Death of a Mayor
The death of Jean-Mathieu Michel, Mayor of a town of 2,800 inhabitants, on 6th August caused a lot of emotion in France. He had caught two men on the territory of his commune unloading builders’ rubble illegally; when he told them to wait for the municipal police to arrive, they ran him over when reversing. He was 76 and had been Mayor for 36 years. They were a builder of 23 and an apprentice; the driver is being investigated for manslaughter.
The president of the Senate, a minister and other officials attended Michel’s funeral; Macron sent a letter of condolences to the family. The Mayor was awarded the Legion d’Honneur posthumously; there was official talk of ‘everyday heroism’, even of ’36,000 little republics making up the French republic’ (there are 36 000 Mayors). The Senate has launched a national consultation about the difficulties experienced by Mayors in the exercise of their functions. A survey found that 83% of French people have a good opinion of their Mayor.
The government is relying on the Mayors to help cope with the everyday running of towns and villages, and with emergencies. For example, the Corrèze département has had no rain for 3 months; it is up to the Mayors of the towns and villages to organise the necessary measures.
Before the G7 Summit in Biarritz, Macron addressed the inhabitants of that town. He makes a point of acknowledging local politics. At the same time, he has taken away from the Mayors both funding and responsibilities. He is not for nothing known as ‘Mr At the Same Time’.
He is followed in that by his government. On 27th August, a court declared illegal a measure taken by a Mayor to forbid the spraying of glyphosate within 150 metres of habitations of his town; the same day the Minister of Ecological and Solidary Transition said that she was in favour of a law to ban the use of glyphosate within 150 metres of habitations. The Mayor said he had the support of Emmanuel Macron, in spirit if not in the letter. Confusion all round.
France: Amazonian power
French Guyana, North of Brazil and in the Amazon region, has gold mines. They can’t be exploited without damaging the environment, and so they are not exploited at the moment by the French government. That means stopping illegal gold search, and several French soldiers died in July while disrupting illegal operations.
Leclerc supermarket and bookshop
Leclerc supermarkets and hypermarkets have a ‘Culture’ section next to their groceries and electrical equipment, with a large bookshop, mainly thrillers, self-help and children’s books. One particular supermarket in Eastern France had a good selection of unusual things: a history of the Algerian war from an Algerian viewpoint; a book of photographs celebrating contemporary working class life; two books by Cecile Desprairies about the Vichy inheritance: ‘100 [Vichy] measures still in force today’ and ‘60 provisions still in force today’. Her point is that the legislative action of Vichy was inspired partly by ideology and war conditions, partly by the (unacknowledged) Popular Front programme, partly by German social and cultural influence, and by technocrats. Her master word regarding Vichy is ‘complexity’ and quite rightly. The introductions to the books are written by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, who refers to his father, a minister under Vichy turned Resistant; this was a common trajectory for people in those four years. Both books are for the general reader with lots of photographs.
This year Leclerc was fined a phenomenal amount for irregularities in its ordering procedures, involving Belgium. Since all supermarkets make dubious deals, it seems victimising. Leclerc himself said it was political.
Since, apart from the books mentioned above, the local Leclerc sells Froggy’s neighbour’s cheese, made from the milk of almost open air goats, Leclerc supermarkets must be right.
Another example of ‘At the same time’; the government wants to be seen to do something about the digital economy giving work to people without employing them and therefore without social security, like Deliveroo. A law was passed, called “Orientation Law on Mobilities”, which says that the digital firms should have a ‘social responsibility chart’, elaborated voluntarily and without reference to the workers. In other words, the government is pretending to interfere while giving the firms a free rein. ‘Mobilities’ here means ‘delivery services’, but it doesn’t do to be too explicit.
The chief executive of Deliveroo France, Alessandro Celli, is all in favour of this law; for him this is what the workers want; according to a survey conducted for his firm in 2018, two out of three riders would stop working for the firm if they had employee status. According to Celli, the ‘delivery partners’ work on average 15 hours a week and earn 13 euros an hour; the company offers them free insurance; what is missing is that they do not have sick pay; this law, Celli concludes, could remedy this. France is therefore, he says, at the vanguard of the new world of new forms of work, while keeping its social model. And much better than Europe, with its projected law making ‘micro entrepreneurs’ into employees with rights.
Deliveroo workers were on strike this summer because of the end of the minimum delivery pay, meant to encourage riders to take on longer distances. Drivers cannot refuse a delivery and cannot disconnect from the constant monitoring of their activity, during their shift; there is competition for the best shifts when customers are more active. The number of strikers was small, however.
Amazon in France
More confusion here; the French representative of Amazon said they had six distribution centres in France and were looking to open one in the Moselle region in the East; a minute later on France Info a commentator said Amazon had about twenty centres. The opening of the new centre is running up against local opposition, because of the prospect of job destruction, poor working conditions and environmental damage.
Meanwhile France is imposing taxes on the GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon), the first to do so in Europe. Faced with American opposition, it has now agreed a rather dangerous compromise: the French rate of tax will be compared to an international rate of tax on the digital companies, and France will refund the difference if the international tax rate is lower. This international rate has yet to get off the ground.
One element in this confusing mixture is never mentioned in the official media: the digital piece work economy is a way of absorbing the unqualified immigrant population, and possibly illegal immigration, since the workers are not ‘employed’ and so the firms do not have to check nationality status and therefore do not break the law. In the case of the driver who killed the Mayor of Signes, his name is not given, making some suspect that the authorities are withholding it to prevent a backlash against his community.