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May Day: Three Thoughts

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8hoursforwhatwewill

Despite it usually being Erik Loomis’ bailiwick, I wanted to wish all of you a happy May Day, and to share three thoughts with you about the slogan that was associated with May Day – “eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will” – and what we can learn about the meaning of this day through that slogan.

The history of the day – its links to the Haymarket Affair, the eight-hour day movement, its adoption all over the world, its subversion here at home – is well known enough that I don’t want to repeat it here. Instead, I want to focus on the three parts of the slogan:

Eight Hours for Work

To me, this part of the slogan is significant because it speaks to the eight-hour day as an example of a successful, gradualist, labor reform that was brought forward by a movement determined to limit, if not entirely prevent, the exploitation of labor by capital. Before there was an eight-hour movement, there was a ten-hour movement. The ten-hour movement, fighting against factory work schedules of 12-15 hours a day, made the same arguments about the inhumane nature of long work days, how long hours robbed workers of the fair value of their labor by giving them the same pay for more hours, how it hurt families, hurt people’s health and productivity, and created an entire class of people who lived like drones, able to do nothing more than work, eat, and sleep.  They won that fight, and it was a fight that took strikes and protests and legislation and persuation, and then they started organizing for the eight-hour day.

And at a time when the Fight for Fifteen has moved from an impossibility to something to be bargained with (remember $10.10? Remember $12?) and then to be co-opted, and now to be enacted, it’s important to remember that gradualist reform can work as long as you keep moving and keep the pressure up against the inevitable backsliding and push-back. For good and for bad, there’s nothing natural or set in stone about the forty-hour, five day work week, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t fight for better, more predictable, and more humane standards in the face of employers who thrive on a system where workers are simultaneously underemployed and overworked and want to make it even more so.

The thirty-five hour week works in France, the six-hour work day works in Sweden. We deserve no less.

Eight Hours for Sleep

This part of the slogan speaks to how work takes a toll on the human body. Erik Loomis has done sterling work pointing to the history of industrial injuries, diseases, and deaths, but there is also a growing body of research that looks at the subtler ways in which class affects our health. The poorer you are, the less likely you are to get the sleep than you need. The poorer you are, the more likely you are to experience chronic pain. The poorer you are, the more stress you experience and the harder it hits you. The poorer you are, the shorter your lifespan.

The eight-hour day movement was one of the first recognitions of this phenomenon, long before the medical or social scientific community got involved. Having eight hours sleep a night wasn’t just about making workers more productive or lowering the rate of industrial injury – those were rationales largely directed at middle class voters, although they were all true – but about trying to limit the damage that capitalism and inequality was doing to the human body, and to literally save lives.

Given what we are now learning about the way that stress affects health, and the historic and growing economic inequality’s effects on the inequality of lived experiences, this task has become all the more pressing. The adage of a new Gilded Age is quite popular today, and it should be, but in this aspect, we are seeing something more similar to the Middle Ages, when descriptions of physical health and beauty went hand-in-hand with descriptions of class.

Eight Hours for What We Will 

And this is where we get to the issue of democracy, which is appropriate for May Day of a long primary season in a presidential election year. One of the arguments made for the eight-hour day movement was that a class of drones, people who only had the time to work, eat, and sleep, could not participate in a democratic society – you needed time to read the newspaper and follow the political issues of the day, to be an active participant in the highly-mobilized party politics of the 19th century, to not just vote but get out the vote.  And all of that is true, but there is often a kind of po-faced seriousness that sometimes is attached to the idea of free time as necessary for good citizenship. I don’t mean to denigrate the working-class auto-didact – I come from a long line of them – but free time isn’t just about engaging in intellectually cultivating pastimes.

Rather, I think it’s about actually experiencing freedom on a day-to-day basis. As I wrote a long time ago, the workplace is one of the least free places in America. And the people who fought for the eight-hour day and the ten-hour day before that realized that you can’t spend every waking hour of your life in a place where you have no freedom of speech, no privacy, no right to due process, and actually know what freedom feels like, let alone develop the habits of an independent citizen. So eight hours “for what we will” is about the will – whether it’s beer or Shakespeare, the important thing is that you’re deciding how you’re going to spend your time, that for part of every day no one but you is telling you what to do.

