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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Un travail bien malade

by Patrick Apel-Muller

Really Sick Work

Translated Thursday 3 September 2009, by Leslie Thatcher (www.truthout.org)

France Télécom, Lyon. Patrick Apel-Muller writes, "It was to take 21 employee suicides from February 2008 before the management of France Télécom would agree to assess the full scale of the dramas that play out within its walls."

It was to take 21 employee suicides from February 2008 before the management of France Télécom would agree to assess the full scale of the dramas that play out within its walls. Now management mentions "prevention of psycho-social risks." What’s important in that term is most assuredly the word social. There must always be personal distress for someone to put an end to their own life, and no case is the same as any other. But it would be pure blindness to see these cases as nothing but a succession of individual dramas. The list of the dead is too long, and often these deaths were formulated as acts of accusation.

France Télécom has just lived through a long-term ordeal, a heavy surgery that made a privatized company out of an efficient public service, a company that no longer talks about users, but rather about clients, one that has substituted the cold logic of profitability for the public interest. Those employees who have remained as functionaries live in a state of permanent contradiction. Management has pursued its goals, zealously imposing new converts to free competition or seasoned business veterans. It’s the work itself that is sick because aspirations to self-realization are denied and dignity often manhandled. To ever and always increase productivity, to reduce the cost of labor repeatedly without any respite; these are the engines that have allowed the company to rake in four billion Euros in profits and to pay out 1.40 Euros in dividend per share. We must decide what we want ...

This company is emblematic of a certain kind of suffering, but it is also the visible tip of the iceberg. With the lovely regularity of the "chestnuts" the press uses on slow news days, specialists get into a lather over the excessive use of anti-depressants and sedatives in our country. How many connect the dots between the fact that France is on the global podium of countries with the highest productivity? That’s a matter of training and qualifications, of course, but this medal has a price in work intensity, pressure on employees - on blue collar workers as we know - but on white collar employees ever more so, and even on executives as we have been discovering in recent years. In a time of crisis when so many communication efforts are devoted to cultivating the renunciation of other conditions for the exercise of professions, to higher purchasing power, and to greater attention to self-realization aspirations.

Among the messes and the waste capitalism brings about, human sufferings are not the least and they always accompany the destruction of the labor resource. How many broken hopes, wrecked feelings of self-worth are provoked by the precariousness of employment to which a majority of young employees are now compelled! The first steps into adult life become an obstacle course that goes on and on ...

The fate of France Télécom’s employees and their angst concern all of society. Liberating work is undoubtedly a major dimension of human emancipation.


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