From the viewpoint of anyone who's been working in the drug industry here in the US, the riots and demonstrations in France are nothing short of surreal. When they were starting, I had to read several reports before I'd convinced myself that I wasn't misunderstanding things. But yes, these outbursts of rage were being caused by a new law which would allow employers to actually fire workers during their first two years in a job.
Imagine that! When I think about all the restructurings that have been taking place here, I have trouble imagining a world where people basically can't be fired. But I can talk to colleagues in the European drug firms, and hear all about the long, drawn-out negotiations with labor unions, work boards, government agencies and who knows who else that have to take place every time a company contemplates laying off people. They regard all this, naturally enough, as a fact of life. You have to go to the market to get groceries, and you have to go to the airport to fly on a plane. And you have to go to the labor councils and commissions if you want to fire anyone. Where else?
So doubtless there are Europeans who look at the employment-at-will laws in the US and see nothing but heartless anarchy. But what's more cruel? You can tell people that there will be layoffs (to give them time to start looking), then make a clean break of it with a severance package. Or you can announce that there could be layoffs, and follow that with months of wrangling and negotiating, during which time no one knows what's happening.
And the countries that make it almost impossible to fire anyone also (whether their citizens realize it or not) make it almost impossible to hire anyone, either. If you can't unload anyone, you're going to hire very, very cautiously. So during those agonizing back-and-forth months, it's not like there's anywhere else to go. People wander the halls, wondering what's going to happen, knowing there's not much that they can do to help themselves.
This sort of thing is a particularly bad fit with pharma and biotech companies. We're constantly rearranging. Think, for example, of all the small outfits over here in the US that start up and die off every year. I've known people who worked for four different companies in Cambridge and parked in the same lot the whole time. How could you do that in a country that can't fire people?
As irritating as it is, we need that craziness and uncertainty. There are a lot of wild ideas out there, and most of them aren't going to work. Companies are going to flop, merge, stagger around and disappear. But some of them are also going to take off, thrive, acquire and expand, and those will soak up most of the people who were caught in the other upheavals. Even without that sort of turmoil, good people need to know that they're valued, and that they can switch jobs when there's a better place for them to go. At the same time, people who just aren't up to the jobs they were hired to do need, eventually, to be cut loose.
Maybe this is just my American outlook, but I can only think that an economy with that can absorb those kinds of risks (and seek those kinds of rewards) will outcompete one that tries to buy its way to safety.