Archive for the ‘Labour’ Category

Did John Edwards have an advantage all along?

The advantage being that there are fewer sons of mill-workers – meaning he had a monopoly on the narrative (I don’t know if his father was a flour-mill-worker or not). From The American Journal of Industrial Medicine, via Reuters:

Using data from the Washington State health department, researchers found that the children of men who worked in flour mills were disproportionately female. Of 59 children born to these workers between 1980 and 2002, 37 — or roughly 63 percent — were girls.

In contrast, just over 51 percent of children born in Washington during that period were boys, according to the findings published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

The current study found that, besides the low prevalence of male births, boys born to flour mill workers also weighed significantly less than average. Their average birthweight was 7 pounds, compared with nearly 8 pounds among girls born to flour mill workers, and about 7 pounds, 12 ounces among boys born statewide.

Unfortunately, and despite their false promises, my library either doesn’t have access, or won’t give it to me, off-campus, but from the paper’s abstract:

The Washington State Department of Health has collected and coded parental occupation information on birth certificates since 1980. We used these data to search for possible effects of parental occupational exposures on birth outcomes.

We tabulated sex ratio, birth weight, and proportions of multiple births, still births, and malformations by mothers’ and fathers’ occupations.

There were 59 births (22 boys and 37 girls) where the father’s occupation was specified as flour mill worker. The sex ratio of 0.373 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.261-0.500) was lower than the mean sex ratio of 0.512. The mean birth weight for flour mill workers’ boy babies was 3,180 g (95% CI: 2,971-3,389), compared to an overall mean of 3,511 g for all boy babies. The mean birth weight of flour mill workers’ girl babies was 3,602 (95% CI: 3,380-3,824), compared to an overall mean of 3,389 for all girl babies.

The low prevalence of male infants born to fathers of flour mill workers in Washington State suggests that fumigants that they are exposed to are causing testicular dysfunction. The very low birth weight seen in the male infants of flour mill fathers is unprecedented and may be another genotoxic endpoint.

This lack of access is annoying, because I really want to see the paper. Why, you ask? Well I can certainly understand that question, having just asked it myself (hat-tip to Colonel Blake).

This sort of analysis is prone to several statistical problems. The first is what we call “power”. “Power” is a function of sample size: small samples are under-powered. Why? Because a small sample has less information, possibly too little information, with which to establish properly the distribution of the data. Moreover, too-small samples are less and less likely to represent properly a population (meaning your results apply only to your sample – in this case Washington State, say – and not to the population at large). The authors are, above, using confidence intervals, meaning they’re relying upon the Central Limit Theorem. They certainly can do this, although their sample of 59, with p = .373, isn’t all that close to the criteria for textbook statistics (at nearly 50/50 probabilities, one is a lot more assured of underlying normality).

I’m just wary of small samples. I’d like to see what else they did. The proportion of males is statistically significantly less than the population proportion (we can see this because the 95% confidence interval of the proportion of males does not include 0.512), but I’m willing to bet the confidence intervals of each (p = .373 and p* = .512 overlap significantly, and I’d like to see by how much (meaning I’d like to see how the confidence intervals work using the “population” numbers, rather than the mill-worker numbers).

The other problem I’d like to see worked out is Simpson’s Paradox. Simpson’s paradox is an aggregation issue and the classic example of it, in fact, relates to low-birth-weight babies (of smokers). It basically says that, merely by dis-aggregating data, one can draw incorrect conclusions. In the case of this paper, the low-birth-weight problem, once children have been separated by gender, might not have been observed had they not been separated by gender.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting that there’s nothing here worth responding to. At the very least it has picked up the workers of Washington State, and Washington State ought to respond – assuming the “population” numbers are also Washington State, rather than national, in which case another set of comparisons would be needed. This is more a stats-geek level of interest.

Oh, I think Edwards’ father worked at a textile mill.

