The permanent imbalance of pension schemes in all countries is the consequence of good news: life expectancy is improving and more and more financial resources must be devoted to financing the lives of those who no longer work.

Although almost everyone recognises this necessity, the revolt in many countries, particularly in France, against the choice of financing through longer working hours raises two very deep questions about the nature of our societies: on the one hand, the division between wages, whether immediate or deferred, and profits. On the other hand, the nature of work.

In fact, these two problems are linked because the richest, the most powerful, and the artists, the ones who are happy to work as long as possible, do so at their own pace, for pleasure; they do everything to avoid retiring and have little desire to meddle in the worries of others, mostly employees, whose work is experienced, for the most part, as suffering, or in any case, as not being sufficiently rewarding for them not to want to put an end to it as soon as possible.

The anger of those demonstrating against the postponement of the retirement age should therefore be seen above all as a revolt against the injustice of work. This anger does not manifest itself in the same way everywhere. In some countries, whether Protestant or Asian, the need for austere, difficult work, as defined and imposed culturally or religiously or politically, is accepted without complaint, because it allows one to hope for either paradise or fortune, or both, or at least a good place in society. In other countries, especially Catholic ones, work is experienced as suffering, which must be avoided, especially since, for them, wealth is not a path to eternal life; it is experienced as alienation, with most of the added value going to shareholders, while nothing is done to ensure that employees are interested intellectually, politically and financially in the company’s success.

This anger should therefore be understood as a demonstration against the failure of more or less ambitious attempts to improve working conditions; against the fact that, for centuries, so little has been done to ensure that life in the office or in the factory is as rewarding as possible, and that we are content to provide the means for a more or less decent life during the few, all too brief, years left to live, once one leaves work, which is experienced as a prison: here, as elsewhere, we are concerned with the urgent, forgetting the important.

Beyond the necessary financing of the foreseeable deficits, which can be negotiated in a thousand ways, it is above all important to work on creating the conditions for everyone to want to work longer, because work would have become free and rewarding and because real career plans would have been defined and organised for everyone. We could even dream of a society where everyone would find so much pleasure and liberation in their work, which would become gratifying and dignified, that they would demand to never leave it.

We should therefore launch this major project, which has been talked about for a long time, and which the current crisis in France shows we have not managed to achieve: automate the inevitably repetitive, thankless or degrading tasks (maintenance, cleaning, construction, production lines) and give social and financial value to the missions of care, hospitality, transmission, and protection of nature. In other words, we should value the jobs that are useful to the economy of life, and eliminate, through automation, those of the economy of death.

A society in which everyone would have an exciting, socially and ecologically useful job is possible; it would not praise laziness in a morbid and suicidal way; it would not equate work with routine, fatigue, depression, alienation, humiliation, exploitation, and destruction of the environment; but with discovery, creation, jubilation, and diversity. It is an exciting mission to achieve this.

Painting: Maximilien Luce, Foundry in Charleroi. La Coulée, 1896