Friday, July 19, 2019
Thanks to Susan Bisom-Rapp for forwarding the following call for papers:
[T]he call for papers of the 18th International Conference in commemoration of Prof Marco Biagi has been opened. The conference will take place in Modena (Italy) on 19 and 20 March 2020, and will be entitled "Beyond Employment: Protecting Autonomous Work".
The Scientific Committee welcomes the submission of proposals for papers or panels by the members of the international scholarly community.The proposals should be submitted by 9 September 2019 by email to the address: firstname.lastname@example.org. More details on the call and the conference are available here.
Friday, March 15, 2019
Thanks to Aaron Halegua, who has been working on this case, for updating us. Here's an excerpt from the Associated Press story:
Seven Chinese men allege in a lawsuit that they were victims of a forced labor scheme while constructing a Saipan casino.
The casino and its contractors violated U.S. trafficking laws by exploiting the workers, the lawsuit said. Saipan is part of the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
The lawsuit was filed in December. It was amended Friday to add trafficking claims and to include casino owner Imperial Pacific as a defendant.
According to the lawsuit, the men were subjected to 12-hour workdays, dormitories without showers or air-conditioning and a dangerous construction site.
Wednesday, February 27, 2019
Many thanks to Paul Harpur (Queensland) for sending us word that the Australian state of Queensland on February 27 passed a Human Rights Act significantly expanding the right to join trade unions. Here's the speech explaining the new statute, and here's notice of the bill's passing. Section 22 provides that every person has the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions. The Act will commence operation in two phases. On 1 July 2019, the Anti-Discrimination Commission will be re-branded as the Queensland Human Rights Commission and from 1 January 2020, the complaints mechanism will commence, which will allow people who consider that their human rights have been violated by a public entity to lodge a complaint directly with the Commission.
Tuesday, February 26, 2019
Angie Tran (Cal State - Monterey Bay) has just published ‘Decent Work‘ Examined: Eyes Wide Open in Labor Relations in Vietnam, in Voices: Global South Studies Center, University of Cologne. Here's a summary:
[T]he assumption that the three sides [government, employers and workers] in the [ILO's] enshrined tripartite structure have equal voice at the negotiating table does not reflect the reality in Vietnam. I argue that the implementation of social dialogue has not genuinely benefited workers when the three sides in this framework do not have equal voices at the negotiating table. As demonstrated in the three cases below, labor relations in Vietnam have witnessed the strengthening of the state-management alliance and the weakening of labor, represented by one overarching labor union, the Vietnamese General Confederation of Labor (VGCL). Moreover, the actual implementation of social dialogue at the factory level focuses on only conflict resolution, missing the other two goals: social equity, and effective policy implementation, which would have addressed the deep-rooted problems in labor relations and improved workers’ lives.
Friday, December 7, 2018
- Anne Trebilcock, ed., Comparative Labour Law (Edward Elgar, 2018), 904 pp. Collection of key journal articles on the topic, with the editor's introduction (comparative labor law's uses and limits, sources and methods, axes of comparison, means of enforcement). Link: https://www.e-elgar.com/shop/comparative-labour-law.
- Anne Trebilcock, "International Labour Organization," in Michael Bowman & Dino Kritsiotis, eds., Conceptual and Contextual Perspectives on the Modern Law of Treaties (Cambridge University Press, 2018), 848-880. Overview of the ILO's unique approach to treaty making, revision and interpretation.
- Anne Trebilcock, "Challenges in Germany's Implementation of the ILO Decent Work for Domestic Workers Convention," 34:2 International Journal of Comparative Labour Law and Industrial Relations (2018) 149-176.
Thursday, November 1, 2018
Many thanks to Aaron Halegua for sending word of this labor dispute in Myanmar. As many of you know, I visited Myanmar last month to meet with labor leaders. This article describes the prototypical labor strike in Myanmar. The vast majority of strikes occur because an employer fires workers who are (or who the employer believes are) trying to organize workers. Laws protecting workers from retaliation for union activity are weak, and employers feel free to fire such workers with impunity. Often the employer is a Chinese company, which is significant because in theory community-based mediation is available, and managers at a Chinese company aren't concerned about their standing in the local community. The tension escalates until the workers use the only tool available to them -- a strike -- which often results in bloodshed.
