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In general, everything seems calm, good-natured, serene. But the violence of modern management is rarely revealed in the presentation and the commercial façade, on the contrary, since the spectacle of harmony is its guarantor. It is therefore rampant in an in-between, in injunctions, threats, inflicting suffering and « burn-out », revealed in the bend of an anonymous testimony or of the one who, having left, expresses all that he has lived and could no longer keep to himself. Today, booksellers from  » Europe’s largest single-storey bookshop « , located in Brussels, where Belgian politicians and other media figures go shopping on Sundays, reveal what’s behind the cover. 

Welcome to the Filigranes bookstore, patented supplier of the Court of Belgium, open 7 days a week, 2600 m² of surface, bar, champagne and caviar, small catering, piano, organic products, games, wines… and books,  » where you can stroll through the shelves, read while drinking a coffee or listen to the authors during presentations and book signings . His boss, Marc Filipson, a teacher by training,  » dissatisfied with his salary, left teaching when an opportunity arose « , and took over a small bookstore in 1983, « La Providence ». But it was in 1988 that the Filigranes adventure really began, when it moved to a 180 m² space on Avenue des Arts. In 2000, Filigranes increased to 1000 m²; 2007, 1700 m²; 2013, for its 30th anniversary, it will increase to 2600 m². It’s a rush. 

For the man who says  » I like to sell, I don’t care what anyone says « (Le Soir, 21/02/2016), the book is a product like any other.  » Everything with me starts from the pleasure of selling, I have always been a trader, I have always liked to sell « , adds MF, but unfortunately, « there are the bad choices internally, those employees stuffed with qualities no doubt, but who are not suitable for the job « (L’Echo, 23/12/2017). So Filipson hires talented booksellers,  » but what he wants is something else: salesmen, policemen, robots … ». The man, in his various interviews, will not talk about his personnel management, he just thinks  » he is too good « . What is curious is that since 1987, Filipson has not thought to file a copy of the work regulations with the regional office of the Control of Social Laws, in accordance with the law of April 12, 1965. Clearly in violation, when we ask the central administration of the FPS Employment, Labor and Social Dialogue, why for more than thirty years this obligation has never been respected and they find no trace of labor regulations in their country, they tell us  » is that therewere no complaints . In thirty years? Strange. In any case, according to our testimonies, a complaint was indeed filed with the labor inspection in 2017. The risk for Filigranes: a fine, or much more. 

Finally, this absence of official regulations makes it quite plausible what the current or former booksellers we met with at Filigranes told us, namely that there were no fixed hours, no scales imposed by a more appropriate joint commission, forced resignations, numerous sick leaves, a hugeturnover (about 100 people in 6 years), with many unjustified layoffs. And if before the removal could be done easily and without justification in Belgium, now it is mandatory to motivate the decision, at the risk of a control if it is not respected,  » but there never are, « says one employee , with the C4 indicating « incompatibility of mood, restructuring, differences of opinion… ». The institutions would also be informed:  » Onem often compensates when a colleague resigns, because the organization and the union are aware of it. And when the employee at the end of their rope is denied a randomly awarded « amicable » C4, they quit, most of the time with no backup plan and at the risk of being denied unemployment benefits… 

Moreover, the joint committee did not seem to be the right one until just a few months ago, thus defining bad conditions imposed by the employer without a legal framework in terms of wages, vacations, overtime(1).


But  » as coaches say, today, to succeed you have to have suffered « , right(Le Soir, 20/02/2016)? And to do this, a coach,  » Marcus, king of Filigranie « (2), will hire one, organizing at the time  » compulsory coaching sessions of 8 hours to make Marc Filipson’s management visions accepted « .

It’s true, you have to know how to sell yourself. No morals in this case. Thus, when Zemmour passes through Belgium, he will be invited with great pomp to come and debate at the bookstore. Will it be cancelled? No matter, the buzz will have been made and who will have been talked about? From Filigranes, and therefore from Filipson.  » Since the request for a ban [de la venue de Zemmour à Filigranes] by the Ecolo politician, the book is once again selling by the wheelbarrowful, whereas at the beginning of December, hardly anyone was buying it « (3). The same day  » Zemmour was introduced with humor by Marc Filipson « , at the lunch conference of the Cercle de Lorraine, bringing together bosses, nobility, media and politicians. It is not a problem if the guest stated that the  » Muslims in the French people will lead us to chaos and civil war . « After that, he was still invited to come and eat the King’s cake at Filigranes, inviting the press, even though the bookshop had received threats and the employees had asked him to take them into account. But greed, or the commercial soul, has its limits, and one wonders if there is not some predilection for the Kippa rather than the Burka. Zeymour then, but not Dieudonné. 

