And from KT:
Ignore the "Those crazy Frenchies are striking again" meme and consider this: every time they nationalize an industry, its problems become political, not economic. That is, there is an upper limit on what unions working for a private firm can demand because they don't want to bankrupt the company. When you work for a government that can print money, that limit is practically unimaginable.
KT's right. There is no rational purpose behind public-sector unions. Government bureaucracies do not have bottom lines and balance sheets in the same way private enterprises do. In the private sector, when the unions and management sit down to negotiate a new labor contract in good faith, there is an understanding on both sides of concessions that can be made and new benefits granted. When management can print money, what is its pain threshold? What new benefits that labor is going to demand will hurt management's bottom line?
We suppose Europe is finding out the answer to this question, right now.
P.S. As federal employees, we do not belong to a union. The AFSCME set up shop in our office about 6 months ago and we decided not to join, not only out of principle as explained above, but also because the labor rules governing the conduct of the union turn the traditional concept of labor-management relations completely on its head. It's a parody of a union to the degree that an old-school union type would not recognize it.
Let's put it this way: Under AFSCME labor rules, labor and management are basically in bed together. Scandalous? Perhaps. But the completely perverse concept of public-sector unions, as it is, actually makes this arrangement sensible.