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Sarkozy, minimum service and quasi privatisation

by Jerome a Paris Thu Jul 26th, 2007 at 08:27:00 AM EST

One of the flagship laws currently pushed by Sarkozy is that to try to organize a "minimum service" during strikes in public transport, so that passengers are not unfairly penalised.

This is yet another case of using "freedom" (for workers to go to work unimpeded) to bash the (constitutionally protected) right to strike and weaken labor protections. This is especially sensitive as transport workers have become de facto "proxy strikers" for others - being protected by their status, able to give any strike an immediate and visible impact, and still largely unionised, they tend to be the most active participants in national strikes, and those that give these the most impact. So cutting their wings (by imposing, for instance, secret ballot votes on whether to strike or not, and longer prior notice) will weaken unions not just in the transport sector, but throughout the economy.

And as further proof that the goal is not really about passengers' freedom, Le Canard Enchainé brings up some statistics on transport this week (no link, it's p.3 of this week's edition, under the title "La bataille duraille du service minimum"). The most significant one is that out of 6,043 delays that took place in 2006 on French railways, 140 only were caused by strikes. 4,180 were caused by incidents (suicides, malicious alarm signals, overcrowded platforms, etc...) and 1,728 by technical problems. Many of these are caused by the reduction in the number of rail workers (in particular those present in stations that can help with disturbances and incivilities) and cost cutting on maintenance. Le Canard gives the example of spare parts, which used to be run on a local basis, but are now centralised and transported (by truck) by private companies that are apparently not completely efficient.

There was a recent discussion in a thread about the privatisation of the German railways, and the already ongoing cost-cutting.

But it's just so much easier to blame striking unions for problems, right?

And Sarkozy can look "tough" and like he's keeping his promises when he is just being his usual populist and vindictive self.


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(Link added, hope it's the right one!)

A couple of things show the real aims behind this legislation. One is the "secret ballot after eight days" clause, which has nothing to do with organising a minimum service, but is an old strike-busting ploy.

The other was the government's blunder (followed by furious back-pedalling) in suggesting the measure might be applied to teachers.

Sarkozy is obviously using the safe time he has now, with summer holidays upon us and no really effective opposition, to de-barb the opposition he expects to face in the future by weakening the right to strike.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Jul 26th, 2007 at 09:22:46 AM EST
about the teachers' "blunder". Calling for the extension of the "service minimum" to another category seemed to be a brilliant way to switch the debate to something else and make the service minimum in transport an easier deal (typical Overton window raise your bets bluster follwoed by "compromise").

But Le Canard Enchainé reports that Sarkozy seemed genuinely furious with Fillon for raising the topic of education, so maybe I'm too cynical. Still, maybe they fed Le Canard that anger...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Jul 26th, 2007 at 09:29:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They may have been flying a kite.

But I think Tsarko is pleased to have obtained at least a kind of benevolent neutrality from a significant share of teachers (remember how a number of them swung away from Royal after a video was released and greatly played in the media, showing Royal suggesting teachers might actually be asked to do their 35-hour week on school premises). The "social VAT" slip-up before the parliamentary elections is also probably on his mind.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Jul 26th, 2007 at 09:54:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
it is indeed the one I was thinking of.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Jul 26th, 2007 at 09:31:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One of the flagship laws currently pushed by Sarkozy is that to try to organize a "minimum service" during strikes in public transport, so that passengers are not unfairly penalised.

Well yeah, try to imagine a world where strikes would cause disruptions. The threat of a strike could be used as some sort of bargaining chip. We can't have that. In a perfect world, no one should even notice when a strike is on-going. Those pampered union workers have been getting a free ride for long enough, I say!

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde

by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Thu Jul 26th, 2007 at 10:03:36 AM EST
The Spanish Constitution actually guarantees minimum services during strikes:
28.2. Se reconoce el derecho a la huelga de los trabajadores para la defensa de sus intereses. La Ley que regule el ejercicio de este derecho establecerá las garantías precisas para asegurar el mantenimiento de los servicios esenciales de la comunidad.
28.2. The right of workers to strike in defence of their interests is recognised. The law regulating the exercise of this right will establish the necessary guarantees to ensure the maintenance of services essential to the community.


Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jul 26th, 2007 at 10:14:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My concern is that "minimum service" could very easily become code for "strike-breakers this way!"...

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde
by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Thu Jul 26th, 2007 at 10:38:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, unions regularly complain that "minimum service decrees" are "abusive". Sometimes they get challenged in court. Also, there would be an argument over which services are "essential to the community" For instance, emergency health workers, or the police. Section 28.1. (on the right to form unions) allows the law to limit or eliminate the Armed Forces' right to uninise, and also allows for "peculiarities" of unionisation of public employees generally.  While searching for the constitution's article I came across a piece of legislation on "minimum services for private security contractors", and I think callin private security (as opposed to the Police) "essential" really is pushing it a bit.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jul 26th, 2007 at 10:47:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
which has recognised "essential services" in police, ER, prisons, nursing, etc somewhere around 1995.

After that, (local) governments quite rapidly designated most tasks as "essential services" - essentially undermining the right to strike. And it is still happening. So the slippery slope nightmare has already occurred here. Although it seemingly has not really hindered the recent strikes - largest strikes in a decade...

Cosatu, the biggest union in SA, and other unions are now apparently working on a compromise, the British model: to recognise essential services, but to keep them running on a skeleton staff during strikes. Most government levels are loathe to sign the new agreement, though.

Seems to me that once an "essential service" anti-strike law has been put in place it can in potential be abused easily by a government.

by Nomad on Thu Jul 26th, 2007 at 11:05:00 AM EST
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