Trade union members in France and Germany are becoming conscious of the need to break the law if they are to keep their jobs.
At present it is illegal to ask any worker in France to work more than a 35 hour week, except in special cases determined by political lobbying. Not surprisingly this has led to the closure of low-paid jobs at an accelerating rate with relocation to Eastern Europe the current favourite.
When I was last in Slovakia in May this year, a deal had recently been struck to move a Peugeot factory from France. On my previous visit in 1993, unemployment threatened to hit 80 per cent in some towns.
The power struggle between Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and President Jacques Chirac now encompasses the scrapping of the 35 hour week. Chirac did not veto the measure when the Socialist government passed the law, no doubt under the influence of his then influential leftist political advisor – his daughter.
So now Chirac cannot face anything more than cosmetic reform of a job-destroying law, without looking the cretin that he his. Of course, leaving things as they are makes him look thick-headed, or a “veau” (calf) as we say in France.
So in the marketplace the obvious solution is emerging: factory workers are agreeing to work an extra hour a week without pay. How this is better for social justice than letting people work and get paid for the hours they want beats me, but if it makes them happy…