How to read labour productivity numbers

Labour productivity is a key ingredient in long-run economic growth. In the US, reasonably poor levels contributed a great deal to the slow economic growth from the 70s through to the 90s:

bls pic

So we should expect some attention to this detail – and we get it:

U.S. productivity decelerated at the end of 2007 along with the economy, yet its climb was much higher than expected, while unit labor costs went up far less than projected.

Nonfarm business productivity increased at a 1.8% annualized rate between October through December, the Labor Department said Wednesday. It had gone up 6.0% in the third quarter, a number revised down from a previously estimated 6.3% surge.

The 1.8% increase was far above Wall Street expectations of a 0.5% rise. Economists had expected a slowdown because the economy braked sharply during the fourth quarter, rising just 0.6% after soaring 4.9% during the third quarter.

Now, me? I’m just a miserable bastard, so my interpretation of this won’t surprise anyone, but

  1. Productivity wasn’t really up: it was just down less than expected. That isn’t a good outcome: it’s a bad outcome that followed poor prediction (itself a bad indication);
  2. It was made up of hours worked – meaning fewer people are doing the same amount of work.

This latter point is significant: it means a state of constant whitewater. This is defined by as:

Economic, financial, or operational chaos.

Sounds about right (actually – and I’m not kidding – I first learned of the term from a Batman comic).

It means the economy is made up of (i) people losing their jobs, and (ii) people keeping their jobs, but inheriting higher workloads. Either or both ways, the quality of life of the American worker (employed or unemployed) is decreasing. As measured by GDP, this will go down; as not measured by GDP, declining quality of life is a problem for any OECD country.

The Wall Street Journal article contains a handful of ancillary statistics. I quite liked this one:

Nonfarm business output increased 0.4% during the fourth quarter, the Labor Department said in Wednesday’s report. Hours worked fell 1.5%. Hourly compensation increased 3.9%. Real compensation, adjusted for inflation, dropped 0.3%.

That’s right. You either lost your job or had your workload accelerate, but your purchasing power fell. Welcome to the new suburban fable.

Should remittances count as foreign aid?

This is no small matter. The US, for example, has consistently (until recently) given the least (per GNI) amongst the OECD:

ODA chart

They recently moved off the bottom (while pipping Japan as the no. 1 in dollar terms). More generally, the fabled promise in the 1970s to double aid as a percentage of GNI has gone walkabout for everyone – it has about halved, as I understand it. The shortfall on this promise is some USD3.1tr, now (with USD2.6tr having been spent – 2005 dollars). Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg and the Netherlands the generous exceptions to that rule.

Using the US as an examplar, again, the concept of Foreign Aid is also repeateadly muddied by Military Aid (accounting practices that called military assistance ‘foreign aid’ to make the money numbers look better after the Asian tsunami, an excellent example in international relations) and Food Aid (previously seen here, last Summer).

Across the world, aid aid is declining in proportion to our wealth – illustrated well, I think, by the Davos World Economic Forum consisting almost entirely, this year, of financial murmuring and jumping at the shadows of Sovereign Wealth Funds.

This is context and motive. If we send the army to help dig out a village, is that budgeting expense not Foreign Aid? If we give migrants jobs, and then those migrants send USD300bn of the money they earn back home (and with remittances growing substantially faster than Foreign Aid or Foreign Direct Investment), is that not Foreign Aid?

No way, says Ambassador Munir Akram of Pakistan, until recently chairman of the 130-member Group of 77 developing nations.

“We have to be very careful not to allow these remittances to be portrayed by the North as contributions on their part to development. They are trying to do this,” he told IPS.

Akram said Pakistan receives about 4.5 billion dollars annually as remittances from workers worldwide.

As a general rule, he pointed out, those who are poorest among the migrants send the most money to their families back home.

“These are our people, our workers. We invested in them, they studied in our countries, they got their education, and they are sending a small proportion of their earnings back home,” he said.

Akram said there is a move by Western donors to treat expatriate earnings as part of development assistance to developing nations.

He said these unnamed donors want to count remittances from North to South, but at the same time, they don’t want count repatriation of profits — from South to North.

