Photo: Thomas Franke via Unsplash
The recent debate around work suffers from an anachronistic opposition between work and leisure. The financialization of the economy and the decline of heavy industries, the disappearance of solidarity and the break-up of the social body, draw new contours to the world of work. It is regrettable that these mutations are not taken into account by the ruling class and that they only generate more precariousness.
France lacks arms. In many sectors, job vacancies remain unanswered and employers are tearing their hair out. And in this conjuncture, political discourse is proving to be particularly poor. The recent quarrel on the left between Fabien Roussel and Sandrine Rousseau is proof of a certain misery of thought. When the first says he prefers work for all to the development of the RSA, the other responds with the right to laziness. It’s pathetic to see the…
France lacks arms. In many sectors, job vacancies remain unanswered and employers are tearing their hair out. And in this conjuncture, political discourse is proving to be particularly poor. The recent quarrel on the left between Fabien Roussel and Sandrine Rousseau is proof of a certain misery of thought. When the first says he prefers work for all to the development of the RSA, the other responds with the right to laziness. It is pathetic to see work opposed to leisure, according to a frame of reference which, obviously, no longer works today.
Indeed, the debate on the “value of work” and its supposed disappearance no longer has any place, at least not in the same terms. Work is a way of earning a living that helps give it meaning. When it does not make it possible to live with dignity or when it boils down to tasks whose purpose we do not see, the social body breaks down. We left, in the 1980s, the forms and workplaces installed by industrial society. The iron and steel industry, the mines or the textile not only produced work, but they created the social body. We earned our living by often arduous work, saved from fatigue by the fact that we belonged to a social group where human warmth and solidarity reigned. Neoliberal societies, subject only to the laws of the market, allied to the virtual disappearance of heavy industries, have led to the fragmentation of the social body, each being “returned to his car”as Claude Nougaro sang.
It was during this period that mass unemployment appeared, accentuating social disorganization. “What we have before us is the perspective of a societyof workers without work, that is to say of the only activity which remains to them. Can’t imagine anything worse1. » But Hannah Arendt’s observation is now doubled by the prospect of a meaningless job. All HR managers see this. Most job candidates are obviously attached to the salary, but at the same time, they expect the company to be in tune with the values of environmental vigilance, social dialogue and respect for family life. Ecological carnage, the war in Ukraine and inflation occupy people’s minds. When, on top of that, family life is made unlivable by hackneyed schedules, insane travel times and prohibitively expensive housing, work becomes the object of a long daily complaint.
The Covid has put things back in place. Many questioned their “world before” and sought, barely out of confinement, to preserve what they had touched. They left catering, school bus service and other tasks at the hospital, either to set up on their own or to accept positions, possibly less remunerated, but ensuring a regular life. It is strange to meet a nurse who prefers a position as a supermarket cashier to that of a profession devoid of meaning by dint of coding acts, punctuated by reminders from the emergency service to make up for absences. From obligatory telework, we have moved to the desired telework. The square meters of office space have been reduced, employees are no longer all present together, meeting times are limited, we talk to each other by videoconference. Many find their account and get used to virtual business. We do not yet know the personal and social consequences of this formula, whether the satisfaction will be lasting and what new aspirations will inevitably emerge. But today, with the tightening of unemployment compensation rules, pension reform or the reduction of credits for learning, the horizon is darkening. As always, the upper classes will be little affected. It is the last of the rope who will take the full force of the announced measures. One thinks of the building trades, the small arms of social work and health (home helpers, childminders, caregivers, even nurses, etc.), not to mention crafts and SMEs that do not have the means of coping with the vagaries of the economic situation.
It is surprising that politicians take no account of the metamorphoses of the social question.
It is surprising that politicians take no account of the metamorphoses of the social question. If we can understand the worries of budgetary balance, on the other hand, the absence of a vision of the world of work is pathetic. For a long time, the social sciences have been warning about working conditions and their consequences on the person. To no avail, it seems. Everywhere, we see the decline in employee autonomy. The obsession with evaluation in teaching or care, the manic practice of reporting, pyramidal managerial operations, all this contributes to more and more numerous resignations, at a time when men and women expect work to be a lever of emancipation. It is the “help” professions that are the most affected, because they are those who, glorified during the confinements, are subjected to permanent precariousness for unworthy wages. To take just one example, how can we accept the provision of the National Education system consisting in transferring school life assistance (AVS) every three years? We thus see disabled children and their parents totally destabilized by incongruous replacements, while the child progressed because trust had been established between him and his AVS.
Modern societies produce mass vulnerability. If social protection costs “crazy dough”, approaching it from the budgetary prism alone, the target is almost systemically missed. What we take on the right, we will give back to the left in the form of sick leave, long-term leave for failure to take into account mental and physical hardship. Why do garages lack mechanics? Not out of lack of interest in the profession, but, as automobile engines are increasingly compressed, they produce back pain that makes work impossible after 50 years. It is no longer just the unemployed who are the able-bodied indigents of our societies. When we announce shortages of all kinds, a winter embellished with power cuts, or even, to put it mildly, water restrictions in Brittany, it is not only the unemployed who feel excluded, but a number of citizens who swell the ranks of the world’s supernumeraries.
The state can’t take it anymore. By dint of trusting only himself, of ignoring the signals sent by the social body and of looking down on the world below with condescension, he has doomed himself to decay. Any talk about work has become inaudible. It’s a safe bet that, in this context, calls for sobriety because of climate threats and solidarity with the Ukrainians meet with little echo. When work is praised as a value and when, in the same movement, it crumbles in all classes of society, any measure is welcomed as an aggression. Our leaders would be well advised to leave the world of experts by trusting the initiatives of the territories. The “Territories with zero long-term unemployment” experiments are successes. But no sooner said than done, the credits go down. An existence is not built in random professional situations: it is so obvious that it is forgotten.
- 1. Hannah Arendt, The condition of modern man, trans. by Georges Fradier, preface by Paul Ricœur, Paris, Calmann-Lévy, 1961, p. 40.
- 2. See Robert Castel, The Metamorphoses of the Social Question. A chronicle of the wage earner, Paris, Fayard, 1995, p. 386.
Leave a Comment