The inhuman expression of capitalist exploitation
Twenty-three suicides (plus 13 attempted) in eighteen months at France Telecom! Here's a new, tragic testimony to the fact that proletarians are more and more confronted by a climate of terror and unbearable pressures at work. For the MD of the firm, Didier Lombard, rejecting any responsibility for victims of a ferocious exploitation, it's just a question of a simple effect of "fashion" which only affects "fragile people". What cynicism!
For this unscrupulous capitalist boss, whose mea culpa is only a simple imperative of communications, the tragedy doesn't reside in the fact that human beings find themselves pounded by the implacable logic of profitability for capital, but in the discredit which affects the image of his business!
Faced with this development dictated by the laws of the cash register, a number of politicians, particularly on the left, make a show of emotion. These are the same hypocrites who have favoured massive redundancies in this firm for twenty years, thus contributing to accelerating the infernal speed-ups leading to today's tragedy. These are the same socialists who have multiplied stress through the introduction of the 35-hour week, including a flexibility that makes all work a more and more demanding chore. These are the same politicians who brought France Telecom into the stock-exchange in 1997 with management methods that we know today! At the time, it was none other than French Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, who proclaimed with pride, that the "change of the enterprise was a great success!" Elsewhere a France Telecom manager gives us a good idea of this "great success": "My job is to make cuts of 5% every six months. As much as you say it has been achieved, the question is knowing if one can cut an arm or a leg". To make this type of objectives palatable after the wave of suicides, it's not surprising that they are looking at more subtle ways of delivering the blows: in the sense of giving a "green number" for a supplementary control of the workers and management spreading out the effects at this firm. But basically nothing will change: it's quite clear that the objective of capital will always be profitability and more pressure still on the workers, up to their physiological and psychological limits. This is the dynamic and capitalism can only be about the exhaustion of the labour force. Today, it's not only the shop floor workers who are being squeezed like lemons, but also the engineers, the administrative and commercial sectors that the crisis and extreme competition have proletarianised and whose conditions of work are equally degraded. Already, at the dawn of its development, to assure its profit, Marx wrote in Capital: "capitalist production, which is essentially production of surplus-value, absorbing extra work (...) imposes the deterioration of the work force of men by depriving them of their normal conditions of functioning and development, physical as moral, producing the exhaustion and early death of this workforce". Today, it is the intensification of the conditions of work which pushes to this exhaustion.
The phenomenon of suicides is unfortunately not new, nor limited to France. The wave of suicides at work follows a growing and continual increase, even if it's deliberately unquantified. Since the 90s, the number of suicides has been aggravated by the violence and brutality of the economic crisis. It shows the fact that the capitalist world has no future, no perspective other than to generate social misery, barbarity and death. Throughout Europe and the world, the stress of work continues to cause havoc. In the US, the Department of Labor announced that: "the number of suicides at work has risen 28% for 2008. In all, 251 have been noted, the highest number since 1992". In China they've multiplied with factory closures. In France 2007, there was some publicity around suicides at Technicentre of Renault, PSA, EDF-GDF (Chinon), in the banks, Sodexho...
Nothing has changed, if anything it's worse. The pressure and the harassment of the bosses, the fear of unemployment and the blackmail of systematic redundancies, the price of growing overwork is invoked. The phenomenon of exhaustion at work, "burn out" is growing to an unprecedented level. What's called "moral harassment" is becoming the rule, a strategic given destined to adapt workers to sudden change or to straightaway get rid of "undesirable" workers, or those that are insufficiently productive, at the least cost. "Specialists" exist for this purpose of harassment, what's called "Cleaners" or "transition managers". They are paid well for this dirty work: destroy the personality of those who are labelled "ineffective" or "unsuitable", isolate the militant workers, push them into error or towards the door, often the oldest, and at the cheapest cost. There's a double objective:
- push those out that can't stand it at the least cost;
- demoralise and intimidate the others who stay and render them more docile and malleable.
However, the conditions of exploitation and the pursuit of attacks linked to the never-ending economic crisis will, in time, push anger and the collective struggle, solidarity and consciousness forward and deeper. The future is not competition between proletarians, but their growing union against exploitation. It's this future that gives hope, preparing for massive and unified struggle and, in time, the revolutionary perspective.