A Striking Display of Naked Anger Threatens France’s World-Famous Summer Festival Season

French Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti was confronted by a striking display of naked anger this week when nude performers, technicians and other casual workers in the French arts world physically confronted her as rolling strikes threaten thousands of lucrative French summer festivals.

Nude seasonal workers in theatres and summer festivals demonstrate naked anger during a visit to Guise in norhtenr France by French Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti (Credit: Twitter)

Nude seasonal workers in theatres and summer festivals demonstrate naked anger during a visit to Guise in northern France by Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti (Credit: Twitter)

The nude demo achieved maximum media coverage just as was intended (see video) and served to highlight the ballsiness of some 250,000 seasonal performers and technicians angered by changes to their pay scheme and cuts in unemployment insurance arrangements which provide security during non-performing periods.

Government, under pressure from Brussels, whose popularity in France has clearly diminished sharply, as the recent European parliamentary elections showed, seeks to make savings of €160 million a year via its proposals to reform the special social security system that applies to these workers.

The video below shows the naked protesters confronting the Culture Minister: Aurélie Filippetti prise à partie par des… par UnionArdennais

President Francois Hollande’s Socialist government faces a wave of other unrest.

Railway unions have launched a rolling strike, now in its third day, to protest a startling plan to reorganize national rail operations (see a full explanation here by Gilles Saint-Paul, a Professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure and Paris School of Economics).

Taxi drivers also joined a one-day demonstration that