So go enjoy your May Day, because no matter what you’re doing with the day, you’re doing it right.

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  • troll

    troll comment deleted.

  • John Revolta

    I haven’t even begun discussing National Socialism.

    Oh My God! Please don’t make us wait another second!!

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  • Aziraphale

    Kamenev, where are the death figures for France, Sweden, the UK and other European countries where these modest socialist policies were actually implemented? As they were not under Mao or Stalin.

    • troll

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  • DrDick

    Workers of the world unite! All you have to lose is your chains. An excellent post and a welcome reminder that every right we have, every benefit we have, every good thing we have as workers was bought with the blood of martyrs who fought and died for these. Now is not the time to rest. Never is the time to rest in this battle for capital is relentless.

    • Thanks!

    • “Don’t be silly. Now is the time to not vote for candidates that do not meet y level of purity, now is the time to expect a Green Lantern politician to do every thing I might ever imagine, now is the time to pretend that not being involved in the political process will preserve my purity and magically move the more-left part left until it aligns with all of MY beliefs!!”

  • Karen24

    “Beer or Shakespeare” — one could have both, you know. Cakes and ale all ’round!

    • Very true. But it was very much a concern of folks like John Stuart Mill.

    • MAJeff

      “Beer or Shakespeare” — one could have both, you know. Cakes and ale all ’round!

      Give us bread and give us roses!

  • Nobdy

    there’s nothing natural or set in stone about the forty-hour, five day work week

    That’s why my employer encourages a 7 day 60 hour work week!

    Seriously though, just getting back to 40-5 would be an improvement. Most white collar workers I know who don’t work for the government put in a lot more time than that, and unskilled workers are often part time and in need of more hours.

    The new motto for our age is “Why the fuck aren’t you answering the email I sent you at 2 in the morning?”

    • Denverite

      Yeah, there are usually people in the office starting about 6:30 am and lasting until about 8:30 pm. My normal schedule is 9:00 am until 7:30 pm or 8:00 pm, and I’m not the last to leave as often as I am.

      • Murc

        This is why I’m glad to be hourly.

        I leave the office the second I’m no longer on the clock or I book overtime.

        • BubbaDave

          Bear in mind that thanks to the corrupt neoliberal sellouts of the Obama administration, more salaried workers are eligible for overtime pay than has been the case in decades.

      • cpinva

        “Yeah, there are usually people in the office starting about 6:30 am and lasting until about 8:30 pm. My normal schedule is 9:00 am until 7:30 pm or 8:00 pm, and I’m not the last to leave as often as I am.”

        what’s so special about the work your firm does, that it requires people to be there almost 24/7? is the fate of western civilization dependent on it? are you this — close to finding a cure for cancer? or, as is more likely, is it the requirement set in place by some dickwad partner, who makes money off of every billable hour you (and your colleagues) bill out, while he leisurely sits at home, starting his/her day with freshly ground/brewed coffee, and his/her copy of the “Daily Capitalist Prick”?

        “The adage of a new Gilded Age is quite popular today, and it should be, but in this aspect, we are seeing something more similar to the Middle Ages, when descriptions of physical health and beauty went hand-in-hand with descriptions of class.”

        a Middle Ages analogy is very appropriate. while the Black Death caused massive suffering and death (it wiped out 25% of the European population), it actually had a positive side-effect for labor. since the disease had a greater devastating affect on the poor (they couldn’t leave town, for their country estate), the available pool of unskilled, cheap labor was decimated. demand being greater than supply, after the plague had run its course, these unskilled laborers were able to demand, and receive, much higher wages than before the plague. with lots of land left fallow, because the owners either died, or just couldn’t find labor to work it, farming became profitable, even on a small scale.

        as with all good things, this situation came to an end, when the aristocracy (land owners/capitalists) got laws passed capping the wages that could be paid to unskilled labor, the reverse of the minimum wage. it’s good to be in charge!

        • Nobdy

          For me it’s that the teams I work on are perpetually understaffed for the work that needs to be done. The firm I work for is perpetually understaffed, seemingly at every level, and in litigation there are deadlines and client demands and…

          It’s a very profitable and prestigious firm, but you’re wrong about the partners. They also work insane hours. They have more control than associates, sure, but the days of phoning in instructions from the Hamptons on a summer Wednesday are long gone. I’ve seen even extremely rich and famous partners mark up work at 10 pm on a Sunday night, and it was NOT an emergency.

