Danger Work by dfgh4bnmu


									Brigitte Beauzamy
CADIS/GTMS (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales -Paris)

                                             “Danger : Work”
Representation and mobilization of the unemployed in radical anti-globalization

                             ECPR 2nd general conference, Marburg, Germany
                                        September 18-21, 2003

                                                                                        “No one should ever work.

                                Work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world. Almost any evil you'd care
                                to name comes from working or from living in a world designed for work. In order
                                                                        to stop suffering, we have to stop working.”

                                                                  Bob Black, introduction to The Abolition of work

This introduction to the essay The Abolition of work by the American anarchist essayist Bob
Black sums up the substance of contemporary radical anti-work arguments. How does this
demand that everyone should step out from the world of work come up in radical anti-
globalization movements ? What function does it have in the more general frame of anti-
globalization in which organizations of unemployed people are mobilized ?

Data gathered through an ethnographic observation in radical movements in France can help
us understand how this radical critique of work is articulated to other militant topics. In March
2002, the second edition of the FRAP (Festival of Resistance and Alternatives in Paris) mixed
exhibitions, film showings, debates, artistic performances, etc.. with anti-capitalist direct
action. It dedicated a day to the theme of labor : it started with the representation of a play
written and played by unemployed militants of the organization AC ! (Act together against
unemployment). The play was called “The trial of the PARE” (“Le Pare mis en pièce”) after
the name of a new workfare policy which had been enforced a few months before the festival,
and against which AC!, along with the other French organizations of unemployed people, had
instituted a legal procedure to obtain its revocation. Actually, the representation during the
festival took place a few weeks before they actually went before the court. After the play, two
movies were showed, peppered with debates about labor issues : first Year 01 by Gébé, a
fiction from the seventies of how life would be if everyone stopped working to live a different
kind of life ; and then the documentary Danger : Work by Pierre Carles et al., who had
previously directed critical documentaries on the media system and a biography of Pierre
Bourdieu (Sociology is a combat sport). Both movies aimed at demonstrating, in different
ways, that to refrain from working is not only desirable, it is also possible : the debates
reached the same conclusion.

This choice in the scheduled program gives us an indication of what content anti-capitalist
militants associate with the theme of work in their struggles. It is orientated in two directions :

    I am very grateful to Michel Wieviorka and Jonathan Friedman for their advice on this text.

on the one hand, the rights of unemployed people, on the other hand, a radical critique of the
concept of work. These two directions seem to contradict each other, since the first one takes
the world of labor as a background and a goal for its struggle, when the second one is
orientated towards its very calling into question. We are going to study how these two
orientations are in fact articulated in anti-capitalist struggles within the anti-globalization
sphere, not only within organizations of unemployed people but also in the narrative
representation of labor issues. Danger : Work is one example of the latter, and it was
scheduled not only in the FRAP festival in 2002 and 2003, but also in the counter-summit of
Evian and recently during the Larzac gathering ; it will be out in movie theaters in France in
September. What is it to be “unemployed” ? There is no obvious answer to this question in the
militant sphere, where an unemployed cannot be easily defined as “someone who is deprived
of a job”. Through the representation and mobilization of the unemployed in so-called anti-
globalization movements, particularly the radical ones, we will find a conflict of
interpretations around this question : different positions correspond to diverging political

In a first moment, we will examine the two sides of the movement of unemployed and people
in precarious economic postions, the first one turned toward the specific struggles of the field
of unemployment, the second one toward the anti-globalization protesting frames. We will
then establish a genealogy of the current mobilization of the unemployed in labor struggles of
the seventies through a specific corpus of anti-work pamphlets. We will finally see how they
lead to a representation of the happily unemployed as the central point of militant discourse.

I.       The problematics of unemployment in anti-globalization mobilizations

A. The organizations of the unemployed in anti-globalization meetings

     •   Participation in anti-globalization protest events

Let us first examine how labor-based struggles fit into anti-globalization mobilizations. As a
preliminary remark, we must note that since it is difficult to identify a specifically anti-
globalization political agenda, considering the diversity of trends in this sphere, a good
indicator of who belongs to it can be the participation in counter-summits or Social Forums.
This can help to draw the limits of the political field of anti-globalization without first
establishing a center – for instance ATTAC or the NGOs – and margins regrouping all non-
institutional mobilizations. Movements which gather for so-called anti-globalization counter-
summits are varied both in their organizational forms and political substance : in the
institutional context, one can find rather stable organizations which may count numerous
militants and present a clearly recognizable structure. It is often composed of a network of
local militant sections or “collectives” which autonomy and power to decide in General
Assemblies varies according to which organization is considered. The preferred type of action
reveals to which category an organization belongs : some of them prefer trying to attain their
aims through negotiating with the authorities, based on a counter-expertise and sometimes on
symbolic mass demonstrations. Among them one can find NGOs, trade unions and
organizations like ATTAC– but also some smaller structures entirely dedicated to the
production of the counter-expert discourse. Their action is directly targeted at the international
level and they use in recurring fashion the “neo-liberal anti-globalization”,
“altermondialisation” arguments during counter-summits or Social Forums which are to a
major extent dedicated to the exchange of counter-expertise.

