In France, There Is a Cost to Executives for Laying People Off
Union activists protesting nearly 3,000 proposed layoffs at Air France stormed the headquarters during a meeting Monday, zeroing in on two managers who had their shirts torn from their bodies, scaled a fence and fled under police protection.
There are two great problems with our attitude towards violence today. The first is that we condemn it as “bad,” but permit it for people who abuse it. What we really mean is that violence by the state is ok, but violence by anyone else isn’t. You can justify that when the state doesn’t abuse its monopoly on violence (much), but that’s hard to do for most states.
The second is that we fail to recognize non-violent actions that have horrid consequences as serious. Laying off thousands of people has serious consequences for those people–consequences that are much more serious than having some clothes shredded.
We lock up “violent criminals,” but we hardly even bother to lock up most white collar criminals and, when we do, they get off lightly, as a rule. No one went to jail for the financial crisis, despite the fact that the fallout from that is far worse than a hundred serial killers each killing ten people.
I don’t like violence. But neither do I like going hungry. I don’t like homelessness. I don’t like millions of people in refugee camps. I don’t like—well, add to the list as you please.
Corporations are given a very valuable set of privileges by the government, including protection of their owners and officers from a wide range of normal liability for financial losses, negligence, and, indeed, in effect, criminal actions. Effective immortality and a wide range of tax advantages allow corporations to do things no actual person can do.
These privileges are granted because it is presumed that corporations are in the interest of society.
When a corporation does not act in the interest of society, the law allows it for it to be dissolved. This is done routinely to small corporations, but almost never to large corporations.
Corporations have multiple responsibilities: to shareholders, to employees, to customers, and to society as a whole. Officers and managers in corporations receive extra compensation (a lot of extra compensation, though less in France than in the US) in exchange for, presumably, taking on extra responsibility and being more skilled (or something, I’m often unsure what) than line employees.
I don’t know the specifics of Air France’s situation. Perhaps the layoffs truly are required.
If so, whose responsibility is that?
Barring an Act of God it is hard to make the case that it isn’t the responsibility of management. No? They are paid to be responsible, after all, and they are supposed to be competent.
The buck stops somewhere. If it doesn’t stop with a company’s management and officers, it stops nowhere.
Equally important is the fact that we keep precisely, and only, the rights (which includes property and jobs) that we are able and willing to fight for. Any other rights we have in excess will eventually be taken away from, awaiting only someone with enough power to gain the opportunity and motive to do so.
This is the real law of the jungle. Nothing. You have no rights, no possessions. Nothing. Everything you “have” is because it was at one point in the interest of others that you have it. Once it is no longer in their interest, watch out.
Union negotiating, in whatever form, is about making sure that management, officers, and society understand that taking what union members have incurs a cost. Air France may continue with layoffs, but be sure that a message has been received, and will be taken into account.
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