Here's an excerpt from the article, originally in the Irrawaddy, picked up by Reuters:
Dozens of striking workers from a Chinese-owned garment factory in Myanmar marched to a government compound in Yangon on Monday, securing a late-night meeting with the city’s chief minister, as part of efforts to get sacked colleagues reinstated.
Staff from Fu Yuen Ltd factory, on the outskirts of the commercial capital of Yangon, have been demonstrating alongside other labor activists since August, after 30 members of a trade union were fired.
This month, dozens of Fu Yuen workers were injured when iron-wielding assailants attacked a crowd gathered outside the factory. Police said a fight had broken out after protesters urged employees still working to join them.
Myanmar’s textile industry is its top export earner after oil and gas, employing more than 450,000 people and generating more than $2 billion in exports last year.
Wednesday, October 31, 2018
Thanks to Paul Harpur (U. Queensland - Beirne Law) for sending word that today, the Australian State of Queensland introduced a new Human Rights Bill 2018 (Qld) before Parliament. As Queensland has only one House of Parliament, where the government currently has a majority, it is almost certain this bill will soon become law.
The Human Rights Bill 2018 (Qld) declares that Queenslanders have 21 Civil and political rights and two Economic, social, and cultural rights. Many of these rights are relevant to university students and workers/labour in Queensland. On the labor side, thee rights include:
- Freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief,
- Freedom from forced work,
- Freedom of expression, and
- Peaceful assembly and freedom of association
On the education side, the right is extended, beyond K-12, to a right to “have access, based on the person’s abilities, to further vocational education and training that is equally accessible to all.” Ability equality is a concept that disability rights scholars across the globe have been arguing for. In Queensland, for example, Paul testified in 2018 to a Queensland Parliamentary Committee, arguing that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is the declaration of ability equality.
Saturday, October 13, 2018
ILERA is pleased to announce the third call for book proposals with the theme of comparative labour and employment relations. The term “labour and employment relations” will be interpreted broadly to include all aspects of work including labour policy, labour market analysis, labour relations and collective bargaining, human resource management, and work- and workplace- related topics. Book proposals by a single author, multiple authors, or edited volumes will all be welcome. Books in this series will be published by ILERA in English, French or Spanish, based on the language of the manuscripts received.
A Committee of Editors was established under the leadership of Prof. Mia Rönnmar (Lund University, Sweden), President-Elect of ILERA, who will act as Editor-in Chief. Editorial members include: Prof. Anil Verma (University of Toronto, Canada), Prof. Annette Jobert (ENS Cachan, France), and Prof. Cecilia Senén González (University of Buenos Aires, Argentina).
To encourage members to submit high-quality book proposals, ILERA provides an incentive of USD 5,000 as a contribution towards the expenses of preparing a manuscript which is accepted for publication. Future book royalties will accrue to ILERA.
The deadline for submission of the book proposal has been extended to 30 November 2018.
Proposals should elaborate on the following headlines:
- a brief description of the themes of the book;
- its contribution to existing knowledge in the field;
- its novelty compared with similar previous books;
- a summary of the structure and contents of the book;
- the names, full contact details and institutional affiliations of the authors and editors (if necessary);
- a curriculum vitae of all contributors; and
- a proposed time-table for completion of the manuscript.
Saturday, October 6, 2018
Sunday, September 2, 2018
Kate Griffith (Cornell, ILR) writes to share the August 2018 Special Issue of the ILR Review, which focuses on workplace conditions and immigration legalization initiatives cross nationally.
Below is an excerpt from the introduction entitled “Introduction to a Special Issue on the Impact of Immigrant Legalization Initiatives: International Perspectives on Immigration and the World of Work,” (authors are Maria Lorena Cook, Shannon Gleeson, Kati L. Griffith, and Lawrence M. Kahn)
“The articles in this special issue draw on studies of legalization initiatives in major immigrant destinations: Canada, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Together they underscore the importance of cross-national perspectives for understanding the range of legalization programs and their impact on immigrant workers, the workplace, and the labor market”
For more from this special issue, which will be free to read for a limited amount of time, click here.
Wednesday, August 15, 2018
The NY Times has a story on Muriel Pénicaud, the French labor minister who has been leading the charge of reforming France's labor regulations. Macron, the French President, has been trying to get reforms through for a while but has been largely stymied by protests (you've got to hand it to the French, their capacity to protest may exceed even their cooking talent). As a result, Pénicaud has been embarking on a long series of negotiations with unions and businesses. Stay tuned for what the final results may be.
