Since the 1970’s, Western countries are facing several economical difficulties with an increasing rate of jobless and a low economic growth. This situation has been dramatically accentuated by the financial crisis in 2008.
According to heterodox economists, it is a proof of the failure of the liberal school of economic thought, embodied by Milton Friedman, its Chicago boys and the set of pro-market reforms led by former United Kingdom Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and former President of the United States of America Ronald Reagan in the 1980’s. According to the heterodox school, those policies exacerbated the market failures. On the same side, the working time of industrialized countries has been halved since the XIXe century and mostly during the past 60 years, in accordance with datas of the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCDE).
According to heterodox, those two dynamics lead us to think that we need to struggle against the rate of jobless by sharing the working activities in the aim with reducing the working time.

35-hour reform defending by Former French ministry of labour Martine Aubry at the French Parliament in 1997
35-hour workweek, aka ‘Aubry law’, defended by former French ministry of labour Martine Aubry at the national Parliament in 1997.

     First of all, we may assert that the economic growth is less important than the increase of the labour productivity. In 1970, the annual economic growth of France was at 7 % and then declined at 1,6 % in 1980. During the same decade, the labour productivity gone up by 20 %. At the same time, the country knew a dramatic increase of the unemployment rate ; it rose from 2 % in 1970 to 8 % in 1980. Automation and new organization of work increased the productivity of french corporation by destroying jobs. According French historian Jacques Marseille, the increase of productivity destroyed more jobs than company relocations. Moreover, the digital innovation is expected to continue to boost the productivity, as we can observe it in the United States since the 1990’s. Therefore, it is important in accordance with heterodox though to promote awareness of an economic program based on a best sharing of the working time.

     It has been applied in France with the 35-hour workweek reforms adopted between 1998 and 2000 by French government led by socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. The 35 hours is just a legal standard limit ; an employee can work more but will be considered overtime and the employer will pay more taxes. Benefits of this measure are still controversial because the whole world knew a better economic growth at the same period with less jobless. But proponents of the 35-hour workweek argue that France recorded a drop in unemployment twice that of the reference of the european area. Indeed, between 1998 and 2002, 647 000 jobs have been created, while the rate of jobless declined from 11 % to 8 %. According to the French National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE), from 300 000 jobs to 350 000 jobs have been created during this period because of the reduction of working time while the rest was due to the economic recovery.

     Nowadays, some like leftist and former French Ministry of Justice Christiane Taubira ask to a better sharing of working time with the introduction of a 32-hour workweek reforms. Indeed, Netherlands has an unemployment rate of 5 % with an average number of hours worked of 29, while France has 10 % of unemployment for an average still of 37 hours worked despite the legal standard limit. According to the French economist Pierre Larrouturou, up to 4 millions jobs could be created in France with a 32-hour workweek, a reduction of 10 % of worked hours compared to the current legal standard. But the data is well above the current 3 millions jobless in the country. That is why he proposes to delete at the same time the employer’s contribution to the unemployment fund, which represent 10 % of the hourly cost. It would allow the employee to keep the same pay without increasing the cost of labour. However, this roadmap is specific to France and the possibility of an internationalisation of this process may be seriously asked.

     German communist party member Karl Kautsky suggested that an international organization should not be considered on the current policies of its member-States but need to be thought with the alternative and common policy that they can hypothetically lead together. At the beginning of the 1990’s, former French socialist president François Mitterrand campaigned for the Maastricht Treaty and argued that a ‘single socialist country in Europe’ is not sustainable and that the transition towards socialism should be achieved through a european united-front policy. General secretary of the French communist party George Marchais replied him that the european socialism will be suppressed by the empowerment of liberalism in a free-trade zone integrated in the globalization. Indeed the United Kingdom was strongly opposed to any expansion of the social policy in the treaty of Maastricht. Therefore, the protocol of social policy had to be annexed to the Treaty, with UK opt-out. And even if this social chapter allows a common legislation in some areas like working conditions and equality between men and women in labour market, those instruments are still not equal to the european social challenge because common polices are mainly based on a very capitalistic ideology.

     Finally, the French example is a relevant experimentation of the controversial issue of the sharing of the working time. It requires to get out of the neo-liberal though with a new paradigm shift. Of course, France has its own functional specificities and the roadmap to manage with the introduction of such reforms is depending on each country and its own legal and fiscal norms in force. Moreover, the European Union is maybe the larger entity able to lead such kind of policies. And significant developments demonstrated that the drop of the unemployment rate correlated with the share of labour activities in the aim with reducing the working time must not be overlooked.

By : Paul REÏSSI, M00602378, Exchange student

OECD data [Online]
AZSKENAZY, Philippe, BLOCH-LONDON, Catherine, ROGER, Muriel, ’La réduction du temps de travail 1997-2003’ : dynamique de constructions des lois « Aubry » et premières évaluations’, INSEE, 2003.
MARSEILLE, Jacques, ‘Empire colonial et capitalisme français’, Editions Albin Michel, 2005.
MEDA, Dominique, LARROUTUROU, Pierre, ‘Einstein avait raison, il faut sortir du temps de travail’, Editions de l’Atelier, 2016

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