          Competition is incredibly fierce and it seems like a decision has been made, collectively, that everyone should work all the time and be underslept and kind of miserable and that’s just how it’s going to be.

          It seems insane to me, but if anybody in charge actually asked my opinion on the matter my poor sleep-deprived heart might give out on the spot from shock.

          • Murc

            Your partners sound crazy. If the firm is profitable and prestigious, why not just hire more dudes and be slightly less profitable in exchange for having time to enjoy those profits?

            Or are they just locked into the mindset where if someone makes more than them, even if that someone else dies from a heart attack at 45, that person still wins?

            • Denverite

              Based on the experiences of my dad and my boss (both early 60s), I think there is a real tension to try to make as much as you possibly can once you hit that age, because you can see the finish line, and you just don’t know how much you’ll need after that. It’s rich people problems, but it really is a problem.

              • Nobdy

                There’s also just a certain type of person who likes, or at least doesn’t mind, working all the time.

                In a profession like law that rewards working all the time these people often rise to positions of power where they set the schedule for everyone else.

                Many of these people are also oblivious towards others emotions or needs (or don’t even conceive that people might be different or have different needs).

                I am decidedly not one of these people, which is one of the many reasons I am ill suited for the job I have (and will be sprinting for the exit as soon as my debt has been retired)

                It’s also worth noting that partners tend to avoid the most hideously boring, unpleasant, and miserable tasks.

                • Denverite

                  I am decidedly not one of these people, which is one of the many reasons I am ill suited for the job I have (and will be sprinting for the exit as soon as my debt has been retired)

                  I find as I get older, I don’t mind working long hours so much. The alternative is dealing with my kids, one of three of which I adore.

                  (I also did a good five year stint not in private practice, which was a nice breather. Also a drain on the ol’ finances.)

                • Thirtyish

                  As someone who lives alone–no partner or kids at this time–I treasure my free time like there is no fucking tomorrow. I’ve never been what one might call a “workaholic,” either. I suppose I might potentially feel differently were I in a family situation and I needed that extra breathing room and escape that being at work affords. But even on that situation, I know myself well enough to say that I would rather just take a solitary walk around the city (or, depending on where I lived) a drive/hike by myself to decompress than be at work.

                • Nobdy

                  I don’t mind working a lot when the work is somewhat enjoyable or satisfying.

                  I hate my job though. Nearly every part of it, nearly all the time.

                  I also need time to decompress and spend alone with my thoughts and I can’t get that when I’m regularly working past 11 at night.

                • Hogan

                  The alternative is dealing with my kids, one of three of which I adore.

                  One of my great leaps forward toward grownuphood was understanding that parents, no matter what they say, do have favorites, and that that’s a condition to be acknowledged and dealt with, not a sin to be atoned for.

                  Lady Britomart: Ah! Barbara! Your pet! You would sacrifice Stephen to Barbara.

                  Undershaft: Cheerfully. And you, my dear, would boil Barbara to make soup for Stephen.

              • Denverite

                One of my great leaps forward toward grownuphood was understanding that parents, no matter what they say, do have favorites, and that that’s a condition to be acknowledged and dealt with, not a sin to be atoned for.

                Yeah, it’s funny. Our eldest looks just like my spouse but acts just like me — same interests, same sense of humor, etc. So I tend to spend more time with her than her brothers (e.g., during football season, we’ll disappear downstair for three hours to watch the Broncos). Our youngest looks just like me (but with glasses), but acts just like my spouse (ditto the two of them).

                Our poor middle kid who looks like a complete amalgam of my spouse’s mother and my grandfather (but absolutely nothing like either of us) tends to get the shaft. So we both make concerted efforts to try to spend dedicated alone time with him because we wouldn’t otherwise necessarily do so.

                • Thirtyish

                  I admire that you admit that. No, really. I’m totally going to be one of those “politically incorrect” parents* who pisses off other moms by stating perfectly banal, true things like, “Babies are fucking boring most of the time,” or “My first was a lot cuter than my second,” or “I really, really can’t wait until they’re asleep so I can have a second to myself to fully enjoy.”

