France has been convulsed by massive protests opposing the government's plan to scrap the 35-hour week. We reproduce here a speech by economist Frédéric Lordon at the Paris rally on 31 March
It might just be that we’re really doing something here. We’ve seen which of our struggles the authorities tolerate. Local, sectoral, dispersed, plaintive ones. Well, tough. For we are changing the rules of the game. We had played to their rules; now we are playing to our own. The authorities wanted our struggles to be local, sectoral, dispersed, plaintive; we proclaim that our struggles are global, universal, united and affirmative. We can never thank the El-Khomri bill [the Labour Law] enough for having restored our sense of two things that we had far too long forgotten.
The sense of what we have in common. And the sense of being affirmative.
In giving capitalism unprecedented space to do as it will, this law generalises neoliberal violence, which now strikes without distinction against all categories of wage-labourers: and in so doing, it pushes these latter to rediscover what they deeply have in common. That is to say, their condition as wage-labourers itself. That’s exactly it — above and beyond whatever differences had kept them apart from one another.
Yes, there is indeed something very deep that they all have in common. From the workers at Goodyear, Continental, and Air France, to the railworkers in struggle who were at the Tolbiac [faculty of the University of Paris] yesterday. From Henri, the highly skilled engineer at a Renault sub-contractor, who could be sacked just because he talked a little too much about Merci Patron! [a popular comedy film revolving around resistance to layoffs] in his workplace. To Rajae Gueffar, a worker for the cleaning company Onet in an increasingly precarious position, who was then sacked and pushed into poverty for the tiniest mistake. And all the students thinking about what future’s in store for them — and so, too, the high-school kids who’ll follow soon after. And I could keep going with this list indefinitely, because the reality is that in the time we’re living through, it’s a list without end.
The people rallying together here are, first of all, here in order to recount their struggles. In order that all the local struggles — which are most of the time condemned to being invisible – might now become visible to everyone; and so that everyone waging these struggles can finally know that they are no longer alone.
And they are also here to give political form to what we are now discovering.
So thank you, thank you, really, El Khomri [Labour Minister], Valls [Prime Minister] and Hollande, thank you. Yes. Thank you for having pushed this disgrace so far that we no longer had any choice except to awaken from our political sleep. So far that we no longer had any choice except to break out of our isolation — and, sometimes, out of our fear — and rally together. And thank you for making us finally open our eyes, and showing us that at the point we’ve reached, there is no longer anything to negotiate, and no longer anything to demand. That all these ritualised, codified practices are now becoming merely ridiculous, a barrier. We’ve seen a certain type of trade unionism, flat out on the ground, accustomed to this kind of crawling. For our part, we are now very much determined to strike a different path. This is the path that overturns the existing roles and structures, the boxes people are shut into. This is the path of political desire: one that poses and affirms its own path.
Knife through butter
[The authors of the] El Khomri bill believed that, like always, they could continue on their merry way serving neoliberal capitalism. They doubtless supposed that — as has so often been true these last thirty years — this law would pass like a knife through butter. No such luck! It’s hit a snag! And it crossed — without noticing — one of these invisible thresholds where, all of a sudden, everything is turned upside-down.
That’s what katastrophé means in Greek — an overturning. And it is true, indeed, that this is a catastrophe for this government. The people who it expected to ask nicely, no longer want to ask any more. Those who had been divided, are uniting. Entirely different ideas came into their heads — ideas with the power to overturn things.
So yes, in this sense, the situation is catastrophic. And this is perhaps the best political news in decades. The first act of the catastrophe — and not the last, mind, just the first – is an act of the imagination. And indeed that is why we have rallied together this evening. To imagine the catastrophe. Let’s bring the catastrophe to them!
Translated by David Broder
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