What French militants call “the Social Movement” can clearly be distinguished from this
category, although it is included in the institutional sector. This partition is an analytical tool
but its use among militants is widespread, and they know very well who one is talking about
when one uses it to qualify a movement. The organizations which are part of the Social
Movement are organized around concrete struggles in which they act directly and practically
to modify a local situation. Their most remarkable feature is that they simultaneously engage
in practical aid aimed at a targeted group of people and elaborate a political contesting of the
theoretical content of the protest, and of how it is phrased. For instance, organizations
mobilized around the issues of unemployment (AC! APEIS and MNCP being the major ones)
dedicate some time in their offices to help people follow what is going on with their files for
benefits at the National Employment Agency or to give them advice about how to resolve
disputes. AC! being part of the Social Movement, it sets up local “actions”, which are in
general organized at the level of the city by the local collectives of the organization. These
actions are in general less massive than demonstrations : their typical form is the occupation
for a few hours – quite rarely for a longer period of time – of places considered to be symbolic
of the problematics they raise : for instance, AC! occupied the castle of Versailles several
times to represent its taking by the wretched [Demazière and Pignoni 1998]. But AC! is at the
same time mobilized in transnational contesting frames, first the counter-summits and Social
Forums which are characteristic of anti-globalization meetings, but also modes of action
specific to the struggles of the unemployed, such as the European Marches [Chabannet 2002].

 •   The building-up of a problematics of the “no-vox”

The organizations of the Social Movement inscribe their action at both the national and the
transnational level in a common frame of mobilization, the struggle of the “without” (lutte des
sans) – namely the struggle of the deprived. The movements of the“without” articulate a
dimension of practical aid with a larger political protest. This double orientation has an impact
on their organizational structures which necessarily include some sort of institutionalization –
offices, office hours, material resources, specific skills, for instance legal skills. This
institutionalization allows them to receive public funding and releases some resources for
non-institutional mobilizations.

However, one should not conclude that the unity of the demands of the “without” stems from
this formal resemblance almost naturally. On the contrary, the frame of the struggle of the
“without” was constructed by organizational actors engaged in it – among them in France the
core ones are AC! and organizations mobilized around the issue of illegal migrants (DD!,
Droits Devant!) or the housing shortage (DAL, Droit au Logement). One can trace back the
genealogy of this theme of the “struggle of the ‘without’” through organic links which exist
between a small number of organizations. These transnational links account for the
construction at the European level of a new frame of mobilization called the “no-vox”
network. This frame is efficient in making these struggles visible within anti-globalization
protests, which is exactly the primary meaning of the term “no-vox” : the epithet qualifies
those without a voice inside the sphere of anti-globalization movements because of their
precarious economic or legal situation (for the illegal migrants). Stating that they are “no-
vox” stresses out the fact that their living conditions prevent them from massively attending
the major anti-globalization meetings, such as the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, and
questions the reality of the ethical principles put forward by other anti-globalization

The claims of the “without” are centered for the most part around the idea of obtaining rights :
the right of circulation and mobility, the right to housing, the right to work. These are
mobilizations which address the situation of deprivation concretely experienced by their
participants to demand that practices conform to these rules which are considered to be
transcendent. Even if these protests question entire aspects of the policies of European states –
such as the turn from welfare to workfare in unemployment policies – the reference to a
situation of rights leaves necessarily intact the basis of the European democratic states. On the
contrary, what is a stake is to make them coincide more tightly with their founding principles
by purifying them from ill-advised policies. For instance texts signed by AC! insist on the fact
that “the right to work” is constitutional in France ; a DAL slogan claims that “a roof is a
right, a roof is the law” (“Un toit c’est un droit, un toit c’est la loi !”).

The arguments of the “without” promote a generalizing process from each specific struggle to
the larger issues - this is one mechanism for building a common frame for anti-globalization
mobilizations. This frame extension stems from the unification and generalization of each
smaller frame [Snow et al. 1986]. However, it does not aim primarily at securing a common
interpretation for all the protesters : the building of the struggle of the “without” makes it
possible that various militant organizations join their forces and resources in common
mobilizations and become long-term allies. The unemployed as jobless people are therefore
mobilized side to side with other people who also experience a precarious situation since they
cannot access the collective goods to which they are in fact fully entitled, according to the
militants. But this common frame of mobilization differs from the specific anti-globalization
program, for it does not stem up from a general prism of explanation – the neo-liberal
globalization, which is then fragmented in specific directions [Gerhards and Rucht 1992 :
577]. It is constructed through the ascending movement of the amalgam of a plurality of
concrete experiences, and the keystone ensuring the unity of the contesting themes – the rights
– is an appeal to ethics in the most general and absolute possible way. The mobilization of the
unemployed as struggle of the “without” situates the meaning of their action in a dialectic
between an abstract subject of the laws and rights and the concrete incarnated figure of the
people who experience insecurity.

B. Interaction with labor struggles

However, one cannot grasp the meaning of the mobilization of the unemployed as a struggle
of the “without” by considering only their place within anti-globalization protests : one must
take into account its position within the field of labor struggles. Before accounting for a major
participation in anti-globalization mobilizations, it is necessary to consider that the struggles
of the unemployed take place in a balance of power defined by the patterns of labor conflict,
in which they must position themselves vis-à-vis corporate, state and trade union actors. The
appearance of the mobilizations of the unemployed in anti-globalization protests is fashioned
by the situation of their political agenda in labor struggles - and the national level remains the
major one for mobilizations aimed at transforming public policies [Muller 1994].

Historically, the struggles of the unemployed were constructed despite rather than thanks to
the trade unions [Demazière and Pignoni 1998 ; Béroud, Mouriaux, Vakaloulis 1998]. If the
latter remain haunted by the ghost of the Worker’s movement and place a certain “proud
consciousness” of the value of work at the heart of their representations [Touraine, Wieviorka,
Dubet 1984], it is a distorted image of this ghost which can be found in the movements of the
unemployed. In a first moment they define the meaning of their action by the everyday

experience of their precarious situations. Therefore even before the movements of 1995 and
1998 in France - which ensured the visibility of the unemployed - these organizations placed
their contesting both inside and outside the frame of labor struggles. If these mobilizations
have in common with classical trade unionist orientations the themes of the struggles against
the employers, they differ from them in two directions : first they put forward the subjective
experience of unemployment; then they appeal to ethical principles more general than those
used in trade union arguments – the sense of justice, an appeal to human dignity. These
principles may be applied to the reality of work itself in order to contest its nature.

