Lobsters everywhere, justice nowhere
The journalist, Florence Aubenas, posing as a recently separated housewife, tried to look for a job in the city of Caen, Normandy, when she was 40 years old. Pole Employment (Pôle Emploi), formerly known as the National Employment Agency (Agencenationale pour l’ emploi), quickly came to advise her, in rather harsh terms, a cleaning job. Aubenas, in the Quai de Ouistreham published in 2010, tells the story of her attempt to confront, without money, the job market.
Florence Aubenas stresses that the car is a sign of social integration that gives confidence to employers. Moreover, this is one of the conditions for obtaining odd jobs. Maintenance workers, for example, work early in the morning and late at night when public transport is not functioning; they also often accumulate several jobs, travelling from one point to another over a period that is sometimes longer than their actual hours of work, without any financial contribution from the employer. This is an interesting detail, as the yellow vests movement, which began at the end of November 2018, initially protested against the rise in the price of fuel, in contrast to the public authorities that were proud of their commitment to the environment.
Aubenas’ book received two well-known prizes: the Jean Amila-Meckert and the Joseph Kessel. Here is one scene that merits quoting at length. A female trainer at the agency Pole Emploi declares: “If the CV is ‘attractive’, the case is won. But beware, ‘won’ does not mean that you got a job. You know, there is no work right not.”
The trainer seems to change her mind: “Well, not much. ‘Won’ means that you got an interview. It’s already a huge, very rewarding step, but you have to toughen up. There will be plenty of others competing for the same job. You have to prepare yourself psychologically.”
Speaking to two women who attend the training she runs, the Pole Emploi agent asks: “Imagine an employer asking you why you applied for an ad, what do you answer? One of the women sighs: ‘I apply because I’m unemployed, but I know that’s not the right answer’. She pinches her lips, blinks, and mimics all the signs of intense concentration. Then, recovering her normal face, she launches, desperate for her own ignorance: ‘I cannot find anything to say’.”
The trainer replies: “You are right, it is not useful to answer that you are unemployed. Everyone is unemployed… You, madam, do you have another idea?”
The second person remaining silent, the trainer resumes: “Well, I’ll give the right answer: you must praise the company… You must say things like ‘I am available at any time’… Nowadays, to refuse to work on Sunday, you have to have been working for a long time… If you manage to rank among the best, you may be retained on a temporary basis. There is nothing else right now.”
A person in the group pipes up: “I listened to the news twice yesterday. Is it true or not, what we hear? That there’s no more work? …I don’t see any difference with before. We’re no worse off, it’s been a long time we are facing a difficult situation.”
‘Lobsters everywhere, justice nowhere’ was the slogan of the 35th act (demonstration) led by the yellow vests on July 13.In addition to the usual slogan ‘Resign, Macron!’, protesters chanted ‘De Rugy in prison’ and ‘we want lobster’, echoing the scandal that had tarnished the reputation of the Environment Minister and former Speaker of the National Assembly François de Rugy. One pensioner declared: “We want to tell people how unhappy we are with a president who grabbed all the power, ministers who drink 500 euro bottles of wine… We have to look at changing everything: work, pensions, schools, hospitals.”
Politicians’ escapades, their will for greater power and desire for luxury never cease to intrigue us. They all too often tend to ‘satisfy their instincts’, for want of a better phrase, at the expense of the very taxpayers of whom they demand restraint and lecture that it is a time for austerity in order to save the nation. And then, we are told, the European superstructure has dispossessed national politicians of any ability to change matters, hence their plea for full transparency in order to win over the support of voters.
All too many of them have been caught red-handed, even as they vigorously deny any wrongdoing, as if their lofty position made them exempt from such grubby truths. This was the case of François Fillon, candidate of the Republicans, during the presidential campaign of 2017 whose wife, Penelope, had been paid 500,000 euros for more or less non-existent work as a parliamentary assistant.
Politicians’ escapades, their will for greater power and desire for luxury never cease to intrigue us
Another recent case has attracted attention, this time in the government of President Emmanuel Macron, that of dinners organised by François de Rugy, the then president of the National Assembly, who later became Minister for Green Change and Solidarity. The independent news site MediaPart, eager to show its credibility, has revealed a dozen sumptuous meals held at the expense of the state, a luxury that has not gone unnoticed by the subaltern France. On July 16, de Rugy finally resigned, eleven months after taking office.
Mediapart claimed that about a dozen dinners were held between October 2017 and June 2018 at the Hôtel de Lassay, the official residence of the president of the National Assembly. Amidst lead crystal glasses and bouquets of flowers, wines costing between 100 to 500 eurosper bottle from the cellars of the Assembly were served to guests during these meals, according to the website. The dinners were apparently an initiative of the wife of the president of the Assembly, Séverine de Rugy, a journalist for Gala magazine. The minister pleaded his innocence at a press conference, acknowledging that “that it can provoke questions from the French people. These were informal working dinners, with persons who have a role in political life,” he said. He added that “a president of the National Assembly, like a minister had to meet, in informal way, business, cultural and university leaders.” He also argued before attacking Mediapart for its biased and selective presentation of the facts, “We often criticise politicians for being divorced from reality, to be isolated in their political world, to be in a political bubble.”
Mediaparthammered in the final nail in de Rugy’s political coffin in revealing that renovation work costing 63,000 euros had been made in the residence of François de Rugy, while he was the environment minister, in late 2018 and early 2019. It was more than 35,000 euros of paintwork, bathroom renovation costing more than 6,000 euros and a walk-in closet for 17,000 euros. According to the website, the cheapest quotes were discarded for more expensive ones.
With the summer holiday coming to an end, President Macron is seeking to appease, in order ‘to move on’. His new strategy includes ‘dialogue and proximity’. The president elaborated: “In recent months, we have had difficult moments of division, sometimes of violence, from which we must now get away. There are sometimes good reasons to disagree and we must respect them; there are others that we may challenge, but we must nonetheless know how to listen to them.”
The president added that “whatever the disagreements, at the great moments in our history, we always have known how to reconcile with one another and to move on.” He concluded: “I believe very strongly that our country and the Western world are going through a deep crisis of doubt… What sustains our country are these centuries of bravery, this spiritual strength, this sense of resistance. There is nothing in France above the freedom and dignity of each one of us; this love of France is what must bring reconciliation.”
Macron was, however, alluding to an ambitious societal project that he considered essential – pension system reform, since, he argued, the current system cannot last much longer.
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