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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Les causes perçues de la radicalisation

by Marie-José Sirach

The Perceived Causes of Radicalisation

Translated Friday 25 September 2009, by Nikita Shah

Shake-ups, short time work, un-renewed temporary contracts, site closures... The heist of industrial jobs sees no summer truce. Before the extent of forecast damages - the direct consequences for thousands of families’ lives - despair grows like couch grass on the roofs of abandoned factories. Anger does not weaken. The feeling of injustice feeds a resentment until now suppressed, just as one holds back one’s tears. For a long time it was thought that the working class had disappeared. Vanished into thin air. When lo and behold, for those governing us suddenly remember it is back. After having accepted mobility, overtime hours, unpaid leaves, job insecurity, yet another credit to make ends meet, expatriation for a €400 job in Hungary, longer hours to earn less... the working class now rebels, and vigorously.

Hearing on the radio one morning that your factory is going to close, it feels as if the sky has fallen in on you, and your future crumbles, the future of your loved ones lies all behind. It is there that we find the feeling of injustice, in that gap between what is acceptable and what is not longer acceptable. When you don’t know what to hold on to anymore, you grab the first branch held out to you. You think of saving your skin. Even if it means taking refuge in acts whose purely symbolic reach is beyond your grasp. From kidnapping your boss or his representative to "threatening to blast the factory with gas cylinders”, there is the underlying idea of making oneself heard; the idea of publicising one’s conflict; the idea that after having given so much, they should also be entitled to a return on their investment. The radicalisation of social movements is a response to a deep-felt humiliation; the obscenity of bosses and of shareholders who shamelessly pocket golden handshakes - amounts of money so absurd that one has difficulty in counting the amount of zeros before the decimals.

This desperate rage violently brings to light of day the violent, accelerated destruction of industrial jobs. Between a Minister of Industry who proclaims himself “Minister of the workers”, and declares that he will be “the best fire-fighter possible”, and a Minister of the Economy who half-heartedly declares that the rise in the number of unemployed people from the end of the year onwards - by an additional 650,000 - “will possibly be worse” than has been forecast, there simply is no prospect of industrial recovery. “It’s because of the crisis”, they sing in unison. Their speeches do not measure up to the economic stakes, let alone workers’ expectations.

In a survey carried out by the French Institute on Public Opinion, for l’Humanité, fear of unemployment, the feeling that site closures are first of all motivated by stock market considerations, or even the sense of injustice due to the income gap between employees and share holders, form the top three perceived causes of radicalisation of the social movement. 50% of those polled understand but do not approve the threats of destruction of businesses by their employees; 63% of those polled give the same response on the kidnapping of bosses by their employees. They stand united in exasperation, united in this anger, even if some of them know that it is no solution. The elected leaders of the majority are worried. Not as much out of empathy for the employees than as out of fear of the contagion effect. They are less after background solutions than ways of easing the tensions.

The trade unions themselves strive to propose other perspectives, even if the nature of these actions is decided upon by the workers themselves in their meetings. For the CGT (General Confederation of Labour) [1] , the aim is henceforth to fight hard for “industrial re-conquest”, and “preserve or conquer numerous jobs in businesses”. What will be the face of France a few years from now after so many closures, shake-ups and relocations? In view of the planned mess, the stated measures are staggeringly inefficient. The Job Centre in the Rhone département offers beneficiaries of the RSA (a handout for those with very low salaries), the option of working as grape-pickers for one season. And after that?

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