FREE TIME, A MEANS OF SOCIAL CHANGE

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Since GDP growth is responsible for the environmental and climate crisis, reducing working hours now appears to be the only possible solution to end unemployment. Let’s assume that the government passes laws that set the standard work week at 3 days and the work year at 6 months(1). Two employees share the same workstation during the week by working 3 days or two doctors, contractors, artisans, etc., share the same office or company by working 6 months a year. Although free time is the condition for a change in lifestyle, it is important to specify that the 4 days of free time are not an end in itself, but a means. Indeed, it is not free time but the activities practiced during free time that will bring about a change in lifestyle and a social transformation.

In order to understand what is at stake, it seems necessary to identify the motivations, often unconscious, that lead to work. Working does not only provide income and social protection. Beyond the fact that it is better to work than to be unemployed, studies show that having a job is the condition for happiness and emancipation. These studies show that it is not necessarily the missions, functions or tasks, often repetitive and routine, but the conditions of exercise linked to the professional activity that make work desirable. In fact, by allowing the employee to meet up with his or her work colleagues on a daily basis, the professional activity provides the means to socialize. His professional integration provides him with a status and an identity that allows him to define himself and exist socially. By providing them with the means to keep themselves busy, to feel useful and to assert themselves in relation to others, the practice of a professional activity also gives them the means to nourish their self-esteem. By prescribing objectives to be reached, the company provides him with a reason to live that prevents him from asking himself too many questions about the meaning of his existence. The company does not appear as a simple means of production, but as a « sandbox » for big children who have fun playing at being adults. That is to say, a playground that gives economic actors the means to integrate socially and to nourish their self-esteem by playing the social role of a boss, an employee, an executive, a small boss, etc.

Even if it is desirable, the 3‑day week reveals the issues of the use of free time and therefore of freedom. As Hannah Arendt noted,  » It is a society of workers that is to be freed from the shackles of labor, and this society knows nothing of the higher and more rewarding pursuits for which it would be worth while to earn this freedom. « (2) A social system is organized around the practice of one activity, whose schedule coordinates all the others. Since kindergarten, individuals have become accustomed to delegating to schools, universities and companies the responsibility of organizing their weekly schedule and structuring the rhythm of their lives (work and rest days, paid vacations, school vacations). With a standard 5‑day work week, the work schedule coordinates other activities and structures the company’s daily rhythm. Since an employee has two days off per week, five weeks of paid vacation and a few hours of free time after his or her work day, the organization of his or her personal schedule can be left to his or her initiative.

Most individuals are not aware that facing 4 days of free time could be a traumatic ordeal. To see this, one need only look at the employee who has spent his or her entire life working at the time of retirement. Often presented as a time of well-deserved rest, newfound freedom and dreams to be realized, retirement appears to be a desirable goal to achieve. But the retiree must have taken the time to prepare it. Having lost the very thing that made him get up in the morning, he finds himself totally unmotivated. Since during his working life, the company was his main place of socialization, from one day to the next, the retiree finds himself isolated, cut off from others and society. If not prepared, the confrontation with free time can very quickly become a source of trouble, idleness, anxiety, anguish and therefore a traumatic experience that can lead to depression or even suicide. A 2002 study shows that 15 to 30% of people over 65 suffer from depression(3). According to a CepiDc-Inserm study, 28% of the 10,400 suicides that occurred in France in 2010 involved people over the age of 65(4). In order to avoid the  » collective nervous breakdown « (5) that Keynes feared, it is therefore necessary that the organization of the 4 days of free time does not rest exclusively on the shoulders of each individual.

For these four days of free time to bring about a desirable social transformation, a new model of social integration will have to be able to provide workers, employees, executives, as well as entrepreneurs, professionals, etc., with a new « sandbox. That is to say, the means to integrate, socialize, nourish self-esteem, accomplish oneself and give meaning to one’s life by practicing 4 days a week or 6 months a year an amateur activity(6) which has no economic purpose (training, artistic, manual, sports, research, etc.). A Ministry of Free Time(7) should have the mission, on the one hand, to propose a new collective timetable that will structure social life around these activities from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and, on the other hand, to coordinate and finance the material and human means intended to implement them. By transforming the relationship with oneself and with others, this schedule will encourage the emergence of new ways of life and social transformation. Since it does not waste resources or emit CO2, the organization of society around these amateur practices will promote the reversal of ecological and climatic processes in less than 10 years.

Jean-Christophe Giuliani

Notes et références
  1. Giuliani Jean-Christophe (2017), La réduction du temps de travail peut-elle supprimer le chômage ?, Mouvement Pour un Développement Humain, [En ligne]. (consulté le 25 mai 2019), http://www.mouvementpourundeveloppementhumain.fr/nos-fondements-theoriques/en-finir-avec-le-chomage-un-choix-de-societe/la-reduction-du-temps- de-travail-peut-elle-supprimer-le-chomage/
  2. Arendt Hannah, Les conditions de l’homme moderne, Paris, Calmann-Lévy, 1983, page 37.
  3. Lefebvre des Noettes, V. Epidémiologie psychiatrique. Neurologie-Psychiatrie-Gériatrie (NPG), 2002; janvier février (7) : 10–15.
  4. Comité National pour la Bientraitance et les Droits des Personnes Agées et des Personnes Handicapées, Prévention du suicide chez les personnes âgées, [En ligne] (consulté le 17 février 2018), http://solidarites-sante.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/CNBD_Prevention_du_suicide_Propositions_081013.pdf .
  5. Keynes John Maynard, Essais de persuasion, [En ligne], 2e édition, Paris, Gallimard, 1933, page 175, (consulté le 1 avril 2019), http://classiques.uqac.ca/classiques/keynes_john_maynard/essais_de_persuasion/keynes_essais_persuasion.pdf
  6. Amateur du latin amator, celui qui aime.
  7. Wikipédia, Ministère du temps libre, [En ligne] (consulté le 17 février 2018), https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ministre_du_Temps_libre
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