Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

"Let's not reduce existence to consumption," says Martine Aubry. Jean-Luc Mélenchon has declared "war" on Sunday work. It's rather odd to see the left of the left, les bouffeurs de curé d'autrefois, today defending la paix dominicale. But economy minister Emmanuel Macron wants to "free" retailers to throw open their doors on Sundays, so self-declared "enemies of neoliberalism" must fight him tooth and nail. Yet Macron claims that his famous law will not only put more clerks to work but also drain more euros from the wallets of free-spending Chinese tourists.

It's hardly the stuff of an epic battle of the working class against the capitalist oppressor, this. First time tragedy, second time farce, third time sitcom. But, as Marx also reminds us, if man makes his own history, he does not do so under conditions of his own choosing, and Sunday hours seems to be all the Left has to work with these days. From my perspective in the Land of the Shopping Mall and 24x7 online consumerism, the capacity of French commentators to work themselves into a lather over whether stores should be allowed to open 7 Sundays a year or 12 or 15 seems rather ... quaint, although I would certainly go to the barricades on behalf of a law that would malls from blaring Katy Perry songs through their PA systems at 120 decibels.


brent said...

Dwelling like you in the land of the 24/7 economy and the $8 minimum wage, where declining family incomes require double and triple shifts for large numbers of family wage-earners, I hear more at stake in the Sunday work issue. No, it's not the Armageddon of workers' rights, but it is the current battle in the gradual erosion of those rights by social-liberals like Macron, masquerading as 'Socialists.' It was instructive to hear Mélenchon on Des paroles et des actes address the question of bending hours and conditions for apprentice workers--another 'reasonable' adaptation to new labor market conditions, another retreat from legitimate worker protections. Bend enough of these rules and the French worker will resemble his hapless American counterpart (bend some more and you reach China ...).

But the more interesting approach, as he outlines in the interview you cite, is the bigger question of Productivism, capital P. As Duflot eloquently observed in that same broadcast, worker rights are only part of a larger transformation to a sustainable, more labor intensive new economy, hardly imaginable in the toxic environment of market economics but our only route for survival in the face of climate catastrophe and raging inequality.

alexis said...

In a neo-liberal world, anything that lies outside of EconomicMan, like culture and tradition, is "quaint". The Thomas Friedman's of the world may find resistance to the emerging confetti culture of perpetual consumption "quaint", but they really don't like any bumps in the road to "flattening" that globalist event horizon.

Anonymous said...

1/3 French workers already work on Sunday.
TOurist zones already have Sunday rights.
If the issue is Paris: sure, let all of the Paris shops be "tourist" ready, no problem.
I'm also okay with keepin libraries and museums open on Sunday, just like cinemas. But yes I agree life should be more than consumption, a Sunday afternoon family "trip" or "walk" (balade) shouldn't be directly to a supermarket, and outside tourists people need to have days when they're not purely consumers, but are people, mothers, fathers, children, students.
I don't think changing the entire labor code is a good idea - slippery slope and all.
In 2007-2008 there was a change that affected DIY stores. Supposedly, the reform would only affect volunteers, mostly students, and they'd get overtime. At 3 am a small clause was inserted and guess what: bye bye overtime and "volunteers".

Anonymous said...

Best thing would be to send those herds of tourists to Eurodisney.

Anonymous said...

"We didn't elect a PS president to vote the laws we refused to vote when Sarko wanted them"

Art Goldhammer said...

Erosion of workers' rights? Paying them double-time for Sunday work? Really, this is quite some distance from China, and even from the United States.

Anonymous said...

^ the problem is that double-pay was promised when the first version of a "opening on Sunday" law was presented a few years ago, but that clause never materialized as the category lobbied to have that provision removed. There's no expectation such lobbying won't happen again.

Sunday is "family day" in France, as you know. The right for everyone not to work on the same day and spend it however they wish is a worker's right but is often framed in terms of family values, children's needs, etc.
(Other "off" days are peculiar to specific labor branches: Tuesday for museum workers, Monday for retail employees... and take place while children are in school.)

