Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Strikes in France: Enough's Enough!

The educators at France's first juvenile penitentiary (établissement pénitentiaire pour mineur, AMOTMJ - English, pamphlet), in Lavaur, began a strike yesterday, the facility's first day of operation (Le Monde - English, La Dépeche du Midi - English, La Croix - English). The facility is the first of seven to be opened beginning this year in accordance with a criminal reform law creating a separate space for juvenile offenders in an effort to synthesize sanction and education (La Loi d'Orientation et de Programmation pour la Justice du 9 septembre 2002). Currently, France's 700 offending minors are held in adult facilities.

The educators' principal demand is to meet with with the facility's director to discuss their complaints regarding personnel, remuneration, and security. The Confédération Générale du Travail, who supports the workers, claims that the 24 recruited employees plus support staff are insufficient to handle the facility's detainees, since the original plans called for 36, even though the facility has temporarily lowered its maximum capacity from 60 to 40 to accommodate the lack of personnel. Twelve adolescents were transfered to the facility Monday, and another twelve are scheduled to arrive next week.

Now, please note that what I'm about to say does not come from any anti-French sentiment: I love the French--I lived and worked there for a year and would love to go back. But, give me a break! This attitude that you should exercise your right to strike on every occasion has gone too far. To say that the facility is understaffed when the pupil-to-adult ratio is better than one-to-one (or even two-to-one as would be the case at full capacity) is, frankly, utterly absurd. The staff may have a legitimate desire for personal alarm equipment, but a strike at the facility's opening is hardly the appropriate means of expressing their views, especially when the facility is operating at a drastically reduced capacity. This facility has been in the planning stages for four years--the personnel should have known what they were getting into when they signed up--and if they had any objections, raising them before the adolescents were scheduled to arrive would have been the appropriate action.

Union strikes may be useful in cases where the power imbalance puts workers at a significant disadvantage and working conditions are disgraceful, but I simply don't see how that could be the case here. My guess is that the personnel at this facility are decently well-educated and have a fair degree of social capital. Their working conditions, though perhaps improvable (what isn't?), are far from inhumane or unbearable. Furthermore, strikes in the public sector usually do nothing but create a lot of noise and inconvenience innocent third-parties (such as school children or people who rely on public transportation), unlike in the private sector where the interruption of production decreases profits and directly hurts the managers against whom the workers have a complaint. Refusing to play and pouting in the corner because you don't like the rules is childish--end this foolishness and have a mature, reasonable negotiation like adults.

1 comment:

Michael Culbertson said...

The prison staff returned to work after three days of strike following a visit from the director of prisions (ASH - English).