“They will try and project expatriate remittances as an element of the contribution from the North to the South as a reason for not meeting other aid targets. We need to expose them,” said Akram, the permanent representative of Pakistan to the United Nations.

The answer is “no”, any more than my purchase of Oxfam coffee should be counted as Foreign Aid, for a couple of reasons. First, as above, it’s a scam. We can’t let our international aid accounting consist of shenanigans – that’s what we call a slippery slope (yes, before we know it, Rick Santorum will be given dogs to countries for their people to marry. Or something).

The second is more straight-forward for me, probably less straight-forward for some. Migrant workers are no different from any other worker (besides getting a rawer deal in just about every dimension, of course). They are hired according to the market supply of their labour, and paid according to demand for what they help produce, and the Marginal Revenue Product of Labour in what they produce. Less so, actually (refer to the part about them getting the raw deal).

There is no factor in the labour market for migrants that includes remittances. They do not demand higher wages because of the higher costs they incur as remitting migrants (trademark, I think, for that one), and firms most certainly do not factor in that need when they make a wage-offer. There is nothing deliberate about financing remittancing, from the perspective of the domestic OECD labour market.

The domestic economy involved loses income from remittances, yes – but (a) it allows, freely, the markets that service remittances to form, and make a profit, which means everything is working smoothly (in fact a lot of remittances are still made through unofficial channels, meaning the domestic economy is inefficiently benefitting from the practice, and should improve market-based services for remittances), and (b) the destruction of domestic income/money supply due to remittances pales in comparison to things like military expenditure.

If anything, remittances should be considered a better investment than expenditure by migrants: bullets are destroyed, yet their manufacture means a job. Given their income, a migrant’s spending of that money would be on consumption, which is the slow contributor to economic growth. Well, by sending money home, migrants are boosting the GDP in, and living standards of, underdeveloped countries, strengthening them as markets for exports – and future sources of skilled labour – for the OECD.

Making remittances not aid.

As the IPS article also details, the emigration of skilled labour – particularly health professionals – is a serious and growing public health and human capital development issue for under-developed nations.

So, a compromise. The OECD should start adding remittances by skilled migrants to our Foreign Aid, but we should subtract the balance of their wage or salary from Foreign Aid, since our having them means their own country is left behind. Seems only fair.

WGA update: the not-so-basic economics of industrial action

First: I love Alec Baldwin. That isn’t so related; it’s just worth putting “out there”.

He has written a piece for the Huffington Post, concerning the ongoing industrial action of the Writers’ Guild of America – for whom it is hard not to feel: hell, even the collective noun for their opponents (the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) sounds evil, and that’s not just because I’m a fan of Firefly, because so is ever other right-thinking individual.

To the article!

The entertainment business, movies, TV, music, is divided between buyers and sellers. The sellers are actors, musicians, directors writers and their agents. The buyers are the studios, the networks, the labels. Over the last fifteen years or more, the balance of power has shifted dramatically from the sellers to the buyers.

Once, powerful agencies made astronomical deals on behalf of their biggest clients. The rising tide that resulted lifted all boats. Major stars were paid large fees and their supporting castmates made enviable salaries, as well. In the 1990s, that began to change. Today, the biggest stars are still paid huge salaries, but other salaries have dropped significantly. Roles are cast at a fixed price and the producers find the actor who will work at that budgeted amount.

Some of the most prominent names in film and television switched sides. The end of the sellers’ market meant big name agents became producers, even executives, as the party was ending for many of their clients. Today, most agencies, one could argue, work for the buyers. Agents realize that their ten percent of their clients’ income comes from the studios and networks as a cushion shot. It is banked off of their clients, but it comes from the buyers. When I started in this business, agents went to war with the buyers on behalf of their clients over casting and money. Agents still fight for their clients to get a role, but the money discussion is brief. The buyers essentially fax over the deal and the artist says yea or nay.

The strike may go on for a variety of reasons. On one hand, the writers are cursed because they are right on most issues but they are awful negotiators. They got screwed in 1988 and expect the buyers to make up for that, like some kind of reparations. That will never happen. The time for making that situation right was 1988.