                  *Assuming I ever go that route. I’m ambivalent about it and can totally envision a happy, healthy, productive life without ever having kids.

                • wjts

                  In the vanishingly unlikely eventuality that I ever I have a kid, I’m going to do nothing but bellow, “NOT TO GO ON ALL-FOURS; THAT IS THE LAW!” at it until it learns to walk.

                • Thirtyish

                  Wair a sec–Denverite, I thought you had twins?

                • Denverite

                  Wair a sec–Denverite, I thought you had twins?

                  I do. One of them is a minute older than his brother.

          • Denverite

            It’s a very profitable and prestigious firm, but you’re wrong about the partners. They also work insane hours.

            Yep. My boss and I have exchanged multiple emails over the weekend on a couple of projects we’re working on. I sent him a memo last night at like 6:30 pm and he responded with detailed comments by 10:00 am this morning. (I’m about to start putting another memo together for him, hopefully with a GOT break in there.)

          • Bill Murray

            For me it’s that the teams I work on are perpetually understaffed for the work that needs to be done. The firm I work for is perpetually understaffed, seemingly at every level, and in litigation there are deadlines and client demands and…

            It’s a very profitable and prestigious firm, but you’re wrong about the partners. They also work insane hours.

            It seems like a solution to the first problem might exist within the first clause of the second paragraph.

            Like, why not take some of that profitability and hire some more workers? I realize I am a numbskull from flyover country, but that solution jumps right out at me

        • Gareth

          what’s so special about the work your firm does, that it requires people to be there almost 24/7? is the fate of western civilization dependent on it? are you this — close to finding a cure for cancer?

          The British Green party once published a little story about a hospital cleaner, to illustrate their policies. That’s an excellent choice of occupation, as cleaning hospitals is an absolutely vital public service. It’s crucial that hospitals are as clean as possible, no matter how much effort that takes. The story started off by saying the cleaner left work at “4:30 on the dot”. Hmm.

          • Murc

            I’m… not sure I understand the point of this anecdote. I mean, you’re clearly going somewhere, but not sure where.

            • Gareth

              If it’s that important a job, placing so much emphasis on leaving on time is a little inappropriate, right? With the extensive benefits the Greens were giving her, staying a little longer wouldn’t kill her.

              • Vance Maverick

                Gareth, any reason not to think you’re a rightwing troll? You seem to be trying to get us to engage with anecdotes of that tendency.

              • Donalbain

                No. It is entirely appropriate. At 4:30, her shift is done. It is time for her to go home and for someone else to take over. The fact that you can have an effective workplace without exploiting workers is a fundamental part of the sort of policies that the Green Party stand for.

              • Murc

                If it’s that important a job, placing so much emphasis on leaving on time is a little inappropriate, right? With the extensive benefits the Greens were giving her, staying a little longer wouldn’t kill her.

                Staying a little longer some days if an emergency crops up or she’s desperately needed isn’t inappropriate. We all do that, because most of us aren’t jerks. If I’m still at work at 5.15 occasionally I might not even book the overtime.

                If she’s doing that on a regular basis, it means the cleaning staff is… well, understaffed. That? Is not her problem. If I’m still at work at 5.15 every single day, I’m damn well booking that OT.

                This of course excludes common-sense stuff like “three people quit, can you put in a couple weeks of OT until we staff back up.”

                It might be inappropriate for someone to fuck right off at 4.30 after being told “dear god, there’s been a biohazard container spill on the ward floor, you’re the only person here certified to clean that stuff up.” But that’s not what you’re talking about, is it?

      • Another reason why the update to overtime laws for salaried workers are so important.

        • Denverite

          Eh. Don’t cry for me Argentina. The truth is I’m well paid and I have a much more favorable ratio of interesting work to drudgery than most. It can be high stress and there is no job security, but most people have it a lot worse.

          • That’s not the way I see – when it comes to worker’s rights, it matters all the way up and all the way down.

            So even if you’re ok with it, think of your own situation as helping to establish what’s ok and what’s not for people below you.

    • A very good point. Another reason to keep pushing is that no victory lasts forever, and there are always forces trying to move backwards.

    • Weed Atman

      Yeah a good week for me right now is 50 hours. The past couple of months have been 60-65. If I’m out of the office at 7 it’s a good day. Thankfully my weekends aren’t terrible-I usually have a few hours of work to get done on Sunday evening but I can almost always get away with doing no work on Saturdays. If I were expected to regularly work on Saturdays I would probably jump ship as soon as possible.

