Remember last week's column? The one about the new B.C. LESS WORK PARTY that wants to promote overtime pay for workers spending more than 32 hours a week on the job?
I was struck by the fact that, while the party supporters realized they really had no chance of winning even one seat in the upcoming May elections in B.C., they were determined to push their LESS WORK campaign as a way of "making people think" about some of the work and family problems undermining too many aspects of today's North American workplace.
Admittedly I was using the LESS WORK people to reflect and support a few Jaundiced views of my own about the ways we are being manipulated these days, in what is now more and more a market-driven, self-centered society.
Although these LESS WORK supporters are a small voice blowing in the British Columbia wind, the same concerns about the future of working people and their families are front and centre right now with hundreds of thousands of French workers, who are challenging their government's plans to extend rather than reduce working hours throughout France. Last Saturday, organizers said more than half a million people marched in protest through 100 French towns and cities -- even the police estimate of the turn-out was close to 300.000.
The government bill that would enable private sector employees to opt to work for longer hours was expected to pass its first reading when it goes before the National Assembly this week. The current French government, described as being "Centre-Right," contends the currently-mandated 35-hour week has raised labour costs and kept unemployment high.
In an interview with the newspaper "Le Parisien," a government spokesperson insisted the plan to review the 35-hour work week, which came into force in 2000, would "increase the ability of workers to make their own choices."
"Why does the Left want to prevent this?" B.C.'s WORK LESS party claims to have lots of good answers to that question.
Oddly enough, George Bush is now heavily involved in pushing for quite different changes that will also affect future incomes of American workers. He wants to give them the right to make decisions of their own about improving their social security retirement plans.
For years, privatizers -- including Bush -- have claimed people would do better with private accounts than with traditional Social Security, even if they played it safe and invested in U.S. government bonds (which yield three per cent after inflation).
But to many, even among Republicans, the Bush proposal sounds extreme.
Columnist Paul Krugman, writing in the NEW YORK TIMES, has his own explanation of Bush-style social security privatization:
". . . it is, in effect, as if your financial adviser told you that you wouldn't have enough money when you retire -- but you shouldn't save more. Instead, you should borrow a lot of money, buy stocks and hope for capital gains . . . The only way to get ahead would be to invest in risky assets like stocks, and hope for higher yields. But if the investment went wrong and you earned less than three per cent after inflation, your benefit cuts would leave you poorer than if you had never opened that private account . . ."
It's probably true (I'm an innocent in such matters) that experts usually tell people to plan for their retirement by investing in a mix of stocks and bonds. If the experts are honest, they disapprove strongly of speculation on margin because that apparently means borrowing to buy the stocks.
On the point of "honest experts" I found these further references to the Bush plan in the TIMES Letters to the Editor last weekend:
". . . This is a bogus solution to an imaginary problem. It only serves to further polarize the parties and distract our energies from the multitude of real, life-threatening issues that confront us . . ."
". . . If investing were simple and risk-free, everyone would do it. But it's not. People lose money every day of the week. There are two main factors working against average Americans doing well in the stock market: greed and greed. The first greed is in the form of professionals giving advice to buy and sell investments based on their own financial needs, not on what's best for the client. The second greed is in the form of an investor's basic greed to make a big profit overnight. Wherever the greed originates, the risk is great . . ."
FINAL WEATHER REPORT: Number of Victorians I saw mowing their lawn last week: one. Number of letter carriers in shorts: two. But then there was some cold, wet snow on Sunday which disappeared by Tea Time.