The studios have a different problem. They are owned by huge, creativity-deadening corporations and operated by lawyers and marketing executives who lord over the worst creative decline I have witnessed in a long time, particularly in films.

In television, companies like GE view properties like NBC the way realtors view square footage. GE does not care what is on NBC. So long as the programming is relatively inoffensive, they want to earn as much per square foot as they can. In the current strike, the writers expect the buyers to have a soul. The buyers, who cannot count a real filmmaker or television programmer among them, view a soul as an impediment to business.

Working backwards – and, full disclosure-wise-speaking, I do not own a TV in either town of my living – I find the line “the worst creative decline I have witnessed in a long time” speaks “to” something I cannot define easily. For a start, Joss Whedon and Stargate notwithstanding, nothing thoroughly intelligent has really been on since MASH and Astroboy; more specifically, though, what I see, now, is hand-wringing at the idea of ever-more reality shows making it on air, TV absent writers. That’s the yardstick? No bloody wonder TV drives me spare. We have writing still, meanwhile “news” is already a field for which Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly qualify.

Apropos which – writers being employees/form-writers, rather than artistic content-providers – the New York Times’ article concerning advertising was almost good (it was lazy, and utterly incomplete, but not a bad start).

Alec Baldwin is wrong, however, in his description of the industrial organisation of TV and film, “The sellers are actors, musicians, directors writers and their agents. The buyers are the studios, the networks, the labels.” It is not a market with buyers and sellers: it is an example (at the moment a very complex example) of a Principal-Agent model. Specifically: Agents (this is going to get weird), actors, etc. are not Sellers, per se. Content-providers (including actors) are Principals; Agents and Collective Representation Organisations (guilds, unions) are Agents.

Agents are Agents, rather than sellers, or Principals, because they aren’t selling anything: they are facilitating the selling of skilled labour, on behalf of the suppliers of that skilled labour. Why? Because actors know how to act: they are not versed in studio/corporate crap. Same for writers, musicians. When you see your doctor, they are your agent: you do not know how much medical care to purchase; your doctor, as your agent, advises you. You trust them, because they have information that you do not. Structurally (from blessed Wikipedia):

wiki pic

What’s the problem? The Agent often has incentives that differ systematically from those of Principal: this is the Principal-Agent problem. If one’s dentist tells them they need a root canal, maybe they do: maybe, though, they simply have a problem, for which a root canal is lucrative over-kill. When one is trying (and, here, failing) to successfully bargain collectively for a new system of profit-sharing, the Agents (agents, unions, guilds) may benefit from strike where the Principals do not.

This makes the problem quite complex: how does the Principal even figure this out? The Agent exists precisely because the Principal does not have this sort of information (and, remember, it isn’t as though every writer out there is – or has the time to become – properly informed about this issue). However, consider these as options for the Agent, as it appears negotiations are failing:

  1. Concede. Pursue a Maximin/second-best/least-worst outcome for the Principal. Risk, as a result, losing membership amongst a newly-dis-enfranchised Sellers/Principals, or
  2. Fight. Pursue instead, possibly a Pyrrhic victory, possibly a Forster-esque honourable defeat, possibly outright victory – but almost certainly a risky strategy that is more likely than not to leave the Principal with negative net utility. This time, however you will have put up a fight, and be more likely to keep your members.

During a strike, with incomes lost and the future at its least certain, we are inclined to rely more heavily upon our Agents; in fact, it is the time at which we should examine them the most closely (let me also point out that I am a staunchly unionist-leaning Australian. Don’t assume any of this means that I am against unions. Or dentists or doctors. Incentives are the way they are, though, and that’s that). Even Alec Baldwin says

In the current strike, the writers expect the buyers to have a soul. The buyers, who cannot count a real filmmaker or television programmer among them, view a soul as an impediment to business.

By conflating Principals and Agents a sellers, collectively, he makes the naive assumption that the Agents are any different to the Buyers.

