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The International Writers Magazine: Opinion

Witches Brew
Dean Borok

The meaning of art is to enhance a miserable and brutish natural existence by the flowering of culture.  Sometimes that expression can take the form of a flying leap executed by Baryshnikov as part of ballet choreographed by Balanchine.  Other times the expression of art can be quite horrifying, as in a tableau by Hieronymus Bosch or an “Aliens” movie. image
The amount of artistic expression necessary to satisfy a person’s need for beauty varies according to that individual’s capacity for fulfillment.  Some people can be satisfied by a trip to Disney World while for others the earth, the moon and the stars are never enough.  When I was younger I worked full-time as a designer, which would be quite enough creation for many.  Yet I still found time to run around in search of other media of expression.  I did a comedy act, visited galleries and museums, read three books at a time, played music, haunted art cinemas.
In retrospect I now understand that I was charging my batteries with the cultural arsenal to one day explode as a writer, though previous to the Internet I never bothered to write a word.  For what reason, to show to a useless agent or publishing hack?  Pearls before swine!  Now that I have access to Internet technology to take my case directly to the mass audience, those bureaucrats can be excised as conveniently as cutting fat off a steak.
A rich vein of inspiration has always been French cinema, and not just Truffault and Bresson blah blah blah, but other monsters of the cinematic world such as René Clair, Marcel Pagnol or Alain Resnais.  A Resnais film that comes to mind at this moment of mounting political and labor strife in France is an allegorical comedy from 1980 entitled “Mon Oncle d’Amérique”, a title whose correlation to the story, like many pieces written by the narrator of this piece, rests only in the convoluted artistic thought processes of the creator, starring Gérard Dépardieu and Nicole Garcia.  The film deals with young persons who try to make a go of it in the arts but are inevitably sucked into the deceits and heart-rending disappointments of survival in the corporate world. 
What brought this nasty little comedy to mind is a scene wherein Dépardieu, absolutely distracted to wits’ end, attempts to hang himself with a length of rope.  Unfortunately this comedic creation of Resnais a generation ago is finding its reflection in the labor relations world of contemporary France, where in the last year four highly specialized engineers for the auto manufacturer Renault have committed suicide, three on company premises.
The highly lucrative French automotive industry has a global reach, though French cars are not sold in the U.S. for reasons of distribution.  Renault for years owned Jeep in the U.S. but sold it to Chrysler because French executives declined to live in Detroit.
 New Laguna Coupe
The Renault business model, with its Japanese partner Nissan, requires it to continue churning out an unprecedented number of new models each season.  Renault is run by Carlos Ghosn, who formerly ran Ford’s European division and also worked for Volkswagon.  Ghosn is demanding eight new models every year, which is double the previous number.
Technical jobs are a lovely way to work because machines and industrial production is an exact science without having to take into account the variables of human behavior, which is always a drag in a job situation, what with people constantly coming up with excuses why they can’t do the job.  Carlos Ghosn has a solution for this – assign a man a backbreaking workload and if he doesn’t perform, you fire him.  End of story.  Maybe Sarkozy should bring Ghosn in to improve productivity in the French public sector, except Ghosn probably makes 20-30 times what Sarkozy makes.
Anyway, Ghosn breaks the backs of his engineers.  This is how one technician described a normal day’s work at the Renault Technocentre in Guyancourt: work at the office from 8AM-8PM, go home, eat dinner, work at home 10PM-1AM.
No wonder these people are jumping out of windows: fourteen hours a day working out the specifications for which celanoid alternator to use to reverse the electrical charge in the windshield wipers for the Laguna III sedan.
Needless to say, the 35-hour workweek doesn’t cover these guys.  Nothing does.  That’s capitalism for you!  But if the pressure is too intense you can always quit and go to work at a nice cushy job for French railways.  There, all they have to do is work for 37 12 years to qualify for a pension, right?
Wrong.  Sarkozy, who never held a real job in his life wants to raise the bar from 37 12 to 40 years, in the interest of fiscal reform, so he can push through tax cuts for hedge fund traders.
The only difference is that unlike the flying engineers of Renault, the rail workers are organized into unions, and when they go on strike they enjoy the support of a large segment of the overworked French general population.
The current rail stoppage, which is the first since 1995, has been going on for a week and instead of losing momentum it seems to actually be picking up steam.  The largest rail union, the CGT, seemed to be in favor resuming rail service in order to facilitate negotiations with the government but in face of government intransigence over increasing the pension requirements, the smaller, more militant unions seem to be winning worker support for continuing the walkout.
At this writing the railway unions are being joined by eight public service unions, who are calling for a national strike for November 20 to protest the French government’s hard line with regard to salary increases.
They seem to be betting on public support and hoping that the hostility over the inconvenience will coalesce against the government.  This is the first big move against Sarkozy of the type that forced Chirac to retreat so many times.  Time will tell if his will is stronger than that of the public, and whether the pressure will bend him or cause him to break.
In addition to these nasty labor relations situations, the Sarkozy government is moving toward DNA testing to prove blood relations of the families of immigrants.  This is not a subject I have meditated on very much, so I don’t have a formulated opinion, but it is already ringing alarm bells in France, with protests and street demonstrations in all the major cities.
While the perfect storm is building, Sarkozy has effectuated a state visit to the Kingdom of Morocco, where he signed several agreements with the Moroccan government for the €2 billion construction of a TGV rail line to link Tangiers with Marrakech, the sale of a naval frigate for the Moroccan navy, and a uranium extraction agreement.
© Dean Borok October 25th 2007

(Ed's note: You currently have to work 46 years in the UK to get a full pension - currenly 84 pounds or $170 a week)

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