Jean Viard: “The issue of pensions is about our power over time”

Lhe sociologist worked for a long time on the social organization of time. On the occasion of the presentation of the pension reform, he reminds that the organization of time is the product of a long history marked by wars, migration from rural areas and industrialization. For the research director associated with Cevipof – who has just published his latest essay, Fair appearance -, we are witnessing the emergence of the Fordist model of time – accounting and linear approach.

Point: Retreats, vacations, 35 hours…do we get the feeling that time management is always an uphill battle?

John Viard: In the French national narrative, the paid holidays of 1936 are considered an extraordinary innovation, but history does not fully confirm our innovative power: the Nazis had already given them, and so did the Stalinists. we gradually mixed it with the worker’s uninterrupted time, we invented time that changes work-rest time. This invention took place over forty years: Saturdays, retirement, weekends, etc.

READ ALSOJean-Pierre Le Goff: “Unions no longer control much” The modern tense setting is an alternate tense. Although paid holidays in France are not in his political program, they have become the epic of the Popular Front! The communists did not want this, because they were afraid that the workers, who lived very well in a capitalist society, would forget to make a revolution. But the radicals Jean Zay, Léo Lagrange and Léon Blum – left-wing bourgeois as we would say today – knew what vacation, travel was… They were the ones who introduced paid vacations.

Was giving free time a way to nationalize the proletariat?

I would say that it was a desire to develop the art of living in the circles of the people, while the communists worked more on the art of revolution. At the end of July, the House voted on paid leave, with a unanimous negative vote, as it was the only way to end the factory occupation. Even the left voted to themselves that this is the only way to get the strikers out of the factories, they said to themselves: “Let’s put them on leave to get them out!”. »

This is how paid leave was invented. At first it was 1er until August 15. During this period, the whole society stopped, a bit like during a religious holiday. But we forget that the structural element, the most important time workers got in 1936, was collective agreements and 40 hours!

Has the collective management of time always been the main concern of political power?

Until the French Revolution, time belonged to God. Before that, it was the Church that organized time. The church was a kind of community of small people because it practiced non-working days. We can’t talk about holidays, because this word exists only since the end of the 19th century. The Church has multiplied confederation days and commemorations to such an extent that the working hours have been greatly reduced.

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It was the French Revolution that secularized the time. Sunday would not be a holiday again until 1906. It is not written anywhere that it is forbidden to work seven days a week between two days. Society was also organized around rural time, seasonal time by definition, and when the industrial age emerged, it was necessary to establish a time that regulated the relationship between man and machine. While the relationship between man and nature was regulated by harvesting, planting, hunting… the relationship between man and machine was regulated by law.

The construction of leisure time was the whole adventure of the 19th century. We started with banning child labor, then banning women’s work… The Church was in favor of paid holidays, because girls were no longer married once they went to the city. At the same time, the soldiers complained that young people often injured their hands because they started working too early. Basically, summer camps, like sports, are governed by fairly conservative values.

Didn’t the wars also change our relations over time?

With the war of 14-18, everyone lives according to the rhythm of permission. Whether bourgeois or worker, the temporal pattern is the same, there is an alternation between war and permits. This model would continue and apply itself as a work-holiday model after the First World War. Totalitarian regimes led by former military men Hitler and Stalin followed this model very quickly.

Business methods change, so must the weather?

The 20th century invented power over time, but today we are moving away from the Fordist model. Industrial time, interrupted by the machine, gradually became social time. Companies have operated with this highly regulated model and we are seeing the exit.

35 hours had already deeply attacked the model. Fordism posed the question of the quantity of time. You have to work your hours: we think that productivity is measured by the number of hours worked, we work at the bench, we stop the clock… This concept of time is at the basis of a certain idea of ​​work.

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The question asked today is no longer about quantity, but about power over time. The idea is to have flexible hours so you can organize your time yourself. 35 hours was often misunderstood because we read purely economic. However, it was also about quality of life. The people who are most satisfied with this reform are those who have power at the time.

So does privilege power over time?

Yes, it’s luxury! This is also a big problem with remote working. If we know that 25% of the workers go there and only 20% of them do not want to stay there, even though it is imposed on them, we can measure the revolution well. Before Covid only 4% of the French worked by phone, we will probably reach 40% …

And retirement time?

Retirement is one of life’s biggest questions, and it’s one that’s poorly posed at the moment. Because the model currently being discussed between the trade union and the government is still Fordist. People understand well that the collective model of society should prevent us from placing the entire burden of retirement on the young, but no one knows what will be gained from this!

Empowerment over time through the superannuation issue can mean giving people the option to leave based on their other income. We inherit at the average age of 63, which means that the pension roughly coincides with the life of the inheritance. In France, family income is never taken into account; but if you have extra income, you may very well decide to stop at 63 with a relatively low pension.

One could very well imagine allowing people to retire at whatever age they want, between 60 and 70, and varying the level of pensions greatly according to retirement age. It will give you a sense of freedom. You need to think about how you want to manage the end of your professional life, how you leave work. Accounting logic is not enough.

Fair appearance. Don’t forget to change the world, Jean Viard, Aube publications, January 2023, 288 pages, €25.90.

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