 •   The radical critique of work in the strikes of unskilled workers

It is by considering the irruption of the unemployed and the precarious workers in labor
struggles that one can trace back the formulation of a radical critique of the working
conditions. It leads to a reflection on the concept of work itself through the uncoupling of
work and income. This radical critique of work proceeds from a destabilizing of the central
place given to work in the struggles descending from the Workers’ Movement. One can
establish the genealogy of this displacement by drawing a parallel between militant discourses
on the intervention of the associations of unemployed like AC! in labor conflicts in the 1990s-
2000s and some descriptions of the unskilled factory worker strikes in the 1970s.

Both categories – unemployed and unskilled workers – have first of all in common a formal
resemblance. They seem to be defined by the experience of the deprivation of what appears a
contrario to be the implicit central place from which the problematics linked to work are
formulated : a stable salaried job, a work position which corresponds to a production function
for which the use of specific skills is necessary. The unemployed form the lower end of a
hierarchy of functions within the working population. It both defines and worries the upper
end by displaying the growing precariousness of salaried jobs from which it is increasingly
likely to suffer.

Critical marxist descriptions of strikes of unqualified factory workers in the 1970s provide an
archeology of the contemporary figure of the radically protesting unemployed [Auffray,
Baudouin, Collin 1974]. First, they identified a process which leads from the situation of
unskilled worker, the “OS”, to the one of unemployed. This path can be concretely assessed in
today’s movements of the unemployed : militant descriptions of the European Marches such
as “Les sentiers de la colère” (“The paths of wrath”) proudly mention the participation of
veterans of the struggles of the 1970s, like the Lip strike. Auffray, Baudouin and Collin
choose to interpret this path from unskilled labor to unemployment as the result of a deliberate
policy of the Barre government. It would aim at disarming a form of proletariat which had
became too dangerous using the tool of unemployment: “the strike wave of the 60s/70s, the
widespread loathing of work which accompanied it, the bursting of protests (of the young, the
women, the immigrants..), added to the salary-oriented conservatism of the old working class,
rendered it absolutely necessary to put an end to that kind of proletariat” [Auffray, Baudouin
and Collin 1979 : 196, emphasis in the original]. This analysis leads them to consider two
consequences of this policy : first the deterritorialisation of capital and delocalization of
production in Third World countries – in terms that prefigure those employed nowadays to
describe globalization -, second the growth of unskilled and precarious tertiary jobs, specially
for young workers. This is exactly the starting point of Danger : Work’s argument : the
generalization of precarious salaried jobs creates jobless people and therefore introduces a
new figure of the radically protesting unemployed struggling against work itself.

 •   Formulation and subversion of an identity of the “without”

OS as unskilled workers and unemployed people as jobless appear in this analysis to be
defined by the same experience of deprivation, seen from the standpoint one of skilled
salaried labor – which turns out to be the one of trade unions. In this perspective the figure of
the unemployed appears to be a superlative version of the unskilled worker, since another
step has been made in this process of deprivation : the unskilled worker is here presented as
being excluded from the world of skilled labor [Auffray, Baudouin and Collin 1979 : 125],
the unemployed as being simply excluded. Since they are here considered to materialize a
dysfunction of the system, they are therefore placed in a situation of marginality despite their
number. “How does this majority become ‘marginal’ just because it fights ?” ask the authors.
“ Why do these ‘excluded’ people ask for anything but integrating in this praised world of
skilled labor ?” They offer an answer : “Today’s unskilled worker is not similar to
yesterdays’ one, precisely (…) because he freed himself from this ideology of qualification
which reduced him to being nothing.”[ibid., emphasis in the original]. We can see here an
archeology of the contemporary figure of the radically contesting unemployed. Their
struggles are here interpreted as a displacement from the place and theme of the factory
which defines them as deprived of a qualification and reduced to a situation of a lumpen
proletariat. It is their very definition as a category that the unqualified workers would
therefore contest through their demands. This contesting would shake the structure of
categories inside the Workers’Movement mobilizations, since questioning the central role
played by skills in a hierarchy within the working population would then lead to contesting
the organization of the production itself. Even salary claims – specially the ones demanding
that two people working at similar positions should be paid equally – are interpreted as
unsettling the “ideology of the value of work” [Auffray, Baudouin and Collin 1979 : 156].

This interpretation is supported by descriptions of actual OS strikes of the 1970s, in which
the authors emphasize how strikers become gradually indifferent about maintaining their
work tools during the conflicts. For instance during a strike at the Péchiney-Noguères factory
in 1973, the strikers refused to keep on maintaining the electrolysis tanks as they used to do
during previous strikes [Barou 1975 : 20]. The tanks became therefore unserviceable, not
because they had been deliberately broken by luddist workers but because, Barou argues,
they did not feel concerned by the efficiency of production tools anymore. This indifference
would therefore reveal a disgust toward work itself : this leads the authors to conclude that
what the unskilled workers want is not that their work should be “enriched” but that it should
be limited or even suppressed.

This shift allows the formulation of an identity which reminds us of today’s struggles of the
“without”. Once work ceases to be identified as the central reference of the demands of
unqualified workers, their struggle can adopt a variety of other meanings – such as gender and
race relations - which used to be silenced by the hegemonic and abstractly universalist figure
of the qualified factory worker. This fragmentation of the struggles of unskilled workers
would allow them to join forces with mobilizations outside the workplace : this leads to the
idea, generalized in today’s anti-globalization sphere, that a single theme can be acted upon in
different fields at the same time. For instance, the descriptions of OS strikes show how the
question of immigrant workers ends up articulating these strikes to the protest strategies of
illegal migrants. When struggling workers gradually abandon a central reference to work, it
allows them to formulate a political identity of “without” which feeds on more radical
critiques of the very concept of work.

