I've just realized that Canadian conservative editorialist Rachel Marsden is now living in Paris, France. Apparently, she dislikes the experience, feeling her freedom taken away by French trade unions (one may wonder why she chose to live in Paris if she disliked the life there, but that's probably too difficult a question).

Let us read Mrs Marsden.

Here in France, union workers often brag about how much vacation time they've been able to finagle out of their employers—particularly if that employer is the taxpayer, and the taxpayer is me. Nothing makes me go ballistic faster than listening to some union hack brag over a two-hour lunch, about how he's going to head back to his new 35-hour-a-week job of two weeks and sit there planning his eight weeks' worth of paid vacation on my dime, in between bouts of ruining my days with various strikes and service disruptions.

Given that about 8% of employees are members of a union in France, compared to 12.5% in the United States, one may wonder how come Mrs Marsden feels less comfortable now that she lives in Paris. Furthermore, I have never heard of any job with a 35-hour workweek and eight weeks of paid vacation ; I'd be delighted if she could tell me where to find it, because that's certainly not the way government workers operate in general. The norm seems to be 35-hour nominal workweek (so forget about it if you are in a leadership position... then you don't count your hours) and 5 weeks of paid vacation.

Maybe she is talking of teachers, who are on vacation when their pupils are ? But these have works to grade and courses to prepare, in addition to the fact that their long vacations somehow compensate for low salaries for their level of education.

But the sequel is even better :

In France, union-mandated liberticide of independent workers is in full force. Journalists can't even obtain their press cards in France unless they agree to become salaried rather than contracted, and forgo their independent status and right to negotiate independently with media bosses.

See, in France, a large share of journalists, probably the majority even, are pigistes and not salaried workers. A pigiste is essentially a wage worker paid according to the quantity of work — e.g. a magazine the pigiste a certain amount of money per page. (*) This status affords some flexibility — a pigiste is not committed to a specific employer or a specific amount of work hours each week — at the expense of uncertainty. In addition, for a pigiste, going on vacations means not being paid for a certain amount of time.

Maybe Mrs Marsden claims that pigistes can't get press cards. This is simply untrue. (I can even attest to the contrary, for I know a pigiste personally and have seen her press card... contrary to that of salaried journalists, it does not mention the name of her employer, that's all.)

The truth is that to obtain a press card, at least for the first timne, an individual must prove that each or she derives at least half of her income from journalism. An obvious case is when one has little other sources of income than a salary for a journalist position; but one may also establish proof that one is a pigiste!

Mrs Marsden's article illustrates a common problem of politically oriented media : they tell people what they want to hear, and thus create an alternate reality instead of reporting on the real one. Since Mrs Marsden's intended audience tends to dismiss France has a country of lazybones permanently on strike, she feels compelled to overdo it and invent facts that promote this world view. This is all the more easy that such members of her audience probably have no way of independently checking what life in France really is like.

I suspect that in Mrs Marsden's columns, we will never hear about the French part-time teachers (vacataires) who maybe get paid 6 months after they've actually done their job, nor will we hear about the precarious life of the average French journalist. Such is the alternative reality of political punditry.

Finally, I'm skeptical about Mrs Marsden's conservatism. Conservatism tends to include a belief in so-called "family values" — most notably, that adults should be responsible in raising their children. Mrs Marsden seems to suggest that her alleged 15-hour-per-day work regimen is a model to be followed. Taking into account sleep, personal hygiene and quick meals, this regimen is sustainable only with a partner for handling house chores, or at least cleaning staff, and without caring for children.

(*) Maybe Mrs Marden was misled by the fact that, for certain legal and fiscal purposes, wages and salaries are treated similarly in France and that, legally and fiscally speaking, the money received as piges is treated differently from the fees received by, say, a physician in private practice.