The man knows what rameute, but when we dare to question the choice of inviting Nabila in great pomp in his bookstore, it would be there  » snub  » the author:  » Faced with a phenomenon like Nabila who sold more than 65,000 copies of her book, we can’t just answer that it’s an underrated literature. Our children, teenagers, read « Harry Potter », but also Nabila. You have to accept that and ask yourself why, at 24, you decide to write your autobiography. (RTBF, June 8, 2016). A bit of philosophy… or marketing: the day he invited the Youtuber Enjoy Phoenix, more than 4.500 people were waiting in front of the bookshop. And when you like to sell, it’s more interesting to have 4,500 potential buyers of rags than 10 people who know what a book is and come for that. For Nabila, the storefront and part of the interior had been redecorated for the occasion. Maybe that’s why  » our teenage children read Nabila « … This is a recurrent logic borrowed from the mass media: to participate in creating the phenomenon by pretending that one is only relaying it. 

And to be seen, to sell, to affect generosity, there is nothing like charity, this pantomime that those who do not want to change the society that generates the misery they palliate with coins, or by buying books and glasses of champagne. Charity parties, those that the good bourgeoisie and the notables love, because they never question the inequality they enjoy, leave 10% of the evening’s profits and 100% of the bar’s profits to the associations. Booksellers, it’s their night  » Mother Theresa ». Sure, « they can get those hours back once (when it’s evening work that should be worth at least double), but definitely not when it’s convenient for them… But it is best to do it officially as a volunteer by announcing that you are offering your work for these evenings. But above all, it is absolutely not a question of choice: most employees believe that it is « compulsory » and when they refuse to do so, it does not go down well (…) There is a form of emotional blackmail/value judgments of our professionalism and our « solidarity » « … Nothing is « imposed », but everything is suggested. Customers buy their books, assured that they are doing a good deed by doing nothing. 

The man also has his political connections. While Filigranes opens 7 days a week, 365 days a year, it did so long before the portion of the street it occupies was declared a tourist zone. Le Soir wondered recently  » But why make a portion of the street occupied by the vast majority of office buildings a tourist zone? The alderman of Commerce of the City of Brussels answering without hesitation « It is a request from Filigranes »  » (Le Soir, 13/05/18). According to our information from the unions,  » four days after the request of Filigranes to become a tourist zone, it was accepted . Moreover, this request does not seem to be there to endorse a practice (open 7/7 days, 365 days/year) already at work, but  » because with the new joint commission, he must now pay people double on weekends and holidays, which is not the case if the business is located in a tourist area . What becomes annoying with the new joint commission (CCP311) is that Sunday and evening work, which remains rather vague, is subject to negotiation with the union and on a voluntary basis only, whereas the old joint commission (201) allowed Filigranes to obtain an exemption for « newspaper trade ». The passage in tourist zone authorizes the opening, after negotiation, to about forty Sundays per year… not convenient for the 365/365.


Filigranes is not an exception, and that’s the point. There are functions that attract, repel, create, arouse particular personality types and relational forms in a certain social context. Thus, the form that the organization of work takes in a capitalist society, the fear of losing one’s job in a competitive world where one has to sell oneself and where unemployment is structural, the valorization attached to the fact of not being « without », the credits, the rent… all of this breaks at the root the possible impulses of solidarity, the rapprochement, the concern for the suffering of the other at work, generating « little bosses », the disgusted, the submissive, the sufferers In a system of « Walk or die », most of them, unfortunately, try to get away with it, a minority rebels and is quickly dismissed, but the majority takes it, suffers, gets depressed, gets somatized. That leaves those who take advantage of the collectively organized iniquitous treatment, taking advantage of the little power they take by proxy from the one who has the monopoly on bullying. The bosses know how to use them, how to take advantage of them; they know who is weak, who needs a « father », but they also know that when the pretender’s desire goes too far, wanting to be a leader instead of a leader, they will have to fire him. Others believe in it, did not « see » it, wanted to do well. Ophélie(4), in charge of one of the store’s profitable departments for six years, was fired when she arrived one morning at 8 a.m.:  » we have decided to terminate your contract because you are no longer a good floor manager. Your colleagues don’t wear their badges, X takes too long breaks… We’ll pay you six months’ salary. Fired employees are examples: « people are afraid of losing their job, they don’t know their rights » . Unfair dismissal is exceptional in Belgium. And then, as « Filigrania has grown so much that it is now one of the most lucrative provinces of the Empire of Letters « (5), we let it go


