Is this what it takes to stop the bleeding?


From France, something mightily disturbing about where privatization of formerly public companies goes if taken to the crapitalist extreme…

France Télécom today shelved its restructuring programme after the suicides of 25 workers whose deaths have been linked to a modernisation drive at the group.

The former state monopoly said it had called-off its controversial corporate shake-up until next year.

The announcement follows a wave of deaths at the group and a further spate of attempted suicides since February 2008. The deaths, which have shocked the country, have led to calls for the resignation of Didier Lombard, France Télécom’s chief executive.

A spokesman said: “We will suspend all restructuring until December 31, 2009.”

And after that, all bets will be off, the “modernization” drive will be on again, and so will the suicides. Brilliant!

And after that, the Deluge…of government intervention:

The French Government summoned Mr Lombard to a crisis meeting last month about the deaths, which unions blame on a deep malaise caused by the restructuring. He was asked to produce an urgent action plan.

Critics say staff at the company, two thirds of whom were taken on when the group was a state monopoly and, as such, considered themselves unsackable, had become desperate after being asked to overhaul working practices. The shake-up was aimed at making the Gallic group more competitive in the international market.

A total of 10,000 employees have changed jobs in the past three years.

And if you think it’s easy to change jobs in France, where positions have until recently tended to be full-time, decently paid and career-long, or that American-style ultracapitalism would cut the fat, may I remind you that (a) the French have lower obesity rates by far than the Yanks, and (b) the US capital crisis–still happening!–is a direct result of that ultracapitalism.

And so, it turns out, is something like this:

One of the most recent deaths occurred last month when a 51-year-old employee killed himself in the French Alps. The man, who was married with two children, left a note blaming the “atmosphere” at work before throwing himself off a motorway bridge in Alby-sur-Cheran.

He had recently switched jobs to a call centre where he faced performance objectives.

Call centres are notoriously stressful, with jobs directly dependent on a quota of sales, and poor remuneration to boot–which is not much improved even on the off chance that you exceed your quota. The last thing anyone in my neck of the woods dreams of being is a call-centre employee, and for reasons good. It’s a shitty job, with rejection being a daily norm (seeing as the job basically entails cold-calling people who don’t want to be called, and annoying the hell out of them.) It is, from a psychological standpoint, a sheer nightmare. That’s something no amount of money can make good, much less the lousy pay (barely above minimum wage) that a telemarketer makes. The turnover is high, and no wonder: Ditch digging is less of a hassle, and better paid!

So I hope you’ll pardon me for laughing (sardonically, and with little mirth) at things like this:

Mr Lombard had already announced an end to the programme of compulsory job changes for managers and suspended staff performance indicators at the call centre as he sought to end what he called a “death spiral” at the group.

He has also hired 100 additional advisers in human resources and launched negotiations with unions on workplace stress.

It’s going to take a hell of a lot more than piddling measures like those to stop the bleeding, Monsieur Lombard. It will take nothing less than a candid admission that capitalism does not work, and a return to the days when phone service was publicly provided and cheap–and a source of steady, secure employment that didn’t see middle-aged family men hanging themselves en masse.

PS: This article in the Spiegel is also surprisingly good, as it points the finger in all the right directions. Sarko’s pronouncement at the end pleasantly surprised me, but perhaps it shouldn’t. After all, it’s France, and happiness is sacred there.

PPS: And for a look at some real assholes who prescribe capitalism but don’t make the connection between it and suicide, click here. (Warning: raw sewage!)

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