systemic social issues of work transformations
by Bernard Perret
(Bremen University, June 13th 1997)
Beyond unemployment and increasing job precariousness, we are confronted to a global transformation of our social systems. The necessity to change the rules of the social game is now partly taken into account in the European public debate, but the political and cultural issues of this change are not clearly formulated. The struggle against unemployment can’t be only an instrumental issue (how could we create more jobs ?) : it also implies an effort to inscribe social transformations into the framework of a new social contract.
As you know, unemployment has been rising continuously in France since the first oil shock, or even before, except for a few years from 1987 to 1990. If the global level of unemployment is comparable to that of other European countries, young people unemployment is very high (about 25%), in spite of a continuous lengthening of studies. Since the eighties, our national failure in this matter has become a commonplace. But, despite the extent of intellectual energy displayed to this purpose, there is no real consensus among experts about what should be done.
A recurrent socio-economic debate
Political as well as expert discussions are dominated by the old controversy opposing the "Keynesian social-democrat" block on one hand (the left), and the "neo-classic liberals" on the other (the right). It is always very surprising for me that the arguments raised by neo-classics and keynesians have remained quite the same for sixty years. Of course, many intricacies should be brought to this dualist sketch : the terms "keynesian" and "social democrat" are not synonym. All combinations of ideological inclinations and practical judgements are possible, and the subjects of cleavage are numerous. The right/left cleavage interfere with the old opposition between "jacobins" or "Colbertists", in favour of a centralised State operating actively in the socio-economic field, and all anti-jacobinic postures, including regionalists and partisans of a supranational Europe. Anyway, concerning the struggle against unemployment, two major grounds of opposition, not recovering each other, can be identified.
The first one concerns macroeconomics and monetary policy. As you know, German monetary policy has often been accused in France to be responsible for unemployment. A well-known economist Jean-Paul Fitoussi has had editorial success last year with his book Le débat interdit (1) (the forbidden debate), arguing that the level of interest rates is the main cause of unemployment. On the opposite side, a majority of the "elite" has supported the monetarist strategy personalised by Jean-Claude Trichet, head of the Banque de France (Central Bank). Implicitly, Fitoussi and all those who share his views are in favour of a slightly highest level of inflation, necessary evil to reach sufficient growth and job creation. The respective influence of these two currents have much varied along time. The doctrine of the new socialist government is not clear at all : it seems to combine a keynesian economic strategy and a sincere attachment to monetary stability. To go through this contradiction, they will try to encourage firms to increase wages. I will not discuss any longer these macroeconomic and monetary issues, which are not my main subject. My opinion, put briefly, is that, even if European monetary policies can be legitimately suspected of being non-optimal, there is no room for a substantially different policy, considering the amount of public debt in our countries and the need for monetary stability in a global economy.
A second cleavage, closely related to the previous one, deals with social regulations. It opposes advocates of labour market deregulation and welfare state dismantling to defenders of European social model, including socialists and unions, but also many right wing politicians in favour of a global statu-quo. Indeed, this question is not so controversial as it would seem. A majority of French people both refuse American model and would admit that the old state centred social model has to evolve. This social model debate has been stylised by the essayist Michel Albert as a competition between "Anglo-Saxon capitalism" and "Rhenan capitalism" blossoming in Germany and north Europe (2). Since the eighties, it has often been argued among left wing reformist experts that the main reason for our national failure against unemployment is that France has not made a clear choice between these two models, refusing both liberalism and negotiated social compromise. Their recommendation, of course, being to imitate Germany, that seemed until recently to show the way to conciliate industrial competitiveness and social cohesion. But everyone has to admit that this model wouldn't be easy to implement in France, because of the weakness of unions and the lack of a collective negotiation and social compromise culture.
The development of social dialogue and negotiation between unions and employers remains, of course, a topical issue, and we (I mean French people especially) have still much to learn from social success stories of the recent past. But the problems we are facing now are of a different nature, and that they won’t be solved without new regulatory principles and, maybe, new utopias and new values. As I will argue further, social democracy as well as French state centred system have come to maturity in the context of fordist economic regulation. Both are now on the defensive, and, at least, have to be renewed.
