France Télécom has been at the center of intense public scrutiny since 2008, following a sharp rise in workplace suicides at the company. This macabre reputation now stood in sharp contrast with the company's image during the 1980s and 1990s as a showpiece for successful liberalization and as a former state-owned enterprise that was blazing a trail toward a new globalized economy. Drawing on Emile Durkheim's seminal work, Suicide (1897), the article examines the social conditions that precipitated workplace suicides at France Télécom. It situates the suicides within the context of the rise of a new model of finance capitalism that profoundly transformed the status and perceived value of the individual worker in the production process. Far from representing a tragic accident or an aberration in an otherwise smooth-functioning economic order, the France Télécom suicides were the outcome of a management strategy that set out to fulfill the imperatives of finance capitalism by eliminating what was seen as an unacceptable obstacle to its economic goals: the company's own employees.
A Capitalism That Kills
Workplace Suicides at France Télécom
Globalization, the Confédération Paysanne, and Symbolic Power
The Confédération paysanne can be described as a marginal farmers' union that represents the vested interests of a tiny minority and that seems to swim against a tide of socio-economic change. At a time when France is increasingly integrated into a global economy, it calls for greater protectionism, a massive increase in state subsidies, and a closure of borders to trade. Yet, far from being dismissed as marginal or anachronistic, the Confédération, at the height of its influence, was hailed as a symbol of the “general interest” and gained the enthusiastic support of a majority of French citizens. In this essay, the author suggests that the success of the Confédération had little to do with conventional political or institutional patterns but was derived instead from its “symbolic power” and its capacity to transform its own cause into a metaphor for opposition to globalization. At a time of profound crisis, the Confédération was able to capture one of the nation's most enduring myths, laying claim to a whole symbolic universe linked to peasant farming. Whilst such symbolism is hardly new in the French context, the Confédération's particular skill was to counterpose this against a dominant image of neo-liberal globalization. It posited peasant farming as an antidote to all the evils of a globalizing world, one in which identity is reaffirmed, tradition is preserved and social bonds are restored.