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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: L’essence de la grève

by Maud Vergnol

The Essence of the Strike

Translated Tuesday 24 June 2014, by Isabelle Métral

All of the French cultural economy is being rocked by a massive strike by artists of all disciplines and their attendant technicians in protest against a bill that undermines their current rights to unemployment benefits as “intermittent” workers (“Fr. “intermittents”). The current régime takes into account their actual work in between, that is, in preparation for, their public performances.

« There are still people to whom strikes are a scandal, » Roland Barthes protested indignantly in 1957, in reaction to le Figaro’s reactionary opinion columns. Serge Dassault’s Figaro has remained faithful to the values of its owner’s class: it has been doing its utmost for the last week to discredit a social movement that is fighting for our common good. The real novelty is that in so doing, it is at one with the government that draped itself in a socialist flag to get elected, and whose leader pretends not to understand the “meaning” of all these strikes. Or is it that he understands it only too well?

For why, precisely, does the French employers’ confederation (MEDEF) target the “intermittents”? Why, indeed? Clearly, the reason is that appendices n°4, 8, and 10 to the unemployment benefits law represented one of the very few dispositions that protected immaterial and intermittent (or discontinuous) jobs. The bosses are no fools. They will not have their hyper-flexibility model tampered with. Already in 2003, the “intermittents”‘ strike innovated in bringing to the forefront two civilizational questions: the place of culture and secure employment, and their redefinition in the light of the changes that employment has undergone.

Even before the crisis was invoked as a pretext for doing away with all social rights, it became clear to the “intermittents” that they must wage a political battle over the increasing insecurity and discontinuity of employment that are now affecting many other sectors besides the cultural and audio-visual sectors. History has proved them right. For, through all the recent reforms or protocols, employers have succeeded in turning a system based on mutual benefits into an insurance scheme in which individuals must fend for themselves.

How then can “intermittents” be branded as self-interested “corporatists”? Is Manuel Valls the only person to have missed the “meaning” of this strike? A rail worker [1] who came last Monday to express his support to the “intermittents” saw this clearly, and put it neatly: “We are your spectators, and you are our users”, he said.

Let us turn to Roland Barthes for the concluding formula: “For what we find here indeed is an inherent feature of the reactionary mentality, which consists in breaking up the community into isolated individuals, and the individual into essences”.

[1French rail workers are currently on strike over a bill that would open the way to the liberalization of passenger lines and further impair the maintenance and development of the infrastructure : see article 2491.

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