Air France Strike Was A Microcosm Of Europe's Problems

Air France Jets EmptyREUTERS/Jacky NaegelenHeaded back to the skies.

After two weeks, Air France pilots ended a strike that had been costing the airline $US25 million a day.

However, it doesn’t really sound like anything was resolved. Reuters reported that the pilots returned to skies due more to resignation over a lack of progress than to anything resembling a settling of differences.

The core disagreement involved Transavia, a low-cost carrier that Air France-KLM hopes to expand both in France and across Europe. Transavia pilots aren’t compensated as generously as Air France pilots, and Air France-KLM has balked at negotiating for parity as it expands outside France. Ergo, the strike.

Reuters noted that “[t]he dispute highlighted discrepancies in wages, labour conditions and welfare coverage between European countries which are theoretically part of a single market for goods and services, but in fact compete with each other for jobs.”

To observers of Europe’s problems since the financial crisis, this isn’t news. The union isn’t really all in it together, as weaker economies offer what to workers in stronger economies look like labour policies that tilt in favour of lower wages and fewer benefits.

The New York Times’ Eduardo Porter astutely summarized the trend last year.

“Tethered to the euro and thus unable to devalue their currency to help make their goods less expensive in export markets, many European countries — especially those along the Continent’s southern rim that have been hammered by the financial crisis — have been furiously dismantling workplace protections in a bid to reduce the cost of labour,” he wrote.

The Air France pilots strike was all about this new reality. It ended inconclusively. But the dispute hasn’t disappeared, so it would be foolish to expect that the pilots won’t walk out again. The question is whether doing so will ultimately make much of a difference.

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