II.     Theoretical bases of a radical critique of work

A. The elementary structures of anti-work pamphlets

•     Utopian and lampooner writing

In a second moment, we are now going to study the discursive side of the radical critique of
work. This is a universe in which much theoretical writing is produced and consumed.
Militant organizations publish and circulate books to illustrate their views of the world. For
instance they hold “press tables” during meetings or militant events on which they offer on
display a variety of theoretical texts thought to be of interest for the attending people. They
generally adopt the form of an essay – among them The abolition of work by Bob Black : its
translation in French was the first text published by the militant publisher “L’Esprit Frappeur”
among other critical essays and manifestos. However, if we can have an idea of the reception
of some writings thanks to how and how much militants refer to them, such information is
unavailable for the struggles of the 1970s. But since the corpus of the radical critiques of work
is highly self-referent, an analysis of intertextuality conjures up a limited number of local

Bob Black’s essay is described by the author as an “abolitionist manifesto” : it demands that
all reference to work be abandoned not only in protests but also in the desired society to
come. The same themes developed in The abolition of work already appeared in theoretical
texts from the 1970s, so it is possible to identify a genre despite some formal variations, for
the arguments displayed in these pamphlets are remarkably stable between the 1970s and the
1990s. These writings radically criticize the concept of work and formulate practical
proposals to found a functional workless society. These texts, when they are brief, generally
take the form of lampooner writing ; when they reach a book length, the same arguments are
intermingled with descriptive passages aiming at some form of objectivity. They rest on the
same theoretical sources - Fourier among the utopians being one of the major theory-makers
in this direction and the most frequently mentioned. The analysis starts from the identification
of work as a core locus of alienation and domination. From this conclusion follows that work
itself as an institution should be suppressed and replaced by its desirable opposite : play.

The unity of tone between between writings of the 1970s and the 1990s makes it possible to
identify the major recurring themes which form the content of this discursive field of anti-
work pamphlets [Foucault : 1967]. The authors develop a number of inevitable arguments
and images in their demonstrations, which can be studied as topoi of this genre. Let us
examine some of them.

•     Topoi

In order to make it clear that work should be fully eradicated, the authors start with
describing a dark setting of the world of work, and provide an analysis showing how work is
the keystone of the capitalist system which they want to crush. It is therefore no surprise if a
description of the horror of work comes first : as in classical utopian writings, the argument
starts here with a “introduction of the monsters”, a painting of the corrupted world which
should be radically transformed. [Pessin 2001 : 63]. Based on the etymology of the words
“travail” (“tripalium”, which is a torture instrument) and “labor”, the writers emphasize how
morbid work is. It kills, it mutilates : this aspect is attested by figures of work-related injuries

which materialize in frightening statistics. To this quantitative measure of the morbidity of
work is added the subjective description of suffering through the inclusion of testimonies of
workers. The suffering also includes boredom and the monotony of the tasks which are
described as mind-destroying because of the parcelling out and the routinization of the
production process. This leads to a general process of disqualification of work : this explains
why the locus classicus of this description is the taylorized assembly line of the modern
factory. The most recent examples include services submitted to the same principles of
organization – like call centers or pizza delivery, both examples being represented in Danger
: Work. To the suffering created by boredom, one should add that created by stress in the
most precarious or uncertain jobs. Fatigue restraints the possibility of activities besides work
during leisure time, rest itself being only one way for the workforce to regenerate itself.

Once the sinister setting of the world of work has been described, writers give it a meaning so
that it escapes from the order of fate and can be replaced in a general analysis of exploitation
and alienation. The – forced – drive to work is explained through both social functions of
work identified by the authors, which differ from the production of the goods necessary to the
well-being of a society : work, they argue, is primarily aimed at exploiting and controlling a
majority of people. First, work is considered from a marxist standpoint to be generating
profits – one should note that the authors do not develop at length this aspect which is
classical in the militant worlds which they address. Another side of the argument, based on a
reading of Foucault, analyses work as a disposition aimed at social control. Here is developed
a description of the intrusion of watching procedures applied to the workforce which Bob
Black couples to how children are being treated. Then, in a second moment, the authors
identify those who benefit from this forced labor; employers of course regrouped in “ruling
classes” but barely visible behind the petty figure of the small workshop manager, but also
the supporters of a system which characterization remains evasive. However, the description
of the political accomplices of this ideology of work is more precise : “all the old
conservative ideologies” [Black 1995], especially the French governmental “gauche
plurielle” among others in Danger : Work – and in the words of Loïc Wacquant. “Therefore
the abolitionist will mostly be counting on their own forces” concludes Bob Black.

The turning point of the argument is a statement which allows no hesitation : this situation
must be put to an end. It is argued that this is what the majority of people desire and that
some of them have already succeeded in choosing to stop working – the merry unemployed
to whom we are going to return later. But in anti-work pamphlets, the second major moment
of the argument takes a more utopian direction by describing with more or less details how a
society without work would look. The authors first present the refusal to work as leverage for
the radical transformation of society : because of the pivotal place people bestow on work
today, a massive refusal to work would draw along the “sidestep” described in Gébé’s movie,
and a total collapse of not only production, but also of the political and social system.

Therefore the side effects of the abolition of work would include according to Bob Black a
complete transformation of the sexual division of labor and of relationships between
generations. To abolish work in this light leads to opening a possibility to reform
anthropological structures which used to be considered to be irremovable. This
transformation of human nature is generally presented as a return to origins, more rarely as
the result of a deliberate shaping of a brand-new society. This is a topos the anti-work
pamphlets share with the other utopian writings, and specially with Fourier’s theory, because
the possibility of an ideal society to come depends from the existence of a subterranean
human nature, which would have remained intact despite the corruption of Civilization

[Barthes 1994 ; Dagognet 1997]. Social change equals here with recreating a pre-modern, or
pre-historic golden age. Therefore, good models for social change are to be found in societies
distant either in space or in time, since modern societies are considered to be too hopelessly
corrupted for anything to be worth keeping besides a few techniques, maybe.