To end Political: as we learn more and more about which “leaders” in Congress and the Senate heard and knew about, say, illegal wire-tapping, extra-ordinary rendition, water-boarding, etc., it behoves us also to consider the Principal Agent problem of our time. This applies to Government and to Media (including the Huffington Post. Hell, including me).

UAW/Chrysler deal slowly not failing…

Chrysler workers at three of four key United Auto Workers union locals voting Wednesday approved a new contract with the company, the presidents of the locals said.

Votes were still being tallied Wednesday night at Local 1700 in Sterling Heights. That local represents 2,500 workers who make the Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger midsize cars.

The votes were good news for UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, who has faced serious challenges from some members opposed to the deal. The tentative agreement must be ratified by a majority of members to go into effect.

The four union locals voting Wednesday represent more than 8,600 workers – or roughly 19 percent of the 45,000 workers who would be covered by the historic four-year agreement.

It is interesting to see that which, usually, has indicated success, across the board. This time, however, mere percentages aren’t helping. Somebody get Dan Rather.

Eight local unions representing more than 16,000 workers have now turned down the landmark pact, while nine locals representing about 15,200 workers have approved it. It’s nearly impossible to keep a running total because most local union officials give out only percentages and not the number of people who voted. Also, officials of some smaller locals could not be reached or would not give out results.

Gary Chaison, a labor specialist at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., said the discontent with the contract is a sign of a union in disarray.

“Each local is looking out for themselves now,” Chaison said. “The larger locals, the big assembly locals, see the most to lose in terms of job cuts. They feel they can oppose the national officers.”

Interestingly, little to no importance (either in reporting or negotiation) has been given to the (new) Cerberus ownership of Chrysler. I’m not suggesting this is related – it could have just been that such ownership made up the impetus needed to really push back against the UAW and extract some real concessions (and I’m not even convinced that manufacturing cars people only want thanks to tax cuts is in America’s real interests, anyway).

One has to hand it to them, though: a fractured union, two-tiered workforce, self-interested locals displaying little cohesion or solidarity. If Cerberus’d made a list of cool things to do when they bought Chrysler, these would have rated well above whiskers on kittens.

UAW/Chrysler deal slowly failing

Having just written a UAW story. I’m not even a labour economist (hell, I don’t even drive).

Workers at three more United Auto Workers locals have rejected a tentative contract agreement between the union and Chrysler LLC, casting doubt on whether the deal will be ratified.

Although final totals from the 45,000 workers voting on the pact won’t be made known until next week, the size and locations of the locals voting no are not good signs for leaders in Detroit, said Harley Shaiken, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley who specializes in labor issues.

“The early results are abysmal,” Shaiken said. “Members have sent a message of considerable unrest.”

Given that the UAW/GM deal barely passed, overall (65% or so for, from memory), the pessimism and bad feeling setting in is a fairly bad sign (I think), concerning the ultimate prospects. The factories voting differ somewhat, though – specifically in terms of the future expectations of workers.

… 14 of 21 factories … have no future products to make after the current product life cycle or the life of the new contract. Seven were to get future products.

… McDonaugh, who favors the contract, said the vote was better than expected because the Newark plant is slated to be closed by the company. He was appalled at locals voting down the agreement at plants with future product guarantees and accused dissidents of spreading misinformation.

Many “noncore” workers at his plant thought their pay would be cut in half to around $14 per hour under the new contract, but McDonaugh said that isn’t true.

“The language states, no current seniority worker will be assigned entry-level wages even if they are classified in non-core jobs,” McDonaugh said. “They will be on the fork trucks, handling the material and working in the tool stores until they retire, quit or die,” he said.

One can see a problem asking a plant set for closure to vote on a new contract. However, this is still a workers’ union – is there solidarity or is there not? Surely the UAW can reasonably expect it. Given the high risk of the two-tiered workforce driving big splits in unionised labour, the smooth functioning of the workforce (the power of collective bargaining when it’s only half of the collective), to see bitter votes pushing towards the first failure of ratification in a couple of decades (and maybe it’s about time?) can hardly raise smiles in union offices.