      And you know, if I had an ownership stake in the firm I wouldn’t complain about those hours-comes with the territory. But as an employee?

      And I like the work I do. But the hours expectations are silly. It’s just contrary to what we know about human psychology.

      I’m almost completely depleted by 5. More like 4 actually. The expectation that I stick around until 7 or 8? Let me tell you something. My focus level/productivity is probably at 40-50% *at best* after 5. If I take a one hour break to eat some dinner and read something unrelated to work I can probably get back down to work at 6 at around 2/3 my productivity level, but that’s perceived as slacking.

      So basically, 15-20 of the hours I work a week are for show. It’s a really damaging expectation. I could probably drop from 60 hours down to 40 without a huge change in my productivity. Most of my hours over 40 are to show my boss that I’m dedicated to putting in the hours. Yes I am exaggerating but not by much.

  • Nick Conway

    Good stuff. I’m trying to decide whether to head to downtown Seattle to watch the Anarchists march tonight, which will almost inevitably turn into windows being smashed and a bunch of them getting arrested.

    • Thanks and stay safe!

    • JL

      I’ve never figured out why the allegedly chill cities of the West Coast can’t seem to have a major leftist protest without someone breaking something, while Boston and NYC, which are full of abrasive assholes, have protests that almost never break anything. It’s not a matter of anarchists or black blocs – we have those in the Northeast too.

      Edited to add: Good luck getting safely through any interactions that you have with cops or others!

  • Too damn bad those 16 hrs. allegedly for sleep & leisure are chewed up by hideous commutes & the unfortunate necessity to eat, bathe, consume & other such crap. Hell, if you do get a lunch break at work it’s already more like eight & a half or nine hrs. under the boss’s thumb.

    In the other hand, there are companies that screw workers out of 2.5 hrs. a wk. by insisting that no one work more than 7.5 hrs. a day, on the outside chance that someone working an eight-hr. day might clock out a minute or two late, & therefore, horror of horrors, get overtime pay.

    The struggle is far from over.

    • Excellent point, and a major reason why the Portal to Portal bill was so detrimental.

      • BubbaDave

        Has there been any real push to repeal Portal to Portal?Especially with recent abuses like the Amazon case it seems that that should be a no-brainer for the next Democratic Congress (in 2017 please FSM).

  • Gareth

    The thirty-five hour week works in France, the six-hour work day works in Sweden. We deserve no less.

    Sounds great. So, is thirty-five hours a week, six hours a day the exactly optimal hours for working people, or would you ideally like them to work less?

    • Murc

      So, is thirty-five hours a week, six hours a day the exactly optimal hours for working people,

      What does “exact optimal hours” have to do with anything at all?

      No hourly limit before overtime is going to be optimal for everyone. The question is whether it is optimal enough for the majority of people.

      There’s also the fact that this is a kind of enforced, indirect redistribution of efficiency gains. One of the ways to prevent all of those gains from simply accruing to the owners of capital is force higher effective compensation per hour, and one of the ways to do that is to lower the threshold for overtime.

      • Gareth

        OK, but is 35 hours good enough for the majority, or should it be less?

        • Hogan

          Why should we be theorizing in the absence of data? Let’s try 35 and see how it goes, same as we did with 40.

        • Murc

          OK, but is 35 hours good enough for the majority, or should it be less?

          I would say lets examine what works and what doesn’t in France, and try dropping to 35 with appropriate ancillary reforms to dry and avoid what doesn’t work, always keeping in mind that our context is different from theirs, and see if it works better or worse than 40, and if so why.

    • I don’t think it’s an empirical question, really, as much as it’s a political question of what kind of society people want to have.

      • Marek

        Harrumph!

    • Brett

      Preferably less, over time. After all, productivity gains can enable the same output for less work as well as more output for the same amount of work. And while I don’t believe the Jobocalypse As Caused By Automation, if you did then reducing work hours would be one way to deal with it.

  • What was that post that was briefly above this one?

    • DAtt

      The usual Hayekian horseshit about how social democratic welfare states are the slippery slope that leads inevitably to Nazism.

