Friday, April 07, 2006

No, We Do Not Need to Take to the Streets

Most of us have reacted the recent French protests over a new jobs law with a mix of amusement and disapproval. How spoiled are the French if they can’t even tolerate the chance they might be fired from a job? Are they that out-of-touch with the realities of the world?

Well, according to Barbara Ehrenreich, we Americans are the idiots for not demanding the same kinds of job protections the French enjoy.

In an argument that is almost unrepentantly Marxist, Ehrenreich sees the French protestors as noble resisters to the darkly oppressive employment system that sucks the life from American workers. Worse yet, she claims we American workers are complicit in our own oppression. She writes:

Years ago, there was a theory on the American left that someone—maybe it was me—termed Worsism: the worse things get, the more likely people will be to rise up and demand their rights. But in America, at least, the worse things get, the harder it becomes to even imagine any kind of resistance. The fact that you can be fired “at will”—the will of the employer, that is—freezes employees into terrified obedience. Add to that the fact that job loss is accompanied by a loss of access to health care, and you get a kind of captive mentality bordering on the kinkily masochistic: Beat me, insult me, double my workload, but please don’t set me free!

By her description, you’d think the average American office was only one step above a gulag, albeit a gulag with prisoners who pervertedly desire to be incarcerated. The contempt Ehrenreich holds for both American business and the American worker is offensive. When was the last time she even worked in an American office outside of liberal publications like The Progressive? Is she basing this on a horrible personal experience or on nothing more than her general disdain for all things American?

Either way, she’s displaying the kind of rhetoric that makes liberals of her ilk practically unreadable and certainly unhelpful. I actually agree that American workers could use less insecurity in their jobs. And I have long argued that American workers are seriously burdened by a system the ties affordable healthcare too tightly to employment. But Ehrenreich is ridiculous to suggest that Americans are somehow inferior to the French because we are more understanding of the give-and-pull of employment.

There is absolutely no reason to take to the streets over jobs when we as a nation enjoy one of the highest standard of livings in the history of the world. Sure we can improve, but Ehrenreich is wrong to so egregiously inflate the problem and so spitefully belittle the American workers. Her style of communication serves only to hamper the efforts of those clear-headed activists who actually respect American workers and are genuinely trying to improve the lives of employees.

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