Monday, June 27, 2005

The 'Polish Plumber' :: New York Times

The term "Polish plumber" was coined in March by Philippe de Villiers, the head of the right-wing Movement for France party, in response to a European Union proposal known as the Bolkestein directive, which would make it easier for workers to live in other member countries and receive the same salaries and benefits as if they had never left home.

The thinking behind the directive was that if goods could move freely across the borders of European Union countries, why not services?
. . . .
Under the treaty that allowed Poland and nine other countries to join the European Union last year, older members of the union can restrict access to their labor markets for up to seven years. Only Britain, Ireland and Sweden have allowed in workers from the new members.

But labor has always been one of Poland's most important exports. In a sense, the "Polish plumber" is much more than that, because in most cases he is also an electrician and sometimes even a mason, carpenter, painter and roofer as well.

"It's ridiculous, truly bizarre to say Polish plumbers are dangerous for France," said Wieslaw Zieba, 55, who has worked in France as a plumber and electrician for 25 years. "Some of the things that have been said by political figures border on the xenophobic. This is a country that desperately needs more plumbers. But it's not a noble profession that everyone wants to follow. You have to clean up after flooding and unblock toilets."

Indeed, according to the French plumbing union, there is a shortage of 6,000 plumbers, and there are only about 150 Polish plumbers in France.

When Mr. Zieba first came to Paris, he said, he had no friends, knew no French and slept in the Metro. He now has dual Polish-French citizenship and runs a thriving business that also does masonry, carpentry, plumbing and electrical work.

But the fear of cheap imported labor in France is so profound that it has dominated the discourse about the troubled French economy.

I thought the European Union idea was emulation of the economic success flowing from the degree of free trade and mobility within the Etats Unis. The U.S. has lots of natural advantages, but it also has the man-made ideas of Alexander Hamilton.


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