Also--shameless plug warning--if you want to compare France's legal and social welfare protections for dismissed workers, check out this article that I co-authored with Sam Estreicher, Comparative Wrongful Dismissal Law: Reassessing American Exceptionalism, 92 North Carolina Law Review 343 (2014). We compared not only the laws as written, but also how they operate (e.g., average win rates, average/maximum/minimum awards) for twelve countries, including the U.S.
Tuesday, April 17, 2018
Lance Compa (Cornell ILR) sends us word of a report describing the "wrong turn" taken by an arbitration panel in the first-ever case decided under the labor chapter of a free trade agreement. The case involves worker's rights violations in Guatemala. Here's a press release describing the case and a report critical of the case co-authored by Lance:
A new report from the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) says that an arbitral panel’s ruling in the first case ever decided under the labor chapter of a free trade agreement “got it wrong” on workers’ rights violations in Guatemala. Written by three prominent international labor law experts, “Wrong Turn” edits down the 300-page decision into a reader-friendly 30 pages, and provides analysis and commentary at key points showing the arbitral panel’s flawed approach and conclusions.
Following a 2008 complaint by the AFL-CIO and a coalition of Guatemalan unions, the United States government initiated the arbitration case in 2011 under the labor rights chapter of the 2005 U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). That chapter defines as its central purpose to “protect, enhance, and enforce basic workers’ rights.” The United States charged Guatemala with failing to effectively enforce its national labor law to halt mass firings of workers who try to form unions and to remedy minimum wage, health and safety, and other violations of employment standards. Effective enforcement of national law is a central obligation of the CAFTA labor chapter.
In their report, Lance Compa of Cornell University, Jeff Vogt of the Solidarity Center, and Eric Gottwald of ILRF note that two of the three members of the arbitral panel were prominent trade lawyers who normally represent multinational companies in commercial disputes, but have no labor experience or expertise. As a result, “The decision is based on a narrow, trade-oriented analysis divorced from labor law reality - particularly in a developing country like Guatemala.”
Importantly, the arbitral panel did find that Guatemala repeatedly failed to effectively enforce its labor law. However, the panel found that such failures did not occur “in a manner affecting trade,” as required by the labor chapter, leading the arbitrators to rule in favor of Guatemala. In contrast, the report’s authors argue that, “A rights-focused analysis would say the CAFTA labor chapter is meant to protect workers’ fundamental rights, not competition in the free trade area.”
Gottwald, Vogt and Compa suggest that the arbitral panel erected an impossibly high barrier to workers prevailing in such cases. All violations and the failure to enforce labor laws occurred in trade-related sectors such as apparel manufacturing, agriculture, and shipping, but the panel found that this was insufficient to meet the “manner affecting trade” requirement. The arbitrators demanded evidence that companies took advantage of the government’s enforcement failures to gain a price advantage in the marketplace. But such information, argue the report authors, is impossible to obtain without subpoena power – a tool that is not available in the CAFTA dispute resolution system.
The authors also decry the failure of the U.S. government to present evidence on widespread violence against trade unionists in Guatemala, including death threats and assassinations – an important part of the unions’ original 2008 complaint. Reflecting this failure, they note that “In the full 299-page decision of the Panel, not once does the word ‘violence’ appear.”
The ILRF report concludes with recommendations to address the “wrong turn” in the CAFTA arbitration decision. They include requiring arbitrators to be experts in labor law and labor relations and to consider reports and decisions from international human rights bodies, not just the WTO, in their decision-making process; allowing trade unions and victimized workers to participate in arbitration proceedings, correcting the interpretation of the “manner affecting trade” clause, and making the labor chapter of all trade agreements a human rights chapter.
Here is the full report.
Tuesday, March 20, 2018
On March 5, 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that settlements totaling $13.9 million and covering over 2,400 workers with four Chinese contractors building the Imperial Pacific casino in Saipan. Many of these workers paid $6,000 or more to labor brokers in China, incurring significant debts with high interest rates, based on false promises of high-paying jobs in the United States. Instead, upon arriving in Saipan, the workers were stripped of their passports, forced to work long hours under dangerous conditions, and paid below minimum wage. OSHA also imposed significant fines against these contractors and the Department of Justice prosecuted several managers of these companies. News of the settlement was published by numerous media outlets, such as the Associated Press, New York Times, Washington Post, and South China Morning Post, and included a quote from Aaron Halegua, a lawyer and NYU research fellow who assisted the workers in this process and has written about the situation in Saipan elsewhere. Aaron discussed the importance of the settlement and necessary measures to prevent similar abuses from happening again. Specifically, he recommended that the casino, at a minimum, require contractors to purchase surety bonds, train workers about their rights, and hire a third-party monitor to oversee safety and labor conditions. One of the challenges will be distributing the settlement monies as almost all of the workers are now back in China.
Sunday, January 28, 2018
As many of you know, I spent the better part of winter break in Southeast Asia, teaching or conferencing in Viet Nam, Myanmar, and Cambodia. If any of you have an interest in visiting the area or contacting folks in the labor/academic community there, let me know and I'll be happy to help make connections.
Meanwhile, I've just posted on SSRN an article I've co-authored with Trần Thị Kiều Trang (Hanoi Law University) On the Precipice: Prospects for Free Labor Unions in Vietnam (forthcoming San Diego Int'l L.J.). Here's the abstract:
Viet Nam is rapidly transitioning economically, in large part due to the pro-trade policies that have attracted international capital. A necessary component for Viet Nam to further integrate into the world economy is to develop a system of industrial relations that will ensure industrial stability and reassure international manufacturers that there is no risk of embarrassment resulting from revelations of brutal or unsafe working conditions. Positive signs for rapid labor reform were visible as recently as early 2016 with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (“TPP”), a trade agreement intended to integrate trade among twelve countries (including Viet Nam), which would have set international benchmarks and a fixed deadline for labor reform.
Notwithstanding the withdrawal of the U.S. from TPP negotiations, labor reform in Viet Nam continues, as there is currently a vigorous debate within the country over which direction reform should take. This article describes the existing labor regime in Viet Nam, and how the ILO and the TPP jump-started the most recent wave of labor reform. It then analyzes Vietnamese labor law, specifically as compared to ILO norms, and evaluates current proposals for reform.
Friday, January 12, 2018
I posted yesterday on the conference earlier this week on minimum wage laws in developing countries. Daniel Helman (Ton Duc Thang University, Labor Relations & Trade Unions) circulated a follow-up email making a point about minimum wage laws I hadn't considered before. I suspect his argument has equal force when a single state or municipality in the U.S. raises its minimum wage significantly above (extraordinarily low, by any historical standard) national base rate. Here is Daniel's argument:
During my recent visits to Australia and Singapore (in December) I spent some time networking with academic colleagues. In both places people were talking about how Vietnam was projected to be the most important economy in SE Asia in twenty years. One of the key indicators of this projection is the rate of rise of wages here in Vietnam. The rapid wage increase is seen as a reflection of economic strength and an indicator of future economic growth.
Thus the trend in wage increases signals to the rest of the world that the economy of Vietnam is becoming increasingly robust. Such a signal leads to foreign investment at a consumer level—as international companies aim to establish an economic presence here in Vietnam. They do this now so that in the future, as the domestic demand is large, they will have a well-established presence and will be able to command a large share of the market in their sector.
Of course Vietnam has other features that influence its future success, such as a single-party system which allows for more focused and beneficial policies to be implemented more easily than in other systems; and a culture that is perhaps more focused on its own success after so much hardship for so many decades; and other intangibles, such as respect for the role of work and effort in the family. But the increase in wages—based in large part on the increases in the minimum wage over the past several years, has done a great deal to place Vietnam very high in its economic forecast. Such a signal leads to future investment, and these facts can form a strategy to (rightly) promote future increases in the minimum wage here so that it will reach the level of a living wage sufficient to meet more basic needs. It is similar to the point [ILO Vietnam Country Director] Dr. Chang-Hee Lee made on the first day [of the conference], about how increases in the minimum wage increase demand.
Obviously the totality of pathways and feedbacks are more complicated than what I have written above, but the essential point is that the rate of increase in wages is a signal of the growing robustness of the domestic market; and that this signal is read by global economic stakeholders and influences their behavior.
Thursday, January 11, 2018
Earlier this week I participated in a conference on minimum wage laws in Viet Nam (and SE Asia generally) at the Tôn Đức Thắng University Labor College in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Viet Nam. International wage & hour law is not my specialty, so it was a pleasure to learn from the many law faculty, workers' advocates, employer representatives, and even even the former head of the VGCL (the government-controlled unified trade union) attending. My key take-aways:
The traditional neoclassical economic argument that increasing the minimum wage decreases employment may have even less salience in developing countries than in developed ones. Even in the countries like Viet Nam that produce a large quantity of the clothing, electronics, and other goods consumed in the West, the vast majority of workers still work in services and manufacturing for the local economy. Raising minimum wages can increase both worker productivity and domestic consumption, which can have a positive effect on economic growth and employment and thus offset potential negative effects.