There is also the voting itself – is a majority of members, or of plants, required? Reading the AP story, it seems that their success stories come from substantially smaller plants than those at which the ratification is failing.

To “save” the domestic auto industry, the union may end up killing itself

Columnist for the Nation Max Fraser made this his principle assessment of that last, mad rush to close the Summer and the Summer’s negotiations, for the United Auto Workers.

The historic concessions made by the United Auto Workers, billed as necessary measures to keep the reeling Big Three from bankruptcy, in fact represent something far more ominous. To “save” the domestic auto industry, the union may end up killing itself.

This is a fair assessment (allowing for the trouble the union is having with ratification for the Chrysler deal. The GM deal was ratified – just). The union has protected – more or less – its current members, but has done so at the cost of getting many more. Having established two tiers of auto workers – the new hires, the “non-core” hires, will cost around a third less (depending upon the estimates I see), so the odds of them giving any of what’s left to the union that created that tier is small. Even allowing for the argument that, without that concession, the jobs wouldn’t exist, on any tier (Communication Workers Union, if you’re reading…).

Fraser looks, with some clarity (and some subjectivity, but that’s cool, too) to the future:

… the proliferation of Toyota, Honda and other foreign-owned plants has accounted for virtually all recent growth in domestic auto manufacturing. After decades of watching plants close down and jobs move overseas, the UAW finds itself beset by a process of globalization-in-reverse, as foreign automakers increasingly “insource” production with cheap nonunion labor in right-to-work and Rust Belt states. The global South has arrived in Detroit’s backyard.

If the UAW is to have a future, it must figure out a way into these foreign-owned factories.

More easily said than done. Amongst other things, we’re talking about foreign firms building factories in the US. They aren’t stupid: in the Age of Waltons and Monopsony Employers, they know exactly how to keep both unions, and out-of-work-union-labour-from-out-of-state (read: Detroit) from buggering up their game – while also having learned exactly how Big Firms Appeal to State Legislatures. The UAW probably only had employed, unionised workers for them, and they just mortgaged off most of their future of that resource.

Ultimately, the debate is larger than this, entirely, including such questions as, should the US even make its own cars anymore? Can it compete in the world for the production of elaborately-transformed manufactures? At some point even the protectionist resource allocators may need to decide that there just isn’t a margin in pursuing that final value-added step in production.

Eco 1 students: this is comparative advantage, specialisation and gains from trade. Come the day, we may well look back on the death of Big Union with gratitude, for allowing unimpeded pursuit of points of consumption well outside our production possibilities frontiers. We may also deeply regret it – that’s half the fun of economics (we’re never the ones being squeezed out of our mortgages, you see).

UAW on to Chrysler, now

I saw the strangest story (from the Associated Press, via Yahoo! and the Huffington Post).

The United Auto Workers put Chrysler LLC on notice that a strike is possible if contract talks stall, a person briefed on the talks said, but a labor expert said the union’s action could be a bargaining tactic.

A strike notice could be a tactic by the union to put pressure on the company as the talks intensify, said Harley Shaiken, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley who specializes in labor issues.

“The union wants the deadline to encourage a settlement sooner rather than later,” Shaiken said.

Uh-huh. Note to self: begin marketing self as labour expert. Here’s a tip: every industrial action by a labour union is a bargaining tactic. That’s why they exist – remember? Collective bargaining? Anything?

Anyway. In the end, it didn’t have much of an effect on the bottom line (i.e. shareholders) over at GM:


An indication that Chrysler (80-odd percent held by Cerberus still, as I recall) shouldn’t face too great a threat – as long as it signs the right dotted lines. I think GM benefitted from the strike, actually, being able to sell off some unwanted inventories (Economic Principles: unplanned investment occurs during an economic slowdown. When firms plan on selling a certain amount, they build/stock-up-on that amount. When the don’t sell that much, inventories build up. Unplanned investment).

So. Suppose you’re an auto manufacturer and you perceive the game as this: you’re not selling so well but, by dragging your feet a bit, you can make your own workforce take their own few days off…

Going postal

I have such a thing for postal economics.

