23 November 2007


Today marked the end of the strike, the subway runs pretty much as usual, nobody is complaining anymore. It's as if nothing happened. During the last 10 days, the TV news kept on showing us how unhappy people were that they couldn't go to work and how angry they were that a minority would go on strike to keep their privileges, namely an early retirement.
Contrary to common beliefs, a long strike like this one is pretty unusual in France. The last one of a similar importance was in december 1995, 12 years ago. It lasted 3 weeks and ended just in time for the Christmas shopping. Because if there's something that French people love to do more than to go to work is to go shopping. I was last Saturday at the Galeries Lafayette gourmet, full as ever, at the heart of strike period and somewhat people managed to come all the way down there, with all the nearby subway and train lines down, and there were no TV cameras to show that the strike was after all not so constraining for the French economy.
I can understand the arguments of the train workers, they're right - why would they want to keep doing after 50 such a tedious job? And also, I can understand that in the configuration of our economy maintaining early retirements is not really possible anymore. So why not using this opportunity to question the relationship to work itself? With the current president "work more to earn more" Sarkozy, the notion of work as the ultimate modern value is statufied. But the real revolution is to be able to choose a job that makes you happy or at least that you wouldn't want to leave "early" in your career or that maybe is not getting you at the end of the day to burn your life with alcohol, and anti-depressants and cocaine. The leaders of the economy are exploiting the need for people to get a job that will at least sustain basic expenses - all they care for is to make sure they are profitable, and that in a nice convenient loop, they can spend the small money they earn in a desperate gesture cynically called "pouvoir d'achat" (consuming power) which is the only power they will ever feel in their life: because when you've been spending your day feeling "you're nothing" at work, all you can do is buy and buy more at your turn to feel "you're something".
This actually puts the act of consumption at the heart of the next revolution, between ecological, political and economical awareness: what you buy, how you buy it, where you buy it, why, etc... More and more, I'm interested in alternative theories like "décroissance" or "degrowth". It's fascinating because it puts the problem upside down and for that only, I like it.
And finally, as it was the case in 1995, this strike was very valuable if only for one thing: rediscovering the relationship to the city, to the ways you move in it, to the ways you get from one point to another, and to time (for instance, instead of making sure I want the shortest time spent between the place where I am and where I should be, I have to think of what I'm going to do in the time that I wait - mainly walk - and through what part of the cities).


Madjid Ben Chikh said...

I agree with you, Joelle. The question our heavy-worker president is making regarding the benefits of some categories of workers is not the good one. In fact, behind his vision, the always more conservative direction : "we can not affort all these protections". Every 4 or 5 years, a new step. 20 years ago, even the socialists themselves created the "confort drugs" concept. A flue ? Only 40% reimbursed (instead of the previous 80%). 15 years ago, conservative Balladur extended the annuities due to obtain retirement benefits from 37,5 years to 40 years in the private sector. 4 years ago, conservative Raffarin extended these annuities in the public services, claiming for "equality"... And now, the "franchise" (50 euros) paid annualy for medecine.
There is a liberal consensus claiming for always less protections. In a country with 65% public debts, no debate regarding exeptions of taxes for the riches, that surprises me... well, not that much !
You are right regarding the alternative. Because there is an alternative, and it is not a kind of neo-freacky hippy thing coming from the age of Mao, Lenin and Trotsky, nor even from the golden age of the flamboyant 60's social-democraty.
The alternative is in reopening the debate in the same term as it has been done in 1945! What are the needs today ? Where do the people need protection ? What can the economy do by itself and where can not she do anything ? And what the people without specific needs of protection can expect from the society ? Society is the main missing word, as a reply, in the debate.
Why Society as a concept can not be considered as an ambition ? Maybe because "Socialism" is not considered as the good word... I have always said that, despite some desagreements regarding his policies, Tony Blair made a real good job by reintroducing Society as an ambition in the debate after 20 years of "individuals" thatcherian revolution.
Society means State of course, but this means also people (associations), enterprises as possible civic actors (fondations), it means a real democratic ambition. I believe this is the heart of the socialism, when you clean it up from history and go back to basis.
Of course, it is not possible to let the people stop working at 50 when they can expect to live more than 80 ! But it is unfair to point them as "privilegiers". This situation is not their responsability. For example, for the SNCF (trains) it is coming from... 1846 ! It was a company scheme to limit the turn-over. After the 2nd world war, it has been introduced in the new general benefits system. Before 1945, only 20% of the workers received benefits, and it was capitalized schemes owned by the companies, private companies.
Giving opportunities to develop his skills, good wages, possibilities to change his jobs easily and eventualy modulate from 50 to 65 the age you stop working (from full time to part time, for example), all this in a long negociation run : the alternativ is to recreate the good match between individual expectations, social needs and economic reality. If it is true the left is today "conservative" because it refuses any changes, the right is now back to reaction.
I remember in 1995's long strike. I hated this strike as it was a really conservative left wing shit! What I appreciated was the people understanding, people sharing their cars, talking each others and not fighting. I thought France had accomplish a real democratic revolution. No polititian mentionned that. Happy this is what you like during these strikes.
Sorry for my poor and confusing english.

-r. said...

"... there were no TV cameras to show that the strike was after all not so constraining for the French economy." ???

Joelle, you can sympathise for the workers on strike, but what about some intellectual honesty? Does anyone really take the number of people at Lafayette Gourmet as an relevant indicator of the health of French economy? Why not the queue in front of Vuitton Champs Elysees as an indicator of "shortage"? I think you know better.

Joëlle said...

Well, by "Lafayette Gourmet, full as ever", I meant the whole district of course, from Galeries Lafayette, Chaussée d'Antin, Opéra to St-Lazare, by way of H&M, Zara, Le Printemps, Fnac and the likes. I heard those signs were pretty representative of our economy. After all, these are the places where people do most of their Christmas shopping - or at least where TV goes to ask the manager for how much they spent this year or what was the hot item this season. That day, cars were blocked all through boulevard Haussman, you had the usual parents and kids in front of the Xmas windows, sidewalks were fully packed and yet, it was the hardest day from all the strike days to find a public transport because of the week-end. Lines 3, 7, 8, 9, RER A and St-Lazare trains were completely down. Go figure...