Among their sources for inspiration the authors generally mention the philosophers of the
Antiquity – this is coherent with the idea of looking in the etymology for the underlying trace
of a lost truth on work which would have remained fossilized in the words themselves. They
also mention classical studies in anthropology describing “traditional” societies – Sahlins
being one of their favorites. The critical corpus mobilized for the demonstration includes
Freud and Marx, along with anarchist political theorists like Max Stirner or Zo d’Axa.
Contemporary anti-work theory refers to Bob Black, and also to classics of the genre from
the 1970s like Raoul Vaneigem or the works of Ivan Illich.

Descriptions of the ideal society detail the new social functions which will be created – an
egalitarian social structure, non-merchant exchanges, etc.. They draw from Fourier the
analysis of a new source of motivation for the members of the community based on the
natural dispersion of tastes : the disparity of “passions” would allow each task to be attributed,
for a short period of time, to someone who would be actually pleased to do it [Barthes 1994 :
1112 ; Goret 1974]. For Bob Black, the “ludic revolution” leads to the foundation of a society
which would rest on a new activity principle – play – which for Vaneigem takes a creative
form. The texts here insist on two elements : first the new form of society is good for
everyone who can fulfill their subjectivities. Second, this form of organization is actually
efficient because in a society without any forced activity, there will always be someone
willing to accomplish whatever few tasks are really necessary to the collective life. This leads
to a general simplification of daily life, since the ideal society has got rid of parasitic forms of
production and consumption. Here the authors split up in two main trends – techophilic and
technophobic – according to the place they assign to automation and machines in the
realization of a society without work. Machines can become the new slaves for Vaneigem for
whom social change rests directly on technical progress. Or suppressing work can be made
possible by a wrenching force leading to a complete abandon of modernity, which is what the
contemporary “primitivist” trends recommand.

•   Metaphorization and polyphony

Besides the inevitable use of the topoi in the course of the argument, the authors make use of
different proceedings to link the pessimistic description of the world of work to the necessity
of radically transforming the capitalist system. First of all the choice of metaphors aims at
producing striking descriptions of the horror of work as shown by how they systematically
parallel the experience of salaried jobs with the one of slavery. These metaphors of work are
efficient in making this universe meaningful since they link it to other institutions – mostly
repressive ones. The use of jail metaphors allows to situate work as an element of a more
general project of social control by bringing two apparently distinct social worlds closer in
the discourse. In these pamphlets where the argumentation is mostly constructed around
assertions of the author, the use of metaphors provokes the irruption of images which he
hopes to share with the readers. It also makes it possible that the anti-work discourse can be
articulated to other militant discourses : for instance, putting the emphasis on the dimension
of social control brings the anti-work discourse closer to the one developed in struggles
against “les politiques sécuritaires”, the repressive policies using a discourse on security
[Wacquant 1999]. On the more utopian side of the argument, Bob Black’s description of the

“ludic revolution” reminds the reader on the one of a libertarian education such as the one
depicted in A.S. Neill’s A Radical Approach to Child Rearing.

A dark and realistic representation of the world of work is a necessary step to build the
argument, as we have seen previously. Here facts, not only images, are used to support the
radical critique of work. Therefore the authors choose at this point to use a sociological style
in which the exhibition of the evidence must prove irrefutably the validity of the argument.
This evidence is constructed in two ways : first, as we saw before, through the use of
quantitative data on work-related accidents, etc.. ; second, through the use of detailed case
studies – a description of this factory, this strike, as shown in the chapters dedicated to the
famous Lip strike in Gilda, I love you, down with work !. The case studies adopt a narrative
form and leave some room for the discourse in the first person of the actors involved in the
situation : they can either testify of the suffering caused by work in their daily lives or tell the
passage from suffering to struggle and what came from it. Because of this room left for the
subjective discourse of the actors involved in the situation, the anti-work text can bear a
polyphonial appearance – in the most extreme cases a new text can be made solely with a
collage of classical theoretical analyses, cases studies and testimonies as in The End of work.
Such writings differ more clearly from the classical form of the lampooner essay because of
this polyphony and leave more space for the politics of representation which we are now
going to identify as the core of the discourse on the merry unemployed.

B. The representation of the merry unemployed

Danger : Work starts with the same premises as the anti-work pamphlets from the 1970s. The
world of work creates some suffering, but this suffering is not due to fate or bad luck : it
results from an economic system which renders apparently inevitable a certain type of
organization – which produces unskilled workers, precarious deskilled salaried jobs and also
unemployed people. But the argument of Danger : Work does not lead to the same
conclusion. It does not end with the description of another possible world which would have
collectively gotten rid of work thanks to the implementation of more sensible principles of
social organization : to consume less, to share wealth, etc.. Here what is represented is
another type of alternative concretely experimented by few people who where tired of “a shit
job paid a few scraps” and who, now that they are jobless, explain how they live so much
better that way.

Danger : Work, subtitled Another discourse on work in fact juxtaposes two types of these
discourses : testimonies of happy jobless people telling their stories are interlaced with
diverse excerpts taken from critical documentaries or from advertising. Both illustrate the
managerial discourse on work, and how it is really. This collage form again allows the use of
polyphony : for instance in an excerpt taken from a documentary by Pierre Carles himself on
management practices at Domino’s Pizza, a piece of the corporate video is included which
the newly recruited have to watch – including bad dubbing and the repetition of the corporate
motto “to enchant the client”. We, as spectators of Danger : Work, get to watch the appalled
faces of the new workforce of Domino’s Pizza faced with corporate absurdity and
domination. By leaving room to the very discourse which is being mocked and criticized
Pierre Carles and the other directors choose to use irony which precisely bans comments :
since it cannot rest on extra-discursive hints to be correctly understood by the public, it
requires that a community of meaning pre-exist the showing of the movie when at the same
time it helps building this community.