      • I don’t mean the troll comments that were deleted, I saw those. I mean an actual post that was deleted.

      • wjts

        I think the good doctor means the weird front-page post that was originally in a Cyrillic language and then in English about MacKenzie’s podcast.

      • Woodrowfan

        didn’t Hayek eventually say he was wrong???

        • Bill Murray

          I believe Hayek said the McKenzie’s were hosers, eh

  • JG

    The thirty-five hour week works in France

    Not to say it can’t work in the US but should we really cite France as a positive economic example? If anything it is a critique against pro-labor policies.

    • Aziraphale

      Life expectancy in years: France 82, Sweden 82, US 79. That’s one possible criterion of “working”. It appeals to me as I’m 76.

      • I’m on the “work ’til you die plan”.

        Actually the FAA will force me to retire at age 65 unless it changes between now and then.

    • Not really. Do a quick search for France on Krugman’s blog and you can find plenty of posts showing how France’s economy works just fine.

      Are there problems with the French economy? Sure. But pro-labor policies aren’t really the cause.

      • JG

        But France is clearly in significantly worse economic shape than we are so it’s kind of hard to convince non-believers why we should be more like France. It’s a lot easier to use the Scandinavian countries as a model.

        • Nobdy

          I’ve never understood why “But France is marginally worse off economically” is supposed to be a conversation stopper.

          All those gains go to the top, anyway, and even if they didn’t I have no idea why people are supposed to be willing to trash their quality of life to make a little bit more money.

          Both France and the U.S. have, on a national level, all the money they need.

          • Brett

            Marginal losses can really add up over time. Just look at the “rule of 70” on GDP growth – a 2% GDP growth rate means your economy doubles in 35 years, whereas a 3% (only 1% point higher) doubles in 23 years.

            Yes, most of the gains right now may go to the upper and upper-middle class, but they’re at least there to be potentially shared more broadly. You can’t share the growth that isn’t there.

            • Nobdy

              The 12 extra years are worth it if your populace isn’t miserable, stressed, and committing suicide at increasing rates during that time.

              “At least the gains are there to be potentially shared more broadly” is a perfect argument for someone who doesn’t care about actual people to make.

              while it’s true that you can’t share gains that aren’t there you can’t share predicted gains either, and what matters is whether such gains are ACTUALLY shared, not what’s theoretically possible.

              Should we tell hungry children “Theoretically, if income distribution were a little better you’d have PLENTY to eat. So cheer up. The theoretical version of you is doing fantastic!” ?

        • Brett

          It’s worse right now, but is that because of cyclical economic conditions or structural issues? Or both?

          France does have some issues – unemployment rates are usually higher than the US even in boom times since the 1970s. But overall they don’t seem to be dragging the country down.

    • Brett

      France does alright. The biggest issues are the lower startup rate, the barriers to business expansion (France has twice as many firms with 49 or less employees than 50 or more employees, suggesting the regulatory burden at that level is onerous for new companies), and the high rate of temporary employment (something most countries with strong labor protections have an issue with).

      Of course even temporary employment in France is better in legal terms for workers than at-will employment. You have a fixed contract and all that for a fixed term.

      • I’d also mention the very high rates of payroll taxes as a problem.

    • Ransom Stoddard

      One of the biggest problems with French style heavy labor market regulation is that it seems to have led to extremely high rates of unemployment among immigrant populations. (I think in France specifically there’s like a 2x multiple for ME/NA immigrants compared to the native population.) As opposed to the more neoliberal labor regime in the U.S., which generally seems to have done comparativelly very well presently and historically at 1) creating jobs for low skilled immigrants+their descendants and 2) assimilating immigrants into the social/political community.

      More broadly, I think there’s a substantial tension between a lot of social democractic policies and free immigration that not enough leftists seem to have reckoned with, and that a left-neoliberal political economy can comfortably absorb a much greater quantity of immigration than a social democracy can.

