All The Presidents & Working Men…
The son is a smart, efficient and successful person, as he has the potential to secure his place at the top of the social structure… the father has started considering his son as a member of the Upper Rung of the Society. Well, the father still continues to earn his livelihood as a labourer!
The quinquagenarian father depends on medicines, as he cannot walk with ease… he even faces trouble while trying to breathe… a question naturally arises in this regard as to who should be held responsible for this situation? Édouard Louis, the French author, seemingly has made no attempt to find the answer in his recent novel ‘Who Killed My Father’ (‘Qui a tué mon père’), as the alma mater of École Normale Supérieure knows it…
Illiteracy, drug addiction and domestic violence were the common characteristics of the Working Class families in France, especially in the 1980’s and the 1990’s. The husbands used to beat their wives, the sons used to beat their dads, and the mothers used to beat their children in slums. “… nothing was violent because violence wasn’t what you called it, you called it life…,” wrote Louis.
Then came the year 2000… as the labourer dad was working in a factory, he used to carry heavy load on his back. He would, once in a while, feel excruciating pain in his back, but he would choose to ignore that! Gradually, the pain became unbearable and the man would lose his job! At that time, he might have thought that he would get well soon, and resume his old job at the factory again. Unfortunately, most of the time he failed to recover, and had no other option but to depend solely on Unemployment Allowances. Gradually, the jobless man also started becoming an alcoholic!
Comes the year 2006… Jacques Chirac was the then President of France. Xavier Bertrand, the Health Minister in President Chirac’s Cabinet, lowered Government Subsidies on pharmaceutical products, especially on the digestive medicines. The old jobless labourer was in deep trouble because of the Government’s decision. “Because you had had to spend your days lying flat since your accident, and because you had bad nutrition, digestive problems were a constant for you. Buying medicine to relieve them became more and more difficult. Jacques Chirac and Xavier Bertrand destroyed your intestines,” wrote Louis.
Nicolas Sarkozy became the French President in 2007. During his election campaign, Sarkozy waged a war against ‘les assistés’ or jobless labourers, who (according to him) were wasting the national wealth. The newly-elected President claimed that even the hardworking labourers started to hate their lazy co-workers! As a result, the old sick worker, who was in trouble due to his backpain, lost his backbone… he was unable to tolerate the allegation made by the President of his Country. In 2009, President Sarkozy and his accomplice Martin Hirsch reduced the basic unemployment benefit provided by the State, thus, forcing the physically unfit aged workers to find jobs. Many of them found jobs of sweepers. However, it became difficult for them to run their families with just EUR 700 per month! Louis wrote: “Then, after a certain period, you were forced to take a job as a street sweeper in another town, making seven hundred euros a month, spending all day bent over gathering up other people’s trash – bent over, even though your back was destroyed. Nicolas Sarkozy and Martin Hirsch were breaking your back.”
August 2007… François Hollande was the President of France. Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri and Prime Minister Manuel Valls helped the President introduce a new Labour Law, allowing the Factory owners to sack workers as per their need! The Law still worsened the situation for labourers, who were forced to work more on a weekly basis of payment! And Louis stated: “The current state of your health, the fact that you can hardly move or breathe, that you can’t live without the assistance of a machine, are largely the result of a life of repetitive motions at the factory, then of bending over for eight hours a day, every day, to sweep the streets, to sweep up other people’s trash. Hollande, Valls and El Khomri asphyxiated you.”
May 27, 2017… two agitating workers, wearing T-shirts, were seen trying to say something to President Emmanuel Macron in the middle of a crowded street. The President dismissed them immediately, saying: “You’re not going to scare me with your T-shirts. The best way to afford a suit is to get a job.” It seems that President Macron made it clear that if one could not afford a suit, then the person should be considered worthless! Further to this, in the month of September, the President once again slammed the Working Class, insisting that their laziness was creating trouble for his Government in implementing the Reform Programmes! In his ‘Who Killed My Father’, Louis said: “You’ve always known that this word is reserved for people like you, people who can’t work because they live too far from large towns, who can’t find work because they were driven out of the educational system too soon, without a diploma, who can’t work anymore because life in the factory has mangled their back. We don’t use the word lazy to describe a boss who sits in an office all day ordering other people around. We’d never say that. When I was little, you were always saying, obsessively, I’m not lazy, because you knew this insult hung over you, like a spectre you wished to exorcise.”
August 2017… The Emmanuel Macron Government decided to withdraw EUR 5 per month from the most vulnerable people in France. The move made it difficult for the poorer section of the people in paying their monthly rent. At the same time, the Government announced a tax cut for the wealthiest people! Perhaps, the Government thought that the poor were too rich, and that the rich were not rich enough! “Emmanuel Macron is taking the bread out of your mouth,” wrote Louis.
Actually, any negative decision by the Politicians directly affects the Working Class. However, the entire population enjoys the positive decision. Once, the French Government increased the back-to-school subsidy, granted each year to the poorest families for school supplies, notebooks, backpacks by nearly EUR 100. “You were overjoyed, you called out in the living room: ‘We’re going to the beach!’ and the six of us piled into our little car. The whole day was a celebration. Among those who have everything, I have never seen a family go to the seashore just to celebrate a political decision, because for them politics changes almost nothing,” insisted Louis.
Louis and other contemporary French authors describe Émile Zola’s ‘World’ in a different way. From their novels, it is clear that the 19th Century ‘Labour Crisis’ has returned to France in the 21st Century. In Louis’ words, “The pain never went away”!
Here lies the small query: Is the time moving backwards for the labourers of France? The answer keeps blowing in the wind…
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