The movie uses the same topoi as we identified in anti-work pamphlets – from the tripalium
etymology to the horror of the world of work both body- and mind-destroying. The business
world is being described as one of control and constraint – military metaphors are added to
the jail ones, and one interviewed talks of a “mandatory working service”. Consumption
goals are made vain by summing them up as “loosing one’s living while earning it”. A new
topos is added characterized by the omnipresence of unemployment in a labor market
pervaded by precariousness – this precariousness being once again interpreted as intentional
since it coincides with the interests of employers.

•   The possibility to refuse to work

The documentary’s argument aims at showing that work is contingent by giving voice to
some people who have successfully chosen to stop working. They start by summarizing their
professional histories – but this evocation leads to a precise point which is the core of the
argument : the moment when they definitely decided to stop working. Similarities in their
paths to revelation are stressed out by how different their starting situations were. Before
giving up work, some were unqualified workers and some business owners ; some had only a
brief experience of the world of work, enough to be disgusted; others dedicated long years
almost without protest. The disparity of personal situations allows for the formulation of a
general framework : similarly subjective experiences are generalized through the
formalization of theories based on the latter, as we shall see. The point when they decided to
stop working is both a revelation and a conversion. It is the result of a particular combination
of circumstances which interrupt the daily routine of work – unemployment or sickness being
two major cases – or of a personal decision like resignation. In any case the circumstances are
presented as triggering an awareness of the form about which the interviewed insist : “I
needed a strong sentence, I really told myself, thou shallt not work again ever. And I never
ever worked again.”, says an interviewed designated as “D., survivor of the economic war.” –
no detail is given by Pierre Carles about the nature of this “war”. The emphasis on literality
reminds on Bob Black’s position : “ I am not playing definitional games with anybody. When
I say I want to abolish work, I mean just what I say, but I want to say what I mean by defining
my terms in non-idiosyncratic ways.” [Black 1995]. Choosing to radically transform one’s
lifestyle requires a speech act for which the choice of words is signifying.

This decision-making takes an existential form. Renouncing the benefits of consumption and
participation in the world of professional activity provides the interviewed happily
unemployed an occasion to develop a personal theory of the utility value of work. In the
interviews, they question the place given to work in a society which makes it both an
indispensable and inevitable institution, and they refuse that a virtue should be made out of
necessity for the profit of a minority of people. This theorizing helps them justify their
lifestyle with an idiosyncratic theoretical system. This explains why they insist on the
necessity for everyone to make their own decisions : “There, you know, the guy in front of
you, he must make his own choice. I’m not forcing anyone, people are responsible for their
own lives. They must make their own choices. They must make their own choices.” Once they
have made this step in the direction of becoming a subject by choosing unemployement, the
interviewed discover that they possess new capacities – which reminds us of the utopian
theme of a super-humanity which reveals itself once people have freed themselves from the
alienation of the old world. An interviewed compares his experience on the dole to
“discovering that you can fly”. However, this new lifestyle requires that new competencies
can be acquired - “ not working is something you learn”- not only to getting used to it, but
also to be able to survive in it.

•   The representation of life after work

We have seen that in anti-work writings the picture of the new world, once work has been
removed from its status as a central and inevitable reality of social life, appears to be a utopia.
Its representation frequently takes the form of a non-sense because it reverses the hierarchy of
values of the old world : “ Such is "work." Play is just the opposite.”, sums up Bob Black.
What would happen if everyone made a “sidestep” and ceased working, asks Year 01? The
director goes on with the utopian representation of a world without labor or production. In a
series of playlets – the movie does not really have a plot or characters – cheering scenes show
factories transformed in playgrounds, confused employers, streets where people grow
vegetables – since people have got rid of urbanism in the same movement that crushed the
rest of the secondary and tertiary sectors. Since the sole requirement for everyone to make
sure they survive by an agriculture of subsistence is considered to be minimal, a lot of time is
left free for all sorts of playful activities to which agriculture itself could therefore belong.
The radical social change is carried out without violence thanks to a smiling consensus – “It is
today ! Year 01 !” people remind each other on the day which had been chosen for the
transformation, when distracted ones where about to go to work,. The beginning of a new era,
which is marked by the setting of a new calendar, is here made possible by one single
unanimous decision to stop working. It is presented in the movie as both the consequence of a
technical and sociological discovery and of a common sense resolution.

Non-fictional depictions of moments when labor relations have been effectively suspended
also insist on the rise of an unreasonable world. Descriptions of OS strikes of the 1970s stress
out the apparent nonsense of some of these movements. It can be interpreted as a radical
quality for Auffray, Baudouin and Collin. They mention it to support their argument that
“resistances of the capital faced with the collapse of the ideology of work” concentrate on
“giving back to the contesting actions a ‘reasonable’ character” [Auffray, Baudouin and
Collin 1979 : 157]. This equation of radicality with nonsense is central in the descriptions of
incomprehensible movements which either had no demands or took surprising forms. For
instance Barou starts the first part of his essay called “The mad factory” with a quotation
taken from an article published in “ The management” review of December 1972, which
describes a strike in a steel factory : “On Monday morning a strike starts in a workshop and
propagates itself. In the evening the factory stops without any demand having been
formulated. Unchanged situation the following morning. The workforce is complete and
talking or playing cards. The perplexed management contacts their representatives and urges
them to define the purpose of the strike. In vain : no theme is mentioned for claims. On
Wednesday, the workshops look like a party is going on. Workers on strike improvise short
plays which look like unvolontary psychodramas in which life and all the little things that go
wrong in the factory are depicted with good-heartedness. The boss is represented without
On Thursday, the distraught management thinks that it can unblock the situation by
announcing a hollyday bonus of 300 francs. The good news flop. The workers on strike did
not ask for anything and desire nothing else, so it seems, than to leave the machines to rest.
The week ends without any other incident, and on the following Monday morning everyone is
simply at their workplaces. The management will never know what devil possessed the
factory.” [Barou 1975 : 12-13].Of course these abnormal strikes are exceptions in the total
picture of mobilizations of unskilled workers in the 1970s but theses forms of action seem to
create a particular fascination among writers. They suggest that another universe of

significance is irrupting here which marks a clear rupture with the institutionalized frames of
social conflict which rendered the actions and desires of participants predictable.

