Friday, May 1, 2009

Life in the blast furnace on Labor Day

Well, the eternal problem has returned: My building management insists on keeping the building heat on full blast even when it's 70° F outside. As a result, it's 12°-20° hotter inside the apartment. There is no way to reduce the heat within the apartment, so I must exhaust it, by opening windows and by running my broken air conditioner, which barely produces any cold air at all these days.

So on these nice spring days, when the weather outside is wonderful, I'm spending money I don't have on electricity to pay for air conditioning to remove the excess heat that I'm also paying for, while the building furnace burns fuel oil and pollutes the air to create this excess heat. I guess City Hall's suggestion to keep building thermostats at 66° has gone unheeded, since it's at least ten degrees warmer than that inside this building. I imagine the building management doesn't care, since it just bills all costs back to us (both tenants and owners).

The weirdest part of this is that, in the wee hours of the morning, the heat mysteriously goes off, even though this is the coldest part of each 24-hour period. Then, in the heat of the day and afternoon, it comes back on, blasting away. I have one window directly over a radiator, so I open that, effectively wasting 100% of the energy spent on heat. But that's better than wasting 200% of the energy using A/C to remove the heat from the apartment.

It's like something Kafka would come up with. How can people be so … lacking in comprehension?

In other news … today is May Day, or Labor Day, the first of May. It's one of the rare days in the year when essentially everything is closed. Labor unions stage massive demonstrations on May Day to rehash their decades-old standard grievances: salaries that are too low, vacations that are too short, retirements that are too late, and so on. The CGT in particular, the most militant of the larger unions (and one that used to be closely associated with the now-ailing Communist Party in France, from what I understand), tries hard to maintain a permanently adversarial relationship with employers. No matter what an employer does, it's never enough, there's always something else that “must change,” some other “abuse” that must be rectified. Yes, there are a few true abuses from time to time, but often what the unions target are not really in that category; and, ironically, some of the true abuses are ignored by unions.

For example, I work under a type of employment contract that expertly works around just about every employee protection written into French law. It manages to cut away the “safety net” that former socialist governments of France tried so hard to create. But I don't see any union actions attempting to change this. During this coming week I'll earn a total of €36, before taxes. It's hard to pay rent and buy food on €36 a week. What are unions doing to fix that? Nothing, as far as I can see. But they do work hard to make sure that some people working in the public sector can retire at 50.