      • Ronan

        I think it’s a little odd to claim the left haven’t reckoned with social democracys incompatibility with mass immigration, this has been one of the left’s most consistent reasons to oppose large scale immigration.
        The proper comparison, imo, with north Africans locked out of French Labour markets is African Americans in the US. You could have a third comparison, Denmark, which has very limited job security, very high turnover in employment, and still a problem with underrepresentation of immigrants in employment.
        Finally, There are clearly other reasons for differences between the US and Europe in assimilating immigrants, primarily historical differences in how national identity was conceptualized etc, not simply a “left neoliberal political economy” vs social democracy

      • Brett

        Minorities facing discrimination and concentration in poor, ethnically segregated neighborhoods tend to have high unemployment rates in just about any rich country. I haven’t seen any proof that the unemployment rate for minorities in France is worse than that for black and latino folks in the US, for example (in terms of ratio compared to the native population – the overall unemployment rate is higher in France native and migrant).

        • Ransom Stoddard

          According to wiki, the unemployment rate for immigrants in France in 2008 was 13%, >2x the native born rate of 6%. I’m not sure if these were dis-aggregated for non-EU vs EU migrants, but if not the unemployment rate of e.g. Algerians would probably be even higher. In the U.S., the Hispanic unemployment rate in 2007 was ~5%, whereas the white unemployment rate was a little over 4%. During the Great Recession the gap rose up to 1.5x, but something similar probably happened in France. And I think the Asian unemployment rate tends to hover close to the white unemployment rate.

          I think it’s generally somewhat misleading (as Ta-Nehisi Coates often emphasizes) to compare African-Americans to immigrant groups, because there’s been an explicit attempt by U.S. political institutions to interfere with their functioning. (This is more often a right-wing rhetorical cudgel.) If the post-WW2 U.S. had France like labor markets plus historically existing racism, the African-American unemployment rate would likely have been/be even higher.

          • Ronan

            The comparison of Algerians to African Americans is probably closer than to normal immigrant groups. (1) because of the long history of Algerians relegation to colonial subjects within France (2) the brutal anti colonial conflict that played out in living memory (3) the mass migration of Algerians into France. (Which included a substantial amount of very poor immigrants)
            You’re probably right about French Labour markets, to a degree, but you’re overstating your case, imo, by making it into an argument between “left neo liberalism” and social democracy. What social democracy is varies greatly across Europe, as do Labour markets across European social democracies.

            • Ransom Stoddard

              Right, good points.

            • CP

              Also the fact that until fifty years and change ago (around the same time as the civil rights victories in the U.S, in fact), Algeria was technically considered a full-blown part of France – legally speaking, it had the same status as Normandy or Burgundy or Provence. At the same time, the political system was designed to be massively slanted so that the ethnically French migrants would dominate it at all levels. So you’ve got a population that was legally obstructed from full representations or equal rights even as the law said that they were part of the homeland. Draw parallels to poll taxes and other mechanisms of segregation as you will.

              (Practically speaking it may not have been all that different from the “real” colonies, since the end result is still “white people rule, fuck the others,” but the legal aspect is interesting).

      • I don’t think it’s labor market regulation that’s the issue there as much as it is discrimination and a state that doesn’t really do anything about it because the state ignores the existence of race.

        • Ransom Stoddard

          But is that discrimination significantly more prevalent than current and historical anti-Hispanic or anti-Asian prejudice in the U.S.? (Honest question, though I doubt it.)

          And (again, honest question) how mechanistically does governmental “recognition” of racial disparities lead to different labor market outcomes?

          • I don’t know, but it’s pretty damn hard to find out if no one’s got data that can show one way or another.

            And government recognition allows for active efforts to combat discrimination.

    • Peter T

      If the metric is GDP per capita, maybe. But that metric is a very abstract construct. Median life expectancy and similar are more direct measures, and there France comes out ahead. Spent time in both, and would have to say that France seems better on average than the US – better transport, better built environment, more holidays, better child care, better health-care and so on.

      I took over a group working until 7.00 every night. My question was – what are you going to do when the emergency happens? As far as I was concerned, it was an indicator of inefficiency. Prodded them a bit, gave them their head on technical improvements, and a year later they were doing everything better and going home at 5.

  • Xenos

    I work in a mixed environgent (dutch firm, mostly french and German colleagues). The French go home immediately when their hours are done, and it really irritates some of the Germans. The Dutch don’t care as long as the work gets done. The few Spanish and Italian guys are so happy to have jobs they don’t care how long they have to work.

  • Vance Maverick

    Steven, looks like you took this guy’s image, possibly via Jacobin. Honor his labor with a link!

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