However, in Danger : Work, it is first of all the world of work which is described as absurd.
The interviewed unemployed remain generally silent about what their lifes without work look
like. “To have time” is a recurring theme but they do not give details on how they use it
besides reading, which is mentioned by a majority of them. No new definition of rationality
seems to emerge from this experience of life after work. Danger : Work’s argument therefore
insist on how the current economic and social rationality of work seems to be inevitable. This
hegemony renders meaningless all alternative proposals which therefore remain
misunderstood. Then, of course, “no one mentions it in the media”, one of the interviewed
argues. Solutions to step out of a world organized around work exist but a “a work of the
imagination” is needed, as Loïc Wacquant explains in the documentary. “We have trouble
picturing ourselves that an unconditional income could be established which would not
depend on a job.” He goes on, following the tradition of anti-work pamphlets : “It is possible.
It is possible. It exists (…) in other countries”. This proposal that an unconditional right to an
income should be set up is directly echoing the demands of the contemporary movements of
the unemployed.

III.   Anti-work struggles of the unemployed

A. The radical critique of work in political representation

At this point, we seem to be very far from the mobilization of the unemployed, especially
since unemployment has been approached as a temporary situation from which people want to
escape – Demazière and Pignoni stated that “the unemployed appear to be living dead whom
only a job can bring back to life and for whom social death is always lying in wait”
[Demazière and Pignoni 1998 : 45]. However, the radical critique of work plays a central role
in debates within organizations of unemployed people, through the demand for the right to an
income. According to claims, its amounts varies from being “equivalent to the minimum wage
(SMIC)” to “50% of the GIP per inhabitant” – the first proposal retains a reference to salaried
work when the second one aims at a fair sharing of national wealth. Such was the case in the
Bulletin preparing the debates for a general meeting of AC! in February 2002 which appeared
as a collage of diverse contributions written by local collectives or individual members of
organizations. Even though there remained strong debates about how feasible this demand
might be, the right to an income is the key point that a radical tendency within AC! wishes to
inscribe in the Charter of the organization, therefore in the textual definition of its political
orientations. To formulate a demand for a right to an income, as opposed to the right to work,
aims, for its supporters, at firmly anchoring the organization’s anti-capitalist identity. In fact,
they oppose it to the “charity way” which they identify as represented in the demand for a
right to work. This standpoint is designated as closer to the one of the trade unions and other
organizations of unemployed and is accused of limiting itself to a “co-management of

The claim to the right to an income is presented by its supporters as the only realistic one
since in a situation of massive structural unemployment, the return to a situation with no
unemployment becomes “an incantation emptied of any reality” – which explains why this
radical trend within AC ! tends to interpret unemployment and insecure jobs as part of the
normal functioning of late capitalism instead of approaching them as a pathology to be cured
as a special phenomenon. The right to an income still takes place within an ensemble of other

claims to rights which characterize a struggle of the “without” : the right to housing, health
care, transportation, etc.. – all these collective goods, they argue, ought to be entirely free. It
also adopts the frame of a struggle against “the liberal new world order” and “capitalist
globalization” – through which it is the capitalist system as such that is targeted. The claim to
a right to an income functions here as one way of situating AC!’s identity in an anti-capitalist
frame and to clearly split this orientation from those who support a widespread alliance, based
on the claim to a right to work, with the Social Movement as a whole, with organizations
within the anti-globalization field – even with ATTAC.

This change in the organization’s political orientation is presented as resulting from a change
in the nature of its members : “The necessity to actualize the 1994 Charter became visible
because AC!’s composition evolved and so did its reflection. The unemployed and the
precariously employed have taken a prominent place. The specificity of the unemployed or
those in insecure jobs provides a point of view and living experiences which differ from those
of a stable salaried worker on work or its lack thereof.” In the model of a struggle of the
“without”, it is the subjective experience of the situation that militants accentuate : it is from
this experience that hostility toward the centrality of work in representations is supposed to
come. This subjective experience is central to the formulation of the identity of the
unemployed : it implies some stability in each individual’s situation who should not, to
maintain this identity, be likely to quickly alternate periods of unemployment with salaried

Should we then deduce that AC!’s militants who support the claim to a right to an income are
happily jobless in same way as those who testify in Danger : Work ? This does not appear to
be the case despite the fact that one scene in the documentary displays one of AC’s actions
during the movement of the unemployed of the winter 1997-98. In this scene, the unemployed
militants adopt a position of a struggle of the “without” : they expose their situation of
deprivation and appeal to ethics. This position is summarized by the costumed character of
Super-Unemployed : “Jospin, you don’t scare us ! We know we are right, and justice is more
than legality ! We don’t have anything to loose, we’re going to win, long live the struggle of
the unemployed !” And the film shows the militants stuffing carts with food which is then
taken away. A protester explains : “The unemployed, they are fed up with seeing all the
wealth in the shop windows while they must tighten their belts. The unemployed, they say that
they too have a right to consume, they have a right to participate to life.” “Thank you Leclerc
! [the name of the supermarket where the action took place]” sings another one ironically after
drinking champagne. Because of Danger : Work's editing, this scene is immediately followed
by an interview with one of the happy jobless who explains that it is possible to make ends
meet with the current minimum benefits : “Without having a condescending position toward
them, I am aware of the fact that thousands of people in this society live in relatively intense
states of precariousness as far as money is concerned.” The subjective narration of happiness
in unemployment tends to encourage a discourse of satisfaction. It splits up from the claims of
the movements of the unemployed in two fundamental points : on the one hand it
recommends that each person should decide using their own free will to simplify their needs,
as opposed to access for everyone to consumer goods– “People must first decide to stop
consuming before they stop working” declares one of the interviewed. On the other hand,
happiness in joblessness does not aim at abolishing work for everyone. The happily
unemployed portrayed in Danger : Work made an individual decision which reorients their
becoming a Subject [Touraine 1992]. This decision is based on contesting the capitalist
system, but at the same time it is supported by it : one of the interviewed explains that the
situation of massive unemployment makes it possible to use trickery against the control

