3.00 FYI France: Ejournal and archive

by Jack Kessler, kessler@well.sf.ca.us

November 15, 1998 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on November 15, 1998.

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Versions of the following have appeared online regularly, since 1992, as a feature of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which is distributed for free via email every month except August. Ejournal subscriptions may be obtained via email request to: kessler@well.sf.ca.us

Here this file is one of a number made available -- hopefully attractively, all in one place, and relevant to libraries and online digital information work in France and Europe -- as part of FYI France (sm)(tm), an online service to which anyone can subscribe for 12 months by postal mailing a check for US $45, payable to Jack Kessler, to PO Box 460668, San Francisco, California, USA 94146 (site licenses also are available): please write your email address on the front of your check. Please email suggestions for improvements to me at kessler@well.sf.ca.us


FYI France: BnF Strike, 1st labor action
of the Information Age?

The BnF is back at work now -- most of it, although not the "rez - de - jardin" research level, which apparently still has computer problems:

The results of this BnF librarians' strike for now are unclear. My own mail yields predictable analyses from predictable people: those who would have said that the strike was a failure say that it was -- those who would have said that it was a great success do so now. I count the strike's duration to have been 19 days -- real results will coalesce and materialize, I expect slowly.

Still the best single source for news is the strikers' W3 site:


-- equipped now with a pretty funny Rions un peu feature, which any librarian or researcher or francophobe or francophile will enjoy. One un - translateable example:


One general and more serious thought which emerges from the entire BnF strike situation so far does seem to be uncontested: few people can remember any other "librarians'" strike, anywhere.

Librarians have joined or at least respected general labor actions by others, apparently -- at places like Yale and New York University, and in various "city - wide" strikes elsewhere in the past, in the US and in Europe -- but these have been primarily matters simply of honoring picket lines. This BnF strike seems to be one of the first times in which librarians have led the way in a labor action. Anyone who knows different, please let me know?

In addition, then, this BnF strike also appears to have been one of the first labor actions to have occurred in "hi - tech", among "information workers". Certainly the giant European and US firms which roll the Information juggernaut have had strikes before. But these have been rare, and when they have occurred, again they have been brought by blue - collar / assembly - line / janitorial or other staff at the wage scale low end, not by highly - paid people and / or "professionals", such as librarians...


Now my own desk is filled -- as are the desks of many of you, I know -- with books purporting to analyze the "implications" of the Information Revolution. The nightstand next to my bed is filled as well, and my online "bookmarks" files are overflowing -- with resources which are trying to explain to me "what all of this really means" about "digital information". But few of these resources say anything about labor action, labor unions, working conditions other than "ergonomics" -- or any of the issues of traditional "labor" literature -- let alone labor strikes by "information workers", such as librarians.

There is a large and growing literature on both sides of the Atlantic, however -- this primarily offline, curiously -- worried about new issues such as "flextime" and "telecommuting" and "quality of work" and "white collar unemployment". There are writers now who both question and defend the "two wage - earner household" which has become the norm among families working in hi - tech in so many places. People are publishing books with titles like, The Time Bind : When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work (Arlie Hochschild),

Arlie Hochschild

and, She works / he works : how two-income families are happier, healthier, and better-off (Rosalind C. Barnett and Caryl Rivers).

Hi - tech compensation also is getting attention: high - paid workers who have no job security and who save no money, low - paid workers who have great stock options but also no job security and not even any benefits and who save even less money -- in the US, the "savings" rate was negative last month, folks apparently having gone into debt to finance their purchases.

"Unemployment" figures increasingly are being questioned as well, in a number of countries, as white - collar workers who do not file unemployment claims when they lose their jobs -- such as librarians -- increasingly get "laid off" or "downsized" or "early retired" (and then "hired back under contract"), ending up earning nothing or far less than they did before... and they do not show up in the statistics. These all sound suspiciously like "traditional labor issues".

But the comment of one BnF striker is telling:

These are young folks, who perhaps just do not remember... but they also are new folks -- professionals, white - collar workers, "middle managers", highly - educated and in many cases highly - paid people -- who are not accustomed to being considered "workers", who never have been "on strike" before, and who certainly do not want to be associated with the now very old blue - collar "labor union" past.

By the same token it would be hard, perhaps, for an old, tough French "syndicalist" of the 1920s, or an early - century ILGWU worker, to show much sympathy for a laid - off librarian or a downsized "middle manager" or "professional" or "white collar worker" of today. But this is the 21st century -- not the 20th, any longer, and certainly not the 19th -- and the demographics have changed. There are few farmers any longer, even in France, and the number of factory workers and "proletarians" of any sort is diminishing rapidly.