Meanwhile, other voices have appeared in the debate, insisting on technical progress acceleration and jobs reduction in productive activities. Many of these new radical voices go as far as to pretend that the global number of workers necessary to satisfy human needs is reducing continuously, human work being replaced by machines and computers. In consequence, they advocate for a drastic reduction of work hours and, for some of them, for a complete disjunction of activity and income (for example through the institution of a minimum social income being distributed without any activity condition). The book of Jeremy Rifkin The end of work (3), has had appreciable success, revealing the credibility of this way of thinking. A recent book by Viviane Forrester titled l'horreur économique (4) (economic horror) based on a popularisation of these "end of work" ideas, not very serious in my opinion, has been sold at 250 000 copies.
There is no doubt concerning the fact that we are getting out from industrial society, and that it implies a radical social change. But, in my opinion, it makes no sense to say that work in general is disappearing, or even that its quantity is globally reducing.
Let me now introduce my own arguments. Work metamorphosis is the title of an important book of André Gorz (5), whose ideas don’t always fit mine, but whom I esteem for having underpinned some important political issues of the raise of service economy. As I will show further, unemployment must be interpreted within the wider frame of a global change in the way economic activities mediates social integration. And the key factor in this evolution is what I propose to call "work tertiarisation", the fact that work in general, throughout economy, tends to get the characteristics of service work, abstraction, autonomy and interactivity.
This interpretation shows appropriate to articulate the various aspects of work crisis (I mean economic, social and cultural ones).
In a first approach, the crisis we have to face is the crisis of "Salary society". In France, we now often use this expression to designate the social system we are getting out of. A "salary society" can be defined very broadly as a society in which the position of salaried worker is considered as the generic social status. In a salary society, social progress shows itself in the extension of the salaried middle class and in the improvement of the social position of workers. Improvement, in fact, in different ways : gains, juridical guarantees, work conditions, social advantages.
To be more specific, a salary society has too meet several practical requirements : first, work should give access to a secure and progressing social position ("career") ; second, work should be organised on a collective basis ; third, there should be a clear correspondence between skills, levels of education and professional training, job definitions and wages.
To a certain extent, the qualification of salary society can be applied to all western post-war societies, including Japan and the US, taking on different aspects in different countries. In Europe, this improvement of the position of workers took the road of a strengthening of legally guaranteed social rights indexed to salaried work, through, both, the creation of a Social Security system and the consolidation of legal regulations of professional relationships (minimum wage, conditions to hiring and lay off).
French salary society can be defined by two other specific features, deeply rooted in national history (6):
- first the role of State in social regulation. From left to right, the dominating view is that, at least, the logic of market economy, must be counterbalanced and held back by extensive public regulations and voluntarist State interventions. Most of French people have a basically positive view of the role of State in the development of society. In the social field, State is not only the referee, but the central actor.
- Second, the role of social and ideological contesting has been essential in the dynamics of French salary society. Unions, of course, participate in the management of the social system, but, unlike in Germany and Northern Europe social democracies, they rather consider themselves a counter power, operating in the political and cultural field as well as in the socio-economic one. Their mobilisation capacity being sustained by a structural ideological opposition, or, at least, a critical attitude towards capitalist logic. The paradox is that this conflictual configuration was part of the coherence of the French fordist system, as I will explain later. A sociologist (Denis Segrestin) recently summarised this with a good formula : "Up to the 70s, French society objectively took advantage of its dispute with "capitalist system" to preserve its cohesion" (7).
Anyway, there is now in France a strong feeling that what we call the "glorious thirties" (Les trente glorieuses), exactly from 1950 to 1975, has been the apogee of the "salary society". Of course, this feeling is somewhat paradoxical, given that post-war decades have been marked by hard social and political antagonisms, frequent social conflicts, and a sometimes violent contesting of capitalist system. But, as I said previously, social conflict was part of the dynamics of salary society. In fact, when we refer to the apogee of salary society, we don't mean that everything was right, but simply that, in tendency, one could hope that "social citizenship" was actually becoming a concrete reality.
The four pillars of "Fordism"
The reality of a structural crisis of the "salary society" is hardly debatable. In Europe, we experience for years very high levels of unemployment. In America, unemployment is now much less threatening, but poverty has extended in the last twenty years, in a way that would be considered unbearable in most western Europe countries. In fact, many analysts think that we are confronted to a drastic choice : unemployment or growing inequalities.
Of course, one could ask : why is it so ? what are the causes for this giving up of post-war social expectations ? But I personally prefer to formulate the question differently : why did we make so good time for some decades ? which historical conditions made possible such a synergy between economic growth and social progress ? I will try to answer this question, relying, first, on a classical sketch elaborated fifteen years ago by a group of French economists (called the regulation school economists). They described the socio-economic system that blossomed in the richest capitalist countries after world war II, as the "Fordist system" referring to Henry Ford (the first capitalist which observed that the workers employed in its factories could also be the buyers of its cars).
As a set of mechanisms, regulations and behaviours working together and reinforcing each other, the Fordist system can be pictured as such :
A consumption pattern, characterised by increasing consumption of standardised manufactured objects, liable to be produced in long series (cars, household electrical equipment...).
A work organisation and production management scheme, coherent with this consumption pattern, Taylorism. Everybody knows the principles of the "scientific organisation of work", formulated at the end of the last century by the engineer F.W.Taylor. In order to increase the efficacity of industrial work, Taylor recommended a productive organisation, based on two principles : first, a radical division between conception and execution tasks ; second, the partition of execution tasks in elementary gestures requiring no qualification.
Third pillar, the most central one, the "fordist salary relationship". In counterpart of their frustrations in work, because taylorism is synonym of non qualified work and hierarchic organisation, workers are integrated into Consumption society and benefit from a continued increase of social advantages attached to their job : gains, juridical guarantees, reducing of working hours, Social Security and so on.
The fourth pillar was the keynesian and interventionist State, whose interventions, both in the economic field (Keynesian macro economic policies), and in the social field (minimum wage...) powerfully contributed to maintain the coherence of the system and a high and steady growth rate.
It is possible to show very precisely that these four subsets of the system were synergetic, each one reinforcing and stabilising the others. For example, the regularity of economic growth facilitates long term arrangements between firms and their employees. Or, second example, taylorist organisation reduces qualification requirements and facilitates mass integration and social homogenisation of the labour force. Of course, historical context has also played an important role : the extraordinary growth of productivity in American industry during the war, the effects of ideological rivalry between East and West, and so on. As I mentioned previously, social antagonism was part of the system, because strikes always lead to wage increases that would feed and maintain the keynesian dynamic of growth.
On the whole, all these elements made possible a stable distribution of productivity gains between wages and remuneration for capital and, finally, a vigorous economical growth (5 per cent each year from 1950 to 1975 in France).
Several convergent exhaustion factors
During the last twenty years, the system has progressively lost its coherence. Several factors of disturbance are at work (8) :
An evolution in the consumption pattern : first, the part of services has considerably grown up in the household budget, to the detriment of industrial products. Besides, concerning industrial goods, standardisation gives place to differentiation, and to an increasing attention to quality (the example of cars is illustrative : you have today a very large choice, with many different options for each model).
New products and new technologies mean new management and new work organisation. And, in general, post-fordist management is less favourable to mass social integration by work. A dualist scheme is now setting up. In general, production requires high commitment from a minority of qualified workers, while non qualified workers are in a much weaker position. Besides, the growth of service jobs generates a more dualist structure of labour force : more high skilled and well paid jobs, but also more low wage jobs.
The crisis of Welfare State, in part a consequence of the slowing down of growth makes it quite impossible continuing to increase social advantages constituting "fordist salary relationship".
"Globalisation", integration of world economy prevents national governments from regulating the economic system on a national basis. State looses control of the different levers used during the "glorious thirties" to manage economic growth and social progress (for example, support of household demand when growth slows down).
At last, in an integrated world economy, the competition of low wages countries has an evident impact on the social position of low skilled workers, reinforcing the dualist scheme previously mentioned.
I would insist on the fact that all these factors are acting simultaneously in the same sense : they tend to inhibit, if not put out of order, the synergetic relation between economic development and social progress.
An important outward sign of this exhaustion of fordist coherence is the difficulty to respond some growing new social needs (health care, looking after young children or dependant old people, teaching, security, culture and so on) in terms of new economic activities, and to initiate a new growth cycle on such a basis. This difficulty has to do, first, with productivity growth in different sectors. Productivity grows very slowly in most of household services activities, and, as some economists have analysed, workers shift from size declining activities into emerging activities is all the more difficult that productivity growth rates are low in these ones (9). The second difficulty is that services responding to growing social needs are for a great part collective services that require public funding (health care, education, culture, security...).
As an extension of this socio-economic analysis, it would be relevant here to refer to the growing "cultural contradictions of Capitalism", analysed by the American sociologist Daniel Bell (10). A loss of systemic coherence can also be pointed in the cultural field : the more it becomes immaterial, the more market economy growth depends on the bursting out of limitless consumers wants, and on the release of individualist and hedonist drives, in contradiction with ethical backgrounds of Capitalism. I just mention this point briefly.
"End of Work" or transformation ?
I will now focus on work itself. Economic changes affect its concrete nature and social functions of work itself, so that we have to reconsider and redefine its role as hegemonic medium of social integration.
The concept of work which the first liberal economists as well as Marx referred to, was productive work, the activity through which man struggles with nature, transforms matter in useful objects (commodities). Political and philosophical status of work in modern society had been set in the context of industrial revolution, referring to the growing productive power of each individual worker. As the anthropologist Louis Dumont has shown (11) an ideological link has been established at the beginning of Industrial era between the valorisation of productive work and social individualism. The arguments about "Work value" (valeur-travail) in Adam Smith, David Ricardo or Karl Marx, can be interpreted as a conceptual effort to produce an objective (extra-social) basis for their philosophical views on society (namely, a social order emerging from the free activity of human individuals).
It's probably Marx who formulated with the strongest words this link between individualism and productive work :
"As useful work, creating usage value, work is a necessary condition to man's existence, regardless of the form of society he lives in, a natural necessity and a mediation for an exchange of substance between man an nature...Work is at first glance, an act between man and nature. Through it, Man plays towards nature the role of a natural power. While he acts upon outside nature and modifies it, he modifies his own nature and develops the faculties sleeping in it (12) ".
In other words, Man is creating himself through individual work. He is not at first a social being, but the individual producer of his own existence.
We know now that Marx was not right, because anthropology taught us that human being is, from the beginning, a social being. But Marx's view, beyond his caricatured radicalism, is symptomatic of a more extended ideological scheme : what we may call "productive individualism", the link established between "self-reliance", or social autonomy of individuals, and "productive work".
For all the authors I mentioned, productive work could be opposed to the "unproductive" activity of lawyers, civil servants, priests and soldiers, as well as to "reproductive" tasks carried out by women and domestics. Work is basically confrontation with natural necessity, and, for this reason, it has the vocation to objectivise, to anchor man's liberty in his confrontation to non-social reality.
Further more, economic rationality, being anchored in material (non social) reality, is legitimate in its claim to subordinate the other aspects of social organisation. It's what Marx meant with his opposition between "infrastructure" and "superstructure" of society.
Service economy and work mutations (13)
It is suggestive to confront this still active ideological matrix to present economic reality. Machines now replace human work in manufacturing activities, and productive work tends to be reduced. And this will continue. The consequence is sometimes taken from this observation that Work itself is disappearing. I my opinion, this idea is a nonsense, because there is no a priori definition of which part of human activity has to be considered as "work". For example, to polish someone else's shoes in the street cannot be considered as work in France. It's different in some other countries. If you accept an extensive definition of work, it makes no sense to say that work is becoming rare, unless you deny that men can always diversify the services they deliver to each other.
Practically, in all developed countries, a rapid growth of service activities is taking place. In Europe as in the US, a large majority of new jobs are created in service activities, which employ about 70% of the labour force. And it will continue. In fact, the movement of replacement of workers by technology will also affect a large part of service activities : what we call "standardisable services" (banks, administration), but, in the same time, new "relational services", in health, culture, tourism and so on, will continue to develop. To sum up these evolutions, one could say that all physical, standardisable and repetitive activities will sooner or later be carried out by machines or computers, while human activity migrates towards the periphery or the interfaces of automated productive systems. If we want to anticipate and to conceptualise the new figures of work that emerge from this movement, it seems a natural approach to identify the abilities that contrast man and machines. Thus, four emerging figures of work can be pointed out :
First, the figure of "knowledge economy" (research, communication, "symbol handling" in general) ;
Second, the "relational services" (medical and social care, reception activities...) ;
Third, the "undertaking of uncertainty" (security, supervision, monitoring...) ;
Fourth, the remainder of technical and physical work, in repair, cleaning and maintenance activities.
Of course, these four items don't describe a partition of future jobs : an activity may come under several of them. They represent four typical figures of work that can be combined in real jobs.
Anyway, the economical and social reality of work becomes more heterogeneous. During the industrial era, work could be defined by three unites, like the classical tragedy :
unity of time : there was a clear partition between work time and leisure or rest time ;
unity of place (of scene) : work took place in a factory or in an office ;
unity of action : the real-life of work was marked by a uniform hierarchic constraint. Subordination was the typical characteristic of salaried work.
As you can see, in a service economy, all of these three features are vanishing.
unity of time : service economy leads to a disynchronisation of individual times. A great number of service workers (health care, shops, security...) must work during the night, on Sundays, etc.
unity of place : work is more and more dislocated (home work, mobility, etc.).
unity of action : subordination, to the boss or to the foreman, still exists, of course, but in the concrete reality of salaried work, it looses importance and gives place to a multiform social constraint exerted by clients, partners, colleagues, peers...
This evolution has various and important social consequences.
- The first one is the bursting out of working class, the weakening of collective solidarities rooted in the real-life of work, the loss of cultural coherence of professional worlds. One of the most evident symptoms of this bursting out is the weakening of unions. More generally, work looses its capacity of mediating the constitution of large cohesive social groups.
- Another consequence deals with the abilities mobilised in work : more relational and autonomous activities require competencies that don't come under the usual concept of professional skill. Of course, technical skills are always necessary, but, more and more often, they are not sufficient, and work requires moreover, social abilities, namely language abilities, behavioural flexibility, strategic intuition and so on. Put briefly, all that allows someone to act within a group, in a differentiated social context, to participate in activities requiring elaborated forms of co-operation.
One of the main characteristic of social abilities is their opaqueness : they are more difficult to evaluate and objectivise in terms of diploma or recognised professional qualification. In France, we had a proverb "It's at the bottom of a wall that one can recognise the bricklayer" (c'est au pied du mur qu'on voit le maçon) : It meant that manual work immediately reveals someone's abilities. But now, in an immaterial economy, is it still the case ? We can see now that firms have more difficulties to describe precisely the profiles they need.
This opaqueness has the effect of making labour market less efficient, and, in France, it's certainly one of the many causes of unemployment. But I would emphasise another point : the abilities required in professional activities are now the same as those brought into play in the other spheres of social and private life. It means that economic integration is more dependant on cultural integration than it was during Industrial era. In other words, economy looses a part of its capacity to objectivise social relationships on an egalitarist and individualist basis. Production is no more a separate ground where each individual can find by himself a place in society regardless of his inherited social and cultural integration. In political terms, this has for consequence that we can't simply rely upon the dynamics of division of labour to produce social and cultural integration.
The question of the "social role of work" is often raised through considerations about individual attitudes towards work, individual commitment in work. In fact, these attitudes can be very different, and contradictory observations can be made. These contradictions reflect both a great variety of objective work situations and a great complexity and ambiguity of individual attitudes. The social role of work can be discussed from many different point of views. One must not confound the instrumental value of work (work as a way of economic and social autonomy) and its expressive value (work as a way of asserting one's identity). Moreover, one must not confound individual socialisation processes (the ways by which individuals appropriate or put up with given social rules and values) and collective integration (the way these rules and values are collectively produced and enhanced).
Different assessments of the "social role of work" can be made at these different levels. I would not say, in general terms, that work is becoming less important for people, but only that it can't play the same role in the collective production of a consistent and cohesive society. For instance, it can't create any more collective solidarity within large social groups and it can't mediates standardised integration processes (young people can't rely on stable, visible professional models within reach of them, to build standardised acknowledged life projects).
At a more general level, it re-opens the whole question of the alliance between democracy and market economy. This alliance, no doubt, has always been problematic, it’s always had to be organised and instituted through conflicts, collective negotiations, regulatory innovations and political adjustments. But, during the fordist period, division of labour quite spontaneously contributed to social development in a democratic context. In other words, the social conditions of growth reconciled individual emancipation and collective integration.
In a post-industrial economy, the balance is broken because work tends to become a new ground for more radical individuation processes, to the detriment of its integrative, normative and regulatory functions. Partly because of the communicational content of professional activity, its expressive dimension is oriented towards self-assertion rather than towards collective identities enhancement. Moreover, the new course of labour division favour the expression of interindividual skills and abilities differences, and it often implies the acceptance of asymmetric social positions (for example in household services), in contradiction with politically and culturally established equality requirements. In consequence, the emancipation impetus, still very strong and active in our societies, is no more counter-balanced by a related process of homogenisation and functional integration of society. It means a new kind of contradiction between economy and society (14).
In political terms, social-democracy has been the most elaborated expression of a dynamic compromise between individualism and social integration. It produced an enrolment of class antagonism in socio-economic regulation. The consistence of that scheme relied upon the specific characteristics of industrial society. Class struggle had three important properties : first, it offered a simple and controllable representation of social contradictions and conflicts, second, it constituted a powerful socialisation mechanism, and third it was embedded in keynesian macroeconomic regulation. As I mentioned in the French case, strikes always lead to wage increases that would feed and maintain the keynesian dynamics of growth.
In the new global economy, these mechanisms don't work anymore, so that class antagonism about production organisation and added value appropriation is no more the structural kernel around which a global social compromise can be constructed. In consequence, the historical deal between democracy and capitalist market economy must be reconsidered and re-formulated. In a way or another, the re-embeddedness of economy by democracy is on the agenda.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this conference, "Rhenan capitalism" is on the defensive, and all those who don't stick to liberal utopia face the challenge of inventing a new "social market economy".
In my view, the issue is not so much to re-invent some kind of socialist economy as to restrain the grip of market economy on society. We need some kind of social ecology, a new set of goals and criteria for evaluating the social, cultural and political impact of economic activities. In such a perspective, it seems reasonable to seek the emergence of a more pluralistic socio-economic system, with new balances and new synergies between State, market and communities initiatives and regulations. Although this sounds a bit utopian, I think that such ideas can contribute to the formulation of a new compromise between economy and society.
To conclude, I would only list a few concrete issues that could give substance to this general perspective.
As I mentioned previously, more and more voices plead for the institution of a basic income, attributed without any activity conditions (15). It appears a radical way to change the social drama of unemployment into a promising prospect. Being acknowledged that full employment is definitively behind us, why not decide to free man from work ? I don’t stick to this approach, even if, obviously, unemployed persons should not be left without resources (such welfare mechanisms already exists in most of European countries). In my opinion, disconnection between income and activity is unavoidable but it should not be stated as a principle, as an unconditional right. For at least two related reasons. First because of integrative function of economic work : alternative activities such as arts, politics, philanthropic commitments or even sport cannot play exactly the same role for socialising individuals and objectivising their participation to society building. Second because there is a necessary link between autonomy and self-reliance. I can't imagine a society where individuals would accede to economic autonomy without any self-reliance requirement.
Let me add a brief consideration on social autonomy in a market society. As Georg Simmel as shown in its philosophie des geldes, men are really freed by money. Money is a credit on society that puts each man in interdependence with a multitude of others, and releases him from his dependence towards any particular person or particular community. Hence, it's a dissolution principle that favour individuation and weakening of familial and community links. Simmel says that "<money> creates, of course, relationships amongst human beings, but its leaves human beings outside these ones". By contrast, social links created by work really commit people towards one another, at a deeper level, and, above all, on a longer term. So that work can be seen as what gives sense, consistency and legitimacy to monetary circulation, and as a necessary counterweight to dissociation forces released by money. So that, in my opinion, political and anthropological objections to basic income are, for a part, related to it's monetary nature. The same objections don't apply to other forms of resources allocation, such as free health care services or free access to canteens, or vouchers (travel vouchers for example). Access to basic social and material resources doesn’t mean necessarily basic monetary income.
Reduction of working hours
The most popular subject of debate concerning work and employment, in our countries, is the reduction of working hours. "Working less" appears as a way for "sharing jobs" and fighting unemployment, as well as a way to limit the grip of monetary economy on social life.
I am, of course, in favour of the reduction of working hours, but I'm not completely convinced that it will have a massive impact on job creation. One of the main problem is that, in a post-industrial economy, weekly work time schemes are becoming more and more flexible and individualised, so that their reduction presupposes a voluntarist effort to maintain or restore a collective regulation of work organisation. It may be that this effort has no sense in a growing number of situations where work is becoming more and more autonomous. In many firms, reducing work time might show more relevant on a yearly basis than on a weekly basis. Moreover, one must not forget that unemployment has complex structural causes, some of them lying in labour market dysfunctions : for instance, not all the firms reducing work hours for creating new jobs will find unemployed persons having the right skills, really wanting to work and immediately available. More generally, collective work hours reduction raises many organisational problems and require strong negotiations abilities from social partners. Anyway, for all these reasons, different formulas of part-time work and atypical hours are developing in France much more quickly than collective work hours reduction. For many experts, the main question, now, is to regulate the irresistible movement towards flexibility and individualisation of work hours induced by economic mutations..
On the other hand, "working less" may be a condition to maintain and develop non-economic socialising activities. In an optimistic perspective, of course. Having more available time may indeed lead to different kinds of life organisation and may have different kinds of social consequences. The virtuous mechanism that many have in mind is that time saved from economic work should be used to develop non monetary activities, new social services on a non profit basis, and allow people to better assume their social responsibilities (in family life, political, cultural, religious or philanthropic fields). Unfortunately, other consequences are plausible, and available time might as well be recovered by market economy through the growth of leisure goods consumption. So that the "social ecology" perspective has to be promoted by different other means if we want that the release from productive work opens out onto a more convivial social life.
Development of new social services
As I mentioned previously, an important outward sign of fordist coherence exhaustion is the difficulty to answer new social needs by means of new economic activities. It's quite natural to expect that time released from productive working be used for developing non monetary activities and find non market responses to social needs. The social rationality of these responses being irreducible to purely utilitarian rationality, but depending on various social and political externalities such as community empowerment, basic resources provision for poor an disabled persons, social integration, etc.
Self-production on a familial or community scale could play an important role in the provision of some basic goods services such as social care or housing maintenance, or even food in rural areas. But, of course, from a political point of view, it's worth encouraging more institutional exchange systems. Different solutions have been proposed to organise social exchange on a non monetary basis. Rainer Zoll has recently suggested the institution of a social service organised on the model of civil service, giving access to social rights and resources, for example an income paid during several years to young people wanting to carry on with their studies. I have defended a neighbouring idea when it was decided to remove French military service. Different kinds of institutionalised non monetary exchange systems can be thought of. One of the most promising one in a long term perspective is monetary pluralism, the institution of monetary instruments devoted to the development of social services economy at a local level. In France, some concrete prefigurations already exist, through different kinds of subsidised specialised payment titles, such as the "chèque service" or the "chèque restaurant".
But, let me know raise a new question : why should there be a strict separation between market economy and these new activities ?
I would just briefly mention the concept that Jean-Louis Laville has promoted under the label of "économie solidaire". Relying on substantial ground studies (16), Laville argues that the most relevant way to develop social services devoted to the fulfilment of local needs is to articulate, or to hybridise, the three logics of market economy, non profit monetary economy, and non-monetary economy. A typical example of such innovations are the so-called "familial day nurseries" for young children, in which parents actively contribute in collaboration with social workers. Of course, these experiences may be said marginal ones, but they have the great merit of illustrating a new way of mobilising monetary resources together with non monetary ones, and articulating heterogeneous regulatory principles.
At last, to designate the overtaking of liberal capitalism some of us are seeking, maybe the most encompassing concept would be "plural economy", referring to the articulation of different forms of social exchange, different forms of resources distribution, and different ways of producing society.
(1) Editions Arlea, Paris 1995.
(2) Michel Albert, Capitalisme contre capitalisme, Seuil, Paris 1991.
(3) La fin du travail, éditions La découverte, Paris 1997.
(4) Fayard, Paris 1996. See also Dominique Méda, Le travail, une valeur en voie de disparition, Aubier Paris 1996.
(5) Les métamorphoses du travail, Galilée, Paris 1988.
(6) Robert Castel, Métamorphoses de la question sociale, Fayard 1994.
(7) Denis Segrestin, Sociologie de l’entreprise, Armand Colin Paris 1993.
(8) Robert Boyer, Jean-Pierre Durand, L’Après-Fordisme, Syros, Paris 1994.
(9) Eileen Appelbaum, Ronald Schettkat, " Employment and productivity in industrialised economies ", International labour review, 1995, Vol. 34, n° 4-5.
(10) The cultural contradictions of capitalism, Penguin books 1976, new edition 1996.
(11) Louis Dumont, Homo Aequalis I, Gallimard 1984.
(12) The Capital, Tome 1.
(13) For more details, see Bernard Perret, L’avenir du travail, Seuil, Paris 1995.
(14) Bernard Perret et Guy Roustang, L’économie contre la société, Seuil, 1993.
(15) Jean-marc Ferry, L’allocation universelle, Editions du Cerf, Paris 1995.
(16) Jean-Louis Laville (dir.), L’économie solidaire, Desclee de Brouwer, Paris 1994.
- Return to the top -
- Return to Bernard Perret's personal page-
FastCounter by bCentral