News | French Summer of Unrest

Posted on August 21st, 2014 in Recent posts by .

Festivals in France weather strikes and protests over new measures in entertainment industry. Daniel Brown reports from Paris.

This has been a long hot summer for many of the estimated 2,500 music festivals in France – nothing to do with meteorological conditions, which in fact, encouraged bumper crowds and record audiences – rather, it was strikes, social unrest and sometimes spectacular protests by entertainment industry workers which forced the cancellation of several shows and left festival directors on tenterhooks. As a result, the future of venerable institutions such as Francofolies and Nuits de Fourvière hung in the balance; popular gatherings such as La Réunion’s Sakifo festival and Rio Loco festival in Toulouse sacrificed some of their star line-ups; whilst popular artists like Bernard Lavillier and Jane Birkin refused to play in solidarity with the protest movement.

The reason? France’s unique unemployment policy for workers in the arts known as ‘intermittents du spectacle’ has been profoundly revised in a convention implemented on July 1. As a result, 48% of the 109,000 part-time workers who enjoy ‘intermittent’ benefits are facing tougher legislation and a fall in income.

These musicians, technicians and performers profit from one of the world’s most generous systems of unemployment benefits. Defenders of a status created back in 1936 believe it is at the heart of the country’s remarkably vibrant film and music industries that have proven far more resilient to US domination than France’s European counterparts. However, detractors such as the business federation MEDEF (le Mouvement des Entreprises de France) say it is a disguised subsidy for the arts and too costly in a period of recession.

But government rapporteur Jean-Patrick Gille published a detailed report in June detailing the vibrancy of a sector employing 300,000 people, as many as France’s automobile industry. Music alone generates €8.6 billion of revenue, underlined Gille. Culture minister Aurélie Filippetti describes MEDEF’s attitude as so aggressive “they want to kill culture.” Avignon Festival delegate director Paul Rondin denounced the new convention, signed between MEDEF and three unions on March 22, as “illusory savings” that “threaten the very existence of the intermittent system.”

A fourth union, CGT-Spectacle, led workers in months of protest since the March signing. At the last moment, a catastrophe on the scale of the 2003 summer season was averted by the Hollande administration’s willingness to renegotiate some of the terms of the convention. But, as we go to press, the dispute seems likely to flare up when talks are held again in the autumn…

For this story and more world music news, check out the forthcoming issue (October 2014, #103), on sale August 29

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