Increasingly the "worker" in France as elsewhere is in an office, at a computer, and on the Internet, and the raw material of her / his workday is not a raw material or "machines" or an "assembly line" but "information". A librarian -- albeit "professional", albeit "white - collar" -- perhaps is the quintessential "information worker" now, and her / his problems at work will become the central "labor" questions of the new century.

So, once again, the French merit special attention. The BnF strike "Protocole d'accord conclu entre la Direction et l'Intersyndicale à l'issue du mouvement de grève, 6 novembre 1998" -- online at the strikers' site mentioned above -- may be an important document for anyone interested in the most general aspects of the "Information Society" as well as for librarians and "information workers" themselves: it specifies, in part --


Among Information Age gurus, Manuel Castells -- now of the University of California at Berkeley and formerly of the University of Paris (Nanterre, 1968!) and several / many other places -- deservedly has become one of the leaders. His major new opus, highly - recommended although frightening in its scope and in the possible implications of its observations, characterizes what we are building globally with digital information as "The Network Society". ["The Information Age", 3 vols., 1996-8: vol. 1 is "The Network Society" / "La société en réseaux" (Fr.) / "La sociedad red" (Esp.)]

Castells v.1

Castells v.2

Castells v.3

Castells attributes to "The Network Society" a vast range of recent social innovations, some good, some very bad -- from a freedom from certain tyrannies of an older, spatially - bound, nation - state, to The Fall of Russia, and Women's Liberation, and the growth of international organized crime, and other things. His vision, and his grasp of the inter - connectedness of apparently - dissimilar ideas and events, greatly exceed the much narrower scope of most others who have commented so far on the "information revolution". A lot has been written on just the "business" aspects of digital information, for example, a certain amount has been written about the strain on the individual of coping with computers, inconclusive reams of material have been devoted to the copyright implications of all of it...

Even in a work as general and comprehensive as that of Castells, however -- and his is the most general and comprehensive, so far, of which I myself am aware -- little attention has been given to the "labor action" aspect of what modern "information workers", like librarians, are going through.

Castells does say, "labor unions have fought for occupational health legislation since the onset of industrialization..." [v.2, p.132], but elsewhere in this leading treatise, as in most others in the genre, the role of labor actions such as that which just occurred at the BnF is relegated to general observations on the activity or passivity of traditional labor unions in particular situations -- more active than thought among women and in Korea, passive and manipulated in some contexts, etc. -- the new, "white - collar", social problems are not acknowledged, or certainly are not folded in to "labor union" considerations.

Why this is so, escapes me. Perhaps everyone simply is happy -- that is the serious suggestion made in Silicon Valley. Or perhaps everyone simply is numb -- that is the suggestion made in France, where recently the high unemployment catastrophe has resigned workers to feeling elated for finding any sort of job at all.

At some point, however, the social trends of the new work situation, noted above -- "flextime" and "telecommuting" and "quality of work" and "white collar unemployment", the "two wage - earner household", "high - paid workers who have no job security and who save no money", "low - paid workers who have great stock options but also no job security and not even any benefits and who save even less money", and "layoffs and "downsizing" and "early - retirement / hireback" and other "disguised unemployment" problems -- must be faced and dealt with; by sociologists a bit, by unions eventually perhaps.

Who will look at all this, I wonder? When they do, will they find that everyone working in "information" really is, simply, blissfully happy, or will they discover that they ought to have paid closer attention to the underlying causes and implications of early labor actions in the information revolution, such as this one which just took place at the BnF, in France...


But a concluding, and a little less militant, observation: at least the French have been able to re - open their institution.

It is an institution worth preserving, staffed by some very fine and dedicated people, doing some very exciting -- indeed brave and dangerous -- new things. There is a world of libraries, and librarians, and "information" workers and users, waiting to see what the French will do, and hoping to do at least as well if not better in "home" situations which very often are very much worse. So my own personal sigh of relief at seeing the promising new list of BnF "working groups" (above) is at least equaled by my relief that the doors once again are open, and that things for a while at impasse once again are moving forward.



FYI France (sm)(tm) e-journal                   ISSN 1071 - 5916

      |           FYI France (sm)(tm) is a monthly electronic
      |           journal published since 1992 as a small-scale,
      |           personal experiment, in the creation of large- 
      |           scale "information overload", by Jack Kessler. 
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        	Copyright 1992- , by Jack Kessler, 
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