TThree cinematographic fictions released recently in France illustrate the evils of work, at three moments in its historical evolution. Ordersby Cyril Schäublin, depicts the beginnings of Taylorism at the end of the 19the century in Swiss watchmaking manufactures. About Kim Sohee, by July Jung, examines the work of South Korean teleoperators in open space. Between the two is inserted The Workbenchby Mathias Gokalp, which recounts assembly line work in the late 1960s in the automobile industry.
The stopwatch and the performance are at the heart of these three stories. Work eludes those who perform it. It is defined, dissected, orchestrated and monitored by those who design it. Workers and employees are only performers, responsible for applying a script from which they cannot deviate under penalty of penalties and sanctions, even humiliation. Every gesture is optimised, in watchmaking and the automotive industry, every word is counted in call centres.
Admittedly, today’s work is no longer that of the 1870s or 1970s, the working conditions are no longer the same. In particular, dirt and noise no longer invade the factories, as shown for example in the documentary made by Louis Malle at the Citroën factories (Human, too human, 1974). But if the decorations change, if the moods and working atmospheres are not comparable, there nevertheless remains a feeling of continuity.
The influence of the chronometer persists, and the work, in its content and in its organization, is based on a break between conception and execution. Those who say – and think – the work are not those who accomplish it and face its realization. In the name of productivity and profitability, the managerial universe dictates the rhythms and ways of doing things. Thinking and doing, in the world of work, resolutely falls within two distinct universes, despite the invitation, sometimes sincere, to be “force of proposal”to express themselves and to innovate.
Frustrations and injustices
In reality, those who do remain silent, for the most part, or express themselves only on the side and outside. It is striking to note the silence that reigns about the organization of work, the sequence of gestures, and more generally the ways of doing things in watch factories and in call centers. Not because the employees have nothing to say, but because they are only little listened to, and little heard. Their opinions do not count, or too little. This break remains one of the main sources of tension, discomfort, arduousness and nonsense in the performance of daily work.
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