The Cause of the Unemployed movement in France FWD

Tom Boland (
Thu, 5 Feb 1998 23:54:24 -0800 (PST)

FWD  5 Feb 1998  from <>

On 17 January 1998, the sociologists Pierre Bourdieu, Frederic
Lebaron and Gerard Mauge published in Le Monde the following text, which
they are now launching as a petition.


Those who have become known as 'the excluded' - those excluded
provisionally, temporarily, long term or for ever from the market-place
of work - are almost always those who have no voice, and who are excluded
from collective action. How has it happened then that after several years
of isolated and apparently hopeless effort by a minority of activists, a
collective action appears at last to have broken through the wall of
media and political indifference?

At first, came the laughable panic and hardly disguised antipathy of certain
media professionals, journalists, trade unionists and the political
classes, who saw in these demonstrations by the unemployed only a
intolerabe brake to their shopkeepers' interests and their sole monopoly
of the right to speak on 'exclusion' and 'the national drama of unemployment'.

Confronted by this unwelcome mobilisation, these professional
manipulators, these permanent occupiers of the heights of television, saw
in it only a 'manipulation of distress', an operation set up for the
media, the illegitimacy of a minority, or the illegality of peaceful

Then came the spread of the movement and the erruption onto the media and
political scene of a small group of organised unemployed: the first
victory of the movement of unemployed is the movement itself (which is
helping to distract a bewildered population from the National Front)

The unemployed movement is at the same time the blue-print of a
collective organisation, and a chain reaction of which it is the product
and which it itself contributes to producing: from isolation, depression,
shame, personal resentment, revenge on scape-goats, to collective mobilization;
from resignation, passivity, individualization and silence to gaining
the right to speak; from depression to revolt, from the
individual unemployed person to the collectivity of the
unemployed, from misery to anger. That's how the slogan of the
marchers ends up in reality: "Who sows misery, reaps anger".

But also, it reminds us of some essential truths of neo-liberal
societies, which led to the movement of November-December 1995
and which the powerful apostles of the "Tietmeyer thought" try
so hard to disguise. In the first place the undeniable relationship
between unemployment rate and profit rate. The two phenomena -
the exorbitant consumption of some and the misery of others - not
only come together - while some get rich in their sleep, the
others become poorer by the day - they are also interdependent:
when the stock exchange rejoices, the unemployed suffer, the
enrichment of some is linked to the pauperization of the others.
Mass unemployment remains in fact the most effective tool in the
hands of employers with which to impose the stagnation or lowering of wages,
to push up working rythms, to deteriorate working conditions, to
increase job insecurity, to impose flexibility, to create new
forms of domination in the work place amd to dismantle the legal
protection of workers. When the enterprises "size down", with
some of the "social schemes" announced flamboyantly in the media,
their investment returns rise spectacularly. When the unemployment rate
falls in the US, Wall Street is depressed. In France, 1997 has
been the year all records were broken on the Paris Stock Exchange. But
above all, the movement of the unemployed calls into question the
carefully maintained divisions between "good" and "bad" poor,
between "excluded" and "unemployed", between unemployed and wage-earners.

Even if one cannot equate in a mechanical way unemployment and
crime, nobody can ignore today that "urban violence" has its
roots in unemployment, generalized social insecurity and mass
poverty. The "exemplary" convictions of Strasbourg, the threats
to reopen correctional institutions or the suppression of family
allowances to parents of trouble-makers, who allegedly have
renounced their parental duties, are the hidden face of
neoliberal employment policies. When will young unemployed
people be obliged to accept any miserable job as Tony Blair proposes,
and will the welfare state be replaced by the American styled
"security state"?

Because it makes us understand that any unemployed person is
potentially condemned to long-term unemployed and that the long-term
unemployed are potentially excluded, that exclusion from
unemployment benefits means to be condemned to assistance,
social aid, charity, the movement of the unemployed calls into
question the division between "excluded" and "unemployed": when
the unemployed are sent to the social aid office, they are
deprived of their status as unemployed and they are rejected into

But above all it makes us understand that any wage-earner may
lose their job at any moment, that the generalized job insecurity
(especially of the young), the organized "social insecurity" of
all those who live under the threat of a "social scheme", turn
any wage-earner into a potential unemployed. Forceful evacuation
will not evacuate "the problem". Because the cause of the
unemployed is also the cause of the excluded, casual workers and
wage-earners who work under the same threat. Because a moment may
come, in which the reserve army of the unemployed and casual
workers, which condems to submission all those who have the
provisional chance to be excluded from its ranks, will turn
against those who have based their policy (oh socialism!) on a
cynical confidence in the passivity of the most subdued.

This text has been approved by the groupe "Raison d"agir".

To express your solidarity:

- copy and sign the text, have it signed by others and send it
indicating your first and last name and your profession by post
to Frederic Lebaron, 2, rue de Malte 75011 Paris

by fax to Frederic Lebaron

by E-mail to


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