L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

12 February 2007 Blog Home : February 2007 : Permalink

Of Bags and Baggers

If you wanted an illustration of how different things are in the USA and France then this post by Majikthise is a good example of something that flat out could not happen in continental Europe.

Shocking as it may sound, some grocery baggers in New York City work entirely for tips. [...] Tips-only bagging is illegal in New York and the state attorney general's office has been fighting the practice for years. The NYT article mentions several cases in which workers have won hourly wages by complaining to the state AG's office. Now union organizers are moving in to help the baggers fight for even more gains.

In Europe the idea of a person whose job is to put shoper's grocery into bags for them is unheard of. Not only are shoppers expected to do it themselves, here on the Riviera our supermarkets have recently stopped providing free bags at all.  Actually in terms of efficiency I think the new "bags if you pay for them" service works better because rather than have weak plastic bags regular shoppers have invested in more permenant solutions such as those on the right which are in fact easier to fill, quicker to load into and unload from the car, and can be used for years before needing replacement. Whether or not it is actually more environmentally friendly is another matter as many people use tough plastic bags or even solid plastic cartons rather than these natural fiber bags, but it certainly saves the supermarket some money. Even if the old plastic bags only cost a few tenths of a cent each the total cost of all the thousands that were filled at each shop each day by shoppers must have been significant. That is undoubtedly nice for the supermarket shareholders but it causes the manufacturers and distributors of plastic bags to lose revenue and therefore, one assumes, to reduce the amount of wages they pay if they don't in fact go out of business.

Furthermore whether or not it saves money, time or the environment one thing is for sure, this approach rules out any chance that France's youth unemployment problem could be reduced by creating minimum wage (or tip paid) jobs as baggers and trolley pushers. In fact while I do think that the baggers in the US who work for tips only are unfortunate I don't think that legislation or the enforcement thereof will actually solve the problem of low pay. Rather what I would expect is that we see a bifurcation between some stores who raise prices by an avereage $1 or $2 per shopping trolley to pay the hourly minimum wage of the baggers and the rest who simply stop the process completely thereby ensuring that a whole load of people get no work experience of money at all. And hence rather than have money put in circulation

If you want a reason why big state, labour and enviro-friendly policies make countries poorer, I think this would be a perfect illustration. The consumerist US approach supports two entire job categories - plastic or paper bag makers or sellers and the people who fill the bags in the stores - neither of which can be supported by a worker and enviromentally friendly European approach.

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin