La Croix: What do you think is the state of social democracy today in France?
Pierre-Olivier Monteil : France has always had difficulties with the notion of social democracy and the recognition of citizens as workers, with their intermediary bodies. At the time of the French Revolution, the intermediate bodies were abolished in the name of the fight against conservative forces, with the Le Chapelier law (1791). Today, it is in the name of a state that guarantees the neoliberal order that an atomized society is promoted. In the same way that the Jacobin state wants to have the citizen alone in front of it, in a kind of face-to-face encounter, the neoliberal state now wants individual producers, isolated in front of it. Because, for the market, you have to have atoms and not aggregates, it has to be fluid.
Does the union mobilization against pensions, supported by public opinion from the beginning, say anything about a desire for social democracy?
P.-O. M. : I think so, in the sense that the movement seems to me to express disapproval and discontent that tends to go beyond the theme of pensions to focus on a mode of exercising power. What the social movement expresses is a feeling of not being listened to and a critique of technocratic power.
In the background, there is the bitterness that it has been like this for forty years and that it is starting to do well. I recognize a weariness of “we must adapt”, which the philosopher Barbara Stiegler has analyzed well in her book (We must adapt, Gallimard, 2019).
You have worked a lot on life in business. Is the aspiration to a form of social democracy also expressed there?
P.-O. M. : Absolutely, but it takes the path of an aspiration to other ways of working. Today there is a deep aspiration among workers for meaningful work. I don’t believe at all that a so-called “laziness” about which we hear everything and anything would develop. The idea that there would be a disinvestment in the face of work seems to me a complete misreading.
On the contrary, there is an aspiration to work and a denunciation of current work in the name of the work that one loves or would like to do. I see a real expectation to give of oneself, to commit, to undertake, especially among young people who are discovering odd jobs, fixed-term contracts, temporary work, apprenticeships, and who are impatient to be able to do a good job. .
The ambiguity is that this disappointed expectation can result in a request for teleworking or the creation of one’s own bubble in self-employment or within the company. But these phenomena are for me an avoidance, out of spite, “waiting for better”, as long as the current context does not allow to flourish through work. I could read here or there that Emmanuel Macron thought that the future of work was self-employment. If so, that would be a full read error for me.
How does this aspiration for quality work meet that of social democracy?
P.-O. M. : We have to wonder about the type of management and life at work that we promote in the company. Potentially, work experience can be a pedagogy of citizenship, through the learning of cooperation, deliberation, compromise. On the contrary, today, we see the development of a management centered on individual performance, where everything that concerns the collective does not count for career development, for bonuses, etc. This trend is reinforced by the use of the Internet and telecommuting, which create distance between workers and lead to the gradual abandonment of teamwork. Behind this, there is the idea that it is not worth meeting at 25, since it will suffice to put 25 employees in copy of their email…
We should realize that work shapes us. In the same way that we produce, we produce ourselves, through the activity and especially the context of the work activity. The world of work is micropolitical. Today, the neoliberal organization of work presents itself as politically neutral, but this is not the case. Through individual performance and digital, collective work is dissolved, and this has a political impact. This type of management teaches everyone for themselves and unlearns disinterestedness. It is in my eyes a school of incivility.
How to turn the tide ?
P.-O. M. : We should succeed in making people understand that social democracy is not at all a luxury, neither from an economic point of view, nor from a political point of view. Management that ignores the temporality of human work ends up being underperforming: performance will not be there or it will be lower.
On the political level, the scientific literature shows that, in companies that implement participatory management, employees are not only more committed to their work, but they are also more active and committed citizens. Conversely, authoritarian management induces a much more fearful profile of citizens, who go home after work and stay there.
Concretely, what can we imagine to advance social democracy?
P.-O. M. : Beyond goodwill, we could rely on institutional developments and in particular adopt co-determination. If we consider that a company needs capital and labor equally, this must translate into equal representation of shareholders and employees on the boards of directors. Currently, the Pacte law of 2019 provides for the presence of a maximum of two employee directors on the boards of directors, if the companies obviously so wish. It also provides for a review clause in 2024, which could make it possible to move to 50-50. This is obviously very optimistic, but it would be an extremely simple reform to carry out. In Germany, co-determination has been practiced since 1978 in all private companies with more than 2,000 employees. And we did not notice that the country was illustrated by economic underperformance.
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