If Marc Filipson holds in his hand the book  » Entertain to dominate « , on the photo published in the interview made by the inenarrable Beatrice Delvaux this February 20, 2016, it is especially the division and the control that seems to affection the boss:  » cameras pointed at employees’ workstations ‚ »  » his daughter placed as an authoritative relay « , travelling back and forth twice a month from London,  » variable salaries for the same functions « ,  » control of the « Like » on Facebook and convocation in the office of the boss if some displease him « . But perhaps the most pernicious aspect is the « soft » form that this type of management takes, where hierarchical positions are used and abused, but where people are also led to believe that they are « one big family. This is the technique ofTeambuilding, a perverse disruption of hierarchical relationships which, taken out of context, make the subordinate « forget » his position when he returns to the work context. Once in the professional reality, the « links » created outside make it more difficult to challenge. 

In short, we find in this case study that is Filigranes, the spectacular form that our society takes as a whole: we try to smooth everything out, doing what is necessary so that we cannot perceive that what we see is the diametrically opposite result of what happens behind the scenes. It would be like vacationing in a hotel in one of those countries whose climate we love, but whose politics we try to forget, this contrast between the all-inclusive buffet and the slavery in the kitchen from which it comes. So it’s Filigranes, but it’s almost everywhere: it’s the « as if » game. We pretend that everything is fine. But the problem is that it makes many of them sick… 

 » I don’t care what anyone says about me. I am a provocateur, I can’t help it « (Le Soir, 21/02/2016), said Marc Filipson. Very good! We are sure that he will welcome with wisdom and openness our article of this summer Kairos , which you will find in the shelves of the bookshop… Watermarks. Well, hurry up, they might leave quickly! 

Alexandre Penasse


I worked for almost 9 years at the Filigranes Bookstore, ending in 2014 as the director. After many disagreements regarding Mr. Filipson’s extreme personnel policy, we decided to terminate my contract. I am not writing to you in a spirit of revenge, but simply because behind the smooth facade presented to the media lies an entirely different truth. The reality is far from the ideal situation described in the press. Beyond the figures available on the website www.bnb.be and which prove that Filigranes is not doing well, it is also time to denounce the extreme managerial practices put in place by Mr. Filipson, based on a climate of tyranny and fear. No one mentions the hundreds of layoffs and voluntary departures due to the sole personality of Mr. Filipson, nor the unhealthy climate that reigns in this company. Between sexual innuendo, inappropriate gestures, insults and tantrums, no one is safe. And there is no mention of the pressure and harassment suffered by the employees, threatened with dismissal at the slightest disagreement expressed! With a lot of racy and unfounded press releases (the so-called association with the Daily Bread, the so-called installation in New York and Miami, the so-called launch of an e‑commerce site), Mr. Filipson simply tries to drown the fish by presenting a company that is supposedly full of projects. The numbers are bad, the employees are bad, and Mr. Filipson, through the press, is trying to make his former employees take the blame. 

At the time, Samantha sent this letter to several media outlets, with no response. 

Notes et références
  1. Suite à l’intervention de certains employés, une nouvelle commission paritaire a donc été imposée à la direction, la CP311, ce qui permit de travailler 35 heures par semaine (au lieu de 38 pour le même salaire), des augmentations salariales, des congés supplémentaires, des week-ends off, et de toucher des primes (ancienneté, petite enfance, formation, etc.) au cours de l’année.
  2. Filiber, le journal de Filigranes, fin d’année 2017.
  3. Alexis Chaperon, CEO de Filigranes, La Libre, 02/01/2015.
  4. Prénom fictif.
  5. Filiber, Ibid.

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