Steven Rendall said...

I'm with Art on this one. When everybody works the same hours and the same days, the result is that many people have a hard time doing their everyday shopping (which should not be dismissed as mere "consumerism") because, of course, most stores are closed when they are not at work (the same goes, incidentally, for post offices, banks, dentists, etc.). Having stores open on Sundays and in the evening does not necessarily entail longer work hours for individual employees, it just means that they work different schedules. It's not clear to me why, in a secular republic, the days off have to include Sunday. I see only three arguments against Sunday opening: (1) You may not be able to get the whole extended family together on any one day; (2) in some cases, willingness to work on Sundays might end up being a condition for getting a job (somebody has to work Sundays); (3) juggling different work schedules might be a burden for employers, especially small business owners. None of these seems to me to be a knock-down argument against Sunday opening. –Much the same goes for vacations being largely limited to August; the main effect is that travel costs rise astronomically and little or nothing can be done for over a month—including caring for the elderly and infirm. But August vacations are at least not encoded in law, and a business that remains open throughout August can always shut down in, say, February or May.

Rick Elliott said...

The Code du Travail is gravity-defyingly heavy with tens of pages added yearly. The resulting paperasserie is dragging fair France down into the murky depths.

Anonymous said...

I too find it shocking and sad how retrograde this whole question of Sunday in particular comes across. Jews and Muslims (and Hindus and Buddhists) don't give a toss about that day in particular. It's only the great "secular" Christians that have given Sunday particular meaning. it is not a neutral day in that sense, in the same way that banning the veil isn't, nor serving pork in schools. The French have a hugely long way to go on the notion of pluralism.

I also find myself incredibly peeved by how patronising Martine Aubry comes across (as usual) telling people how they should spend their leisure time. It's the height of old French conservatism and the worst impulse of the nanny state and since workers have the right to refuse, I don't see how it's a question of their rights at all. What business is it of the state whether I spend my time in reflection (so Catholic that notion of weekly special reflection time) or watching television or cooking or stimulating the economy? The only thing that makes me less excited about this watered down reform of Macron's is why 12 Sundays? As a consumer (oh the dreaded word, but please, any country that uses a metric of GDP actually has to care about such things), I really don't want to have to keep track of which Sunday is the right one. French businesses already keep quirky enough hours.

Anonymous said...

Right now, in France, the day everyone can rest and be together is Sunday. It could be Wednesday for all I care but right now it's Sunday. Note that the law is not trying to make Wednesday a new day off replacing Sunday. It's just adding Sunday.

Workers don't have "the right to refuse" unless they don't care about losing their job - and once you lose it, it's gone. The average working contract in France is now under 10 days (84% contracts signed in France this year). Do you seriously think that a person whose job will last 10 days will say "no" to Sunday work, even if it's the only day they have with the kids?

As for shopping: supermakets are open until 9pm every day, including Saturday (a time when most shop keepers and retail employees don't work). They were open till 10pm but there was literally no one - more cashiers than customers so it wasn't profitable.

And yes, there's something profundly shocking to someone who can only imagine Sunday trip with the kids as "going to the supermarket". It's not patronizing, sorry. Spending time at the park, at the movies, visiting somewhere if you take a trip, whatever, there are lots of things that families can do and already have trouble thinking of - but a Sunday trip to a supermarket? Are you seriously defending this? Have you, by any chance, worked in an area where the Saturday trip to the supermarket is the sole "entertainment" that some children can think of? Because it's not a "choice" as much as a lack of horizons that constrains this. It is claustrophobic - and when they come of age, some kids really resent this, because they know and understand that this is not "normal" entertainment. And adding Sunday - the only time kids/teens go to "the city", sometimes for a movie, sometimes just to hang out - would definitely not be a good thing.

Anonymous said...

This is a snapshot from the local press,1929833.php

Michael Metz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Metz said...

Professor, I somehow missed this post and lively discussion. Je suis désolé, you have captured the debate well.