procedures of the National Employment Agency (ANPE). The system has gaps in which
jobless people learn to thread their way. It is the individual and her or his subjective definition
of morals which are here mobilized, as opposed to the mobilization frames of the collective
action of the unemployed. This explains why the only political use of the figure of the happily
unemployed is through representation, since no collective action can be directly based on this
individualistic approach of the radical critique of work.


The struggle of the unemployed and the flexibly (precariously) employed is multi-faceted
because it is situated at the confluence of different frames of mobilization : local struggle of
the “without” according to the model of the Social Movement, “no-vox” movement in anti-
globalization meetings ; labor struggle following the tradition of the Worker’s Movement,
including the movements of unskilled workers from the 1970s, struggle against labor in an
anti-capitalist frame. These different frames of mobilization produce different figures of the
unemployed in a militant world where lots of images are constructed and circulated. With this
quick and incomplete examination of the iconography of the happily unemployed, we see
representations emerge which correspond to different political orientations. AC!’s struggling
unemployed are the bearers of a collective problematic which make them contest the
established order. The happily unemployed portrayed in Danger : Work incarnate a subjective
lifestyle choice which aims above all at the building of selfhood. A third figure which we did
not evoke here portrays people who do not work in a salaried position – and are therefore
technically “jobless”. However, they live entirely within the alternative system of the militant
world to which they dedicate their energy and which allows they to survive in a mostly non-
profit environment. Neither marginal nor excluded, these “unemployed” cease to be such
since they do not put forward this identity while constructing the meaning they attach to their
lifestyles and political actions. This third figure bridges the gap between the two we conjured
up : the communist orientation of the collective struggle against work on the one hand, and
the liberal-libertarian individual choice of the “free rider” on the other. As we depart from
labor-based conflicts and struggles, we see the figure of the unemployed fade away and
reappear as one of a protesting Subject with new features, standing out from a background of
protests which is both unpredictable and multi-dimensional.


Barthes Roland, 1994, Sade, Fourier, Loyola, in “Oeuvres Complètes” t.2, Paris Seuil (1st ed.

Béroud Sophie, Mouriaux René, Vakaloulis Michel, 1998, Le Mouvement social en France,
Paris, La Dispute.

Chabanet Didier, 2002, Les marches européennes contre le chômage, la précarité et les
exclusions, in Balme Richard, Chabanet Didier and Wright Vincent (eds.) L'action collective
en Europe, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po.

Dagognet François, 1997, Trois philosophies revisitées : Saint-Simon, Proudhon, Fourier,
Zürick, Hildesheim.

Demazière Didier, Pignoni Maria-Theresa, 1998, Chômeurs : du silence à la révolte, Paris,
Hachette Littératures.

Foucault Michel, 1967, L’Archéologie du savoir, Paris Gallimard.

Gerhards Jürgen and Rucht Dieter, 1992, “Mesomobilization : organizing and framing in two
protest campaigns in West Germany”, American Journal of Sociology, 98, 3, pp 555-95

Goret Jean, 1974, La Pensée de Fourier, Paris PUF.

Muller Pierre, 1994, Politiques publiques, Paris PUF.

Pessin Alain, 2001, L’imaginaire utopique aujourd’hui, Paris PUF.

Snow David et al.,1986, “Frame Alignment Processes, Micromobilization and Movement
Participation”, American Sociological Review, 51, 4, pp. 464-81.

Touraine Alain, Wieviorka Michel, Dubet François, 1984, Le Mouvement Ouvrier, Paris

Touraine Alain, 1992, Critique de la modernité, Paris Fayard.

Wacquant Loïc, 1999, Les Prisons de la misère, Paris Liber-Raisons d’Agir.

Radical critiques of work and anti-work pamphlets

Auffray Danièle, Baudouin Thierry, Collin Michèle, 1974, Le travail et après, Paris, Ed. Jean-
Pierre Delarge, coll. « Laboratoire de Sociologie de la Connaissance ».

Barou Jean-Pierre, 1975, Gilda je t’aime, à bas le travail !, Paris, Les Presses d’aujourd’hui,
coll. « La France sauvage »

Black Bob, 1995 The Abolition Of Work, to be found on the Internet at
(French ed. 2001, Travailler, moi ? Jamais, L’abolition du travail , Paris, L’Esprit Frappeur.)

Chassagne Alexis, Montracher Gaston, 1978, La fin du travail, Paris Stock coll. « Vivre ».

Illich Ivan, 1977, Le chômage créateur, postface à La Convivialité, Paris Seuil.

Neill A.S., 1970, Libres enfants de Summerhill, Paris, Maspero (1st ed. 1960, A Radical
Approach to Child Rearing)

Vaneigem Raoul, 1967, Traité de savoir-vivre à l’usage des jeunes générations, Paris


Carles Pierre, Coello Christophe & Goxe Stéphane, Picasso Kiki, et al., 1974-2004, Danger :
Travail, Annie Gonzalez and C-P Productions.

Gébé, Doillon Jacques, Resnais Alain, Rouch Jean, L’an 01, 1972.


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