EU delaying opening up of competition in Europe’s postal sector

European Union governments on Monday pushed back the full opening up of competition in Europe’s €88 billion postal sector by two years, until 2011, in the face of strong pressure from some national postal monopolies.

Although resistance was led by countries nervous about foreign competitors poised to swoop in, EU officials rejected suggestions that nationalist politics were at play in the $125 billion market.

Well, yes. They would.

This is, of course (and as I painfully revisit) while Britain’s Royal Mail lost its monopoly, lost it early, lost more customers than we could count, faster than we could count them anyway, and now faces the likes of TNT.

So … Britain’s reaction?

The commission, backed by Britain and Germany, has said that it was unfair that some countries had fully opened competition while others had done nothing. It has demanded that all EU nations open up their postal services and put independent regulators in charge.

So far Sweden, Britain and Finland are the only EU countries to have scrapped their postal monopolies completely. Plans are under way do so in Germany and the Netherlands by January. In Germany, new competitors have already emerged to challenge Deutsche Post in certain areas, giving them ready-made networks when full competition takes effect.

British officials welcomed the proposal, saying that the opening up of the British postal sector in January 2006 had vastly improved the performance of Royal Mail, the national postal operator.

Given this whole agenda was apparently laid out some 15 years ago, it is taking on positively NAFTA-esque dimensions (Eco 1 students will recognise that as a reference to Mexican sugar).

Finally, the International Herald Tribune was also kind enough to bring this to our delighted attention:

“This does not signal a victory for the forces of protectionism in Europe,” said Oliver Drewes, a spokesman for Charlie McCreevy, the EU’s internal market commissioner. “This will enhance competition.”

Brussels. The gift that keeps on giving (go read about Boris Johnson’s poor daughter, some time).

Royal mail update x

Oh, Royal Mail. Why do your workers insist you bleed slowly to death?

The main postal union, the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU), has announced further details of its forthcoming UK-wide strike action.

Its 130,000 Royal Mail members will walk-out for 48 hours between noon on Thursday, 4 October, and the same time on Saturday, 6 October.

A second 48-hour strike will take place from 0300 BST on Monday, 8 October, to the same time on Wednesday, 10 October.

What is it about this time? The same thing it’s been about every time.

At the centre of the dispute is the CWU’s objection to the Royal Mail’s 2.5% pay offer and modernisation plans.

The union claims the shake-up plans will put about 40,000 jobs at risk.

It just doesn’t change. This time around, managers look like joining:

Royal Mail managers look set to join postal strike action over cuts to pensions.

The managers have previously stepped in to provide cover during strikes by Royal Mail workers but they look likely to join the strikes, according to the Unite union, which represents 12,000 Royal Mail managers.

I’m somewhat sympathetic to the Royal Mail. Somewhat – as I’ve said before, irregardless of the reasons why the Royal Mail has come to this point, 40,000 of its jobs are at risk because it has lost its monopoly on mail delivery in the UK. Soon it will also lose its functioning monopoly on “lest-leg” (i.e. to your door) deliveries. And it’s bleeding customers.

It can lose 40,000 jobs and fit in, in this new world, or it can keep the 40,000 jobs and lose itself. The insistence of workers on striking just seems to me cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. Or however that goes. This insistence is common, and commonly justified, by unions. It can easily be true that the a company is being pared back while its own executive level bathes in cocaine and leather-upholstered meeting rooms. I just don’t see that at the Royal Mail.

And I’m Australian – I won’t even cross a picket-line. Also, I’m less sympathetic to going after pensions. These people worked to your conditions, for the fixed income in retirement that you promise. Leave them alone.

In the interests of balance (not to mention interest), another perspective:

Mail Bosses Want to Smash Union

With the announcement of new strike dates by the Communication Workers’ Union (all out on 5, 6, 8 and 9 October, with rolling action after that), the Royal Mail bosses have decided to go for broke — for instance by announcing a drastic attack on postal workers’ pensions.