Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Decline of Saint Lundi and the Rise of Saint Dimanche

A new poll suggests that a majority (59%) of the French favor allowing more shop openings on Sundays. Sunday work is to be "voluntary" under the new law and compensated by an amount to be negotiated branch by branch.

It's interesting to compare the apparent new tolerance for Sunday work with the decline of another old French institution, "Saint Lundi," the widespread practice among workers of taking Mondays off to compensate themselves for Sunday work:
Avant 1830, le chômage du lundi est en général étroitement lié à celui du dimanche, formant ainsi une unité temporelle. Or le repos dominical entre, après les Trois Glorieuses, dans une sphère de grandes turbulences. Notamment à Paris, mais aussi dans les centres industriels du Nord et de l’Est de la France, où artisans, compagnons et ouvriers travaillent de plus en plus dans la matinée du dimanche, pour consacrer le reste de la journée à leur famille 24 et pour fêter, le lendemain, le lundi. Le travail du dimanche se développe donc, et avec lui le chômage du lundi : « La plupart des ouvriers qui travaillent le dimanche, se reposent ensuite le lundi… » écrit Théodore-Henri Barrau en 1850 25. En 1872, 63 cas de chômage du lundi, sur les 98 relevés par l’Enquête sur la situation des classes ouvrières 26, sont liés au travail du dimanche. La combinaison repos du dimanche et repos du lundi ne se retrouve plus que dans les régions catholiques respectueuses du repos du dimanche.
The Macron Law is, as many observers have commented, a small-bore affair that is unlikely to do much to improve the French economy. Its "divide-and-conquer" design may serve as a blueprint for further legislation, however: the law goes after the ever unpopular professions réglementées (huissiers, notaires, etc.); it opens up the market for intercity bus travel, offering a lower-cost alternative to expensive trains; it promises consumers more time to shop on a day of leisure; it offers shop workers the prospect of better remuneration for a part of the work week; and there may be new jobs for the currently unemployed to staff the stores during Sunday openings. The aggrieved groups do not share common interests. Small shop owners who may now feel compelled to open on Sunday to compete with big-box stores have nothing in common with huissiers threatened with lower fees, etc.

Opponents of the law worry that Sunday work won't be truly "voluntary" for some workers and point to existing abuses in big-box stores. It's a legitimate concern, but remedies exist. Some critics also believe that the law will disrupt un repos dominical that has assumed in their minds the eternal tranquility of a landscape by Poussin, with maidens clad in white dipping toes in an unrippled pond shaded by mighty oaks--a far cry from, say, the Place Danton when the movie theaters let out on a Sunday afternoon and crowds gather in the cafés for a preprandial apéritif. The diversity of modern life has people spending their Sundays in enough different ways that already, without the Loi Macron, 30 percent of the French are employed on the supposed day of rest to keep the restaurants, trains, buses, museums, airports, theaters, etc. running. The Republic will therefore survive the Loi Macron, though you might not know it to hear the cris d'orfraie that currently fill the airwaves, as though all of France still dressed in its Sunday best to troop off to mass before consuming la poule au pot at grandma's house.