Hommage à Michel Freyssenet. Pascal Combemale

The division of labour at the heart of the dynamics of capitalism Pascal Combemale, social science teacher in preparatory classes at the Lycée Henri-IV 

I discovered Michel Freyssenet a long time ago, reading The Capitalist Division of Labour (Savelli, 1977). This book was based on the results of a survey conducted in 1973-1974, within the framework of the Centre de sociologie urbaine. So we are in the 1970s, marked by the workers' strikes: in May 1971 in Renault-Le Mans, in February-March 1972 in Penarroya in Lyon, from March to May 1972 at the French Joint in Saint-Brieuc, in March-May 1973 in Renault-Billancourt, and so on. In June 1973, the Lip movement begins. These struggles followed the hot Italian autumn, during which it was the very organization of work that had been contested. Here is for the air of time, which marked a whole generation, and to which Robert Linhart's L'Établi (Minuit, 1978) bears witness so well.
Until then, the emblematic heroes of the working class were the miner, the railroader, the metalworker, skilled workers or those classified as "professionals. With the struggles of the blue collars workers, subjected to the "work in crumbs" described by Georges Friedmann (1956), the question of de-skilling becomes central, in relation to the deepening of the capitalist division of labor. Another major reference of this period was Harry Braverman's book, Labour and Monopoly Capitalism, whose translation was published by Maspero in 1976. Braverman, himself a former worker, focused on what he called the "degradation of labor. Finally, it should be recalled that the Critique of the Division of Labor is also the title of a collection of texts published by André Gorz in 1973 (it includes the famous "What do bosses do?" by Stephen Marglin). In this collection of contributions to the analysis of the social relations between capital and labour, Michel Freyssenet emphasized the structural process of de-qualification-over-qualification, establishing an organic link, inherent to capitalism, between the dispossession of some (and here we think of the dismay of Demarcy, deprived of his workbench) and the privilege of others, echoing Marx's famous phrase: "The intellectual powers of production develop on one side because they disappear on all the others. "This a priori thesis refuted by the rise in intermediate qualifications deserves to be reconsidered at a time when a trend towards the polarization of qualifications is emerging, and by placing itself on a global scale, because the process is redeploying itself in space.
 
Co-founder of Gerpisa (Groupe d'études et de recherche permanent sur l'industrie et les salariés de l'automobile) in 1992 with Patrick Fridenson, Michel Freyssenet has continued to favour this articulation between empirical work, field investigation, therefore situated, and the analysis of social relationships that structure the reality observed in the workshop or office. The "Repères" written with Robert Boyer on Les modèles productifs (2000, translated into German, English and Spanish) shows the value of this perspective, which is at once micro and macro, sociological and historical.
 
It is mainly to Michel Freyssenet's fidelity to this spirit of the 1970s that we wish to pay tribute. For the analysis of this matrix of social relations constituted by the division of labour, with the questions of technique and the conditions of autonomy in the background, which was then far too much neglected, seems to us to be aimed at the right thing. But perhaps it is the vision of a generation.
 

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