Sunday, 2 May 2010

Labour day after-thoughts

I spent the entire first day of May strolling around Warsaw, serving as a guide. In the early afternoon, at the corner of Nowy Świat and Al. Jerozolimskie my guests and I ran across one of the May Day marches organised by leftist organisations, lunatic-fringe parties or trade unions. As far as I know there were a few demonstrations in Warsaw on that day. The event we kept away from and just watched by could have sparked off a ferocious row over the political views, but I managed to head off that possibility and no one fell out over who to vote for and against, nor whose vision of Poland is the only right.

Apart from seeing the next divide lines I could discern my views, though still in a state of flux, have crystallised and I developed some gut reactions to some certain types of rhetoric.

According to what I’ve read later on the website of Gazeta Stołeczna, the demands of the protesters were the following:

1. Every woman and every man should have a right to pension off after respectively: 35 and 40 years of working. This actually means if they enter the labour market at the age of 22 (on average) they would retire at the age of 57 (women) or 62 (men), so earlier than now. But thanks to the advancement of social welfare and better quality of healthcare, technological development etc., they will live longer than their parents and work shorter. Who will pay for that? Just one question, but makes a considerably big crack on their demands.

2. As Mr Careerist Napieralski pointed out, Poland is still far from the welfare standard old countries of European Union stand for. Which countries? Germany, which is struggling to carry the burden of ageing society? France, paralysed by strikes whenever unionists don’t get a pay rise or when someone brazenly tries to extend the 35-hour workweek? Or maybe Greece which is paying the price for its welfare standards?

3. Some demonstrators trotted out the old buzz-phrases, such as: “the rich should pay for the crisis”, or “it’s your [employers’] crisis, not ours”, “Greek strikes show us the way”. Now let’s face it – the crisis had its roots in the USA and not only bankers are to blame, but also the subprime borrowers who took out loans they would never have stood a chance to pay back. And it is our crisis, also mine, because the labour market will not be as brisk as it used to be in 2007 or 2008 and I will not enjoy such career opportunities and will not be paid as generously as a few years older graduates of SGH. But if they trade unionists think their employers should bear the burden of cost-cutting, lower demand and pay claims on their own, then good luck and strangle your companies to death. It is easier to have a lower salary and make and ends meet or to live off social security? Maybe the latter, at least they don’t have to wake up and work for eight hours every day.

4. Not surprising were the calls to stop exploitation, comparing capitalism to cannibalism or even ideas to set up a Polish Soviet republic..

The common denominator of the claims above is economic illiteracy. There are some rules you cannot circumvent, like the simplest one, that if you don’t work for something, you don’t get it. Even you don’t work but grow richer it is because some else pays for it and you are sponging on them. Working less and getting paid more is like having a cake and eating it – not that easy in reality.

Alright, but let’s tackle the problem from a different angle. Why trade unions exist? Their origins can be traced back into the first half of nineteenth century, when they really had to fight for civilised working environment and human treatment. The creation of trade unions and emergence of socialist movement was a natural aftermath of primeval capitalism. These days in the companies where workers are treated decently and paid well nobody thinks about membership in trade unions. So the key to the door is to treat employees fairly. At least those well-educated will pay you back by not hampering your life.

On the other side of the barricade employers have their associations which pursue their goal. If trade unionists want to work less and get paid more, the employers would prefer to have their employees work more and pay them less. If both groups are to outwit each other, they will get nowhere.

In the evening I saw a coverage from street riots in Athens. The first thing I spotted was a policeman set on fire by protesters. As a child I saw accidentally a man ablaze and such a sight will probably always be traumatic for me. But hang on, how inhuman and cruel it is to set fire to a fellow man and watch him burning? It is beyond my comprehension that such uncivilised nation is in the European Union. They resorted to lies to enter the eurozone. Lies, blatant lies, statistics, Greek statistics, will it get worse? Now when their country is on the brink of bankruptcy instead of humbly getting down to work to lift it up they take to the streets. Ruling elite is to blame, but I have no sympathy for the ordinary Greeks who appear as coarse rabble.

So what can be done for the poor. The Labour-day protesters want more redistribution. I opine no redistribution, but the low-paid workers should not pay income tax and other quasi-taxes employers withhold. Currently a company has to spend around 2,000 PLN on an employee who gets paid around 1,300 PLN net. And if they got paid 2,000 or at least 1,800, wouldn’t they be better off? Socialists want higher taxes for the richer, “typical” liberals want lower taxes for the richer, I want lower taxes but mostly for the poorer. For my ideas of tax system click here.

There are also proposals to abolish the Labour Day as a relic of PRL. As many Poles I am against, not because I care about the marches, trade unions, etc. As many Poles I want to make the most of long weekend and the gust of spring warmth. Additional day off is a good occasion to cycle, take a trip, have a barbecue, work in the garden and for many other outdoor activities!

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