric about resisting mondialisation, but undeniably in France and Germany the frontier of political debate is different from that in the UK. Apart from  the 35-hour week and more generous (unaffordable ?) welfare and health systems, French workers are resisting privatisation in gas and electricity.

France Inter was trumpeting the other day Renault's creation of thousands of jobs. A more severe crisis seems to lie in Germany. Volkswagen is threatening to relocate to Eastern Europe. The reason may lie in the figures highlighted by  Le Monde Économie for labour costs in manufacturing industry (in dollars) : Germany 24.31, US 21.37, EU15 19.87, Japan 19.01, UK 18.03, France 17.27, Poland 4.1...

Meanwhile, the 'Mrs Thatchers' are waiting : Frau Merkel of the Christian Democrats and Nicholas Sarkozy (can we really believe that 70-something Chirac rather than Sarko will be the right's candidate in 2007 ? )

In the local elections in Saxony and Brandenburg, both the SPD and the Christian Democrats lost ground. Both the far-right NPD and the former communist PDS made gains. Someone said that in many cases their propaganda is indistinguishable. Their increased vote seems to be a protest against Schröder's 'reforms' (cutting welfare). Even Daniel Cohn-Bendit of the Greens, commenting on France Inter, 20 Sep, thought that the problems financing the welfare systems had to be faced.

A good old bit of socialist theory : ' "Work without end" has been the history of capitalism. Fordism added `endless consumption'  and the Keynesian conviction - check the old textbooks -  that expanded output should always have precedence over reduced work-time...'
('A World Market of Opportunities? Capitalist Obstacles and Left Economic Policy', The Socialist Register 1997 )


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