The risk of capital flight in response to raising the minimum wage is overstated. A MNC that has built a factory here is unlikely to relocate it because of a requirement that it spend an extra few cents per hour on wages. It's less clear how increases in minimum wage laws might influence future capital allocation decisions.
- Companies looking to maximize profits by minimizing labor costs are barking up the wrong tree -- they should instead be looking to cut supply-chain costs. The pair of Nikes we spend $150 for in the West costs about $12 to make, of which $2-3 is labor costs. The $138 difference between retail price and cost-of-production is where companies should be looking if they want to squeeze further profits. Nike could slash those costs by vertically integrating, which would have the salutary effect of making Nike directly and obviously responsible for the workers who make the company's shoes. The fact that the Nikes of the world aren't doing this is telling.
- The proportion of workers in the informal economy has a huge impact on the efficacy of minimum wage laws. Minimum wage laws may actually exacerbate wage inequality in countries where a large proportion of workers are off-the-books.
- Minimum wage laws can perform an important signaling effect in developing countries. I'll add a guest post on this topic shortly.
Monday, September 11, 2017
Thanks to Tequila Brooks for passing along this information on recent labor reforms to Mexico's Constitution:
Canadian NGO Maquiladora Solidarity Network has published a great briefing Briefing Paper on recent labor reforms to Mexico's Constitution. The paper highlights what's at stake for labor justice reform and full realization of the rights to Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining in Mexico - and provides a map to what has been accomplished so far and the road ahead for a complete transformation of Mexico's labor justice reform.
This briefing paper provides an overview of the process leading to the constitutional reform, an analysis of its content and possible implications, and an assessment of the issues surrounding the coming implementing legislation. The analysis is based on research and an in-depth consultation process carried out by the Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN) between February and May. That process included interviews with 16 Mexican and international labour rights experts from academia, the legal sector, trade unions, and civil society organizations, as well as other sectors.
By reforming Articles 107 and 123, the Mexican government moves actively toward honouring its commitment to workers, business and the international community to provide an impartial, unbiased, independent, and transparent labour justice system. If the reform and its implementing legislation bring all of the necessary safeguards into effect to address the problem of employer protection contracts, including the right for all union members to freely elect their leaders and to receive a hard copy of and vote on their collective bargaining agreements, they could bring Mexico’s legal framework more into compliance with the International Labour Organization’s (ILOs) fundamental Conventions 8710 and 9811 on freedom of association and the right to collectively bargain.
While the reform process is still underway, international brands, employers, trade unions, worker support groups, human rights organizations and the international community can continue to support the process by acknowledging progress so far and encouraging the Mexican government to approve implementing legislation that is true to the underlying spirit and intent of the Constitutional Reform and avoids the pitfalls described above. Pressure can be brought to bear to ensure the expeditious roll-out of the implementing legislation and to ensure that justice is brought to those who violate the laws in the future. They can also encourage the government to resolve outstanding conflicts, to cease registering newly signed employer protection contracts, and to ratify ILO Convention 98. Cross-sector outreach and coordination would be particularly helpful in advancing this work.
Tuesday, September 5, 2017
Tequila Brooks has just posted an essay over at Intlawgrrls on Making the human rights case for including compensation for workplace injuries in free trade agreements. Here's an excerpt:
For many undocumented workers in the U.S., suffering a workplace injury can lead to detention, deportation and worse, as reported by Michael Grabell and Howard Berkes in their August 16, 2017 Pro Publica article, They Got Hurt at Work. Then They Got Deported. Although public policy and extensive case law in the U.S. guarantee workers’ compensation coverage for undocumented immigrants, insurers have found a way to avoid paying claims by reporting injured workers to federal immigration authorities.
Currently, the U.S. NAFTA re-negotiation goals do not mention incorporation of workers’ compensation or protection of migrant workers – but they should. Labor provisions in FTAs contain mechanisms that can enhance member states’ ability to protect human rights. While imperfect, the NAALC and labor provisions in other FTAs provide a forum for public petitions and inter-governmental dialogue on important cross-border labor issues. They have the as yet under-utilized potential to address the kinds of failures in justice administration immigrants encounter. NAFTA re-negotiators should remember that there is nothing more fundamental to a worker and our shared global economy than the integrity of her body and mind – and act accordingly to ensure that workers’ compensation is included among the labor rights protected in any re-negotiated agreement.
Thursday, August 31, 2017
The French government just announced a proposed set of changes to its Labor Code. The proposal touches on several areas, such as:
- Allows small employers to bargain directly with employees;
- Creates bigger bargaining units at a workplace;
- Increases severance pay;
- Lowers cap on wrongful dismissal awards;
- Lowers statute of limitations on wrongful dismissal claims; and
- Prevents labor courts that consider a company's financial health as part of a wrongful dismissal claim from considering operations outside of France.
I would expect some pretty significant protests over these changes. But Macron seems intent on pushing forward, so things should be interesting.
In the meantime, this seems like an appropriate time for a plug: Sam Estreicher and I have an article in which we evaluate the unjust dismissal laws of France and several other countries, including the U.S. In the article, we provide among other things the relevant rules for dismissal and give estimates for average awards, win rates, and time to litigate. This may be of interest to those who want to compare the new proposal with what's occurring now.
Sunday, July 9, 2017
Many thanks to Dennis Nolan (South Carolina emeritus; NAA) for forwarding Sylvain Cypel, Macron’s California Revolution, which has a detailed discussion of French President Emmanuel Macron's plans for French labor law. Here's an excerpt:
Continuing deindustrialization has shut millions of older employees out of the job market. And unemployment among the young is beating all records: at the end of April 2017, the number of officially registered jobseekers hit 5,836,000—the same number as in the United States, a country with five times France’s population! For the past forty years, whether governed by the right or the left—or even during short periods of “cohabitation”—neither side has been able to curb unemployment.
[N]ew macroniste politicians closely follow their leader’s core socioeconomic philosophy: that in today’s world, the people who rise to the top, or at least stay afloat, are those who’ve succeeded in adapting to the relentless process of globalization and its technological disruptions. There will be less and less room for job security and more and more for people who have a capacity for innovation and adaptation. Gone are lifelong professional careers. Likewise gone are rigid job descriptions and fixed work schedules. In this, Macron once again embodies a very American way of thinking. And he believes that France has to catch up to the current reality of the labor force.
But the first real test of the new president’s mandate will be the new labor law that he intends to issue as an executive order, before asking France’s parliament to vote on it. Macron wants to move fast. He wants to take advantage of the “big bang” of his election and his opponents’ stunned paralysis to abolish much of the existing French labor code, which, because of powerful labor unions, was designed to cater to the best-protected employees—especially those in heavy industry—and has long been skewed toward the interests of workers in general at the expense of greater flexibility and efficiency for private enterprise. Just how far does he mean to take this? Clearly, as far as he can.
The real question is whether Macron is ready to take on the unions or will seek to compromise with them. His approach to economic reform has been well known since his tenure as economics minister (2014–2016): a major deregulation of existing laws to allow employers to practice less “rigid” employment and hiring policies, including fewer restrictions on salaries and working conditions. These measures, he argues, are essential if there is to be a revival of the French job market. Employers, who are also asking for a freer hand in firing workers, claim these measures will bring a reduction in labor costs. The corollary to these ambitions, and the condition for their success, is a significant reduction of what remains of the unions’ power, already enormously diminished. (Fifty years ago, 22 percent of all employees were union members, while that number is currently 7.7 percent, according to the OECD).
When Macron tried to put these reforms into effect as economics minister under François Hollande, he encountered very strong resistance from the unions and from the public itself. After a series of protest marches and demonstrations, the law had to be issued by Prime Minister Valls, through a procedure designed to avoid a parliamentary vote, which it seemed quite unlikely to pass. Today the basic problem is much the same. The unions are so hostile to reforming the labor market because, behind the apparent “change,” it is possible to glimpse a policy that’s been at work for a long time already. Ever since 1984, all governments, right and left, have worked tirelessly to shatter administrative and legal “rigidity” with respect to hiring and firing. And yet, France’s steadily worsening joblessness has never been brought under control. Even worse, in France as in nearly all the rest of the Western world, inequality has become ever more deeply entrenched, in lockstep with the deterioration of middle-class purchasing power. It’s not hard to imagine, therefore, that the unions might once again be the front line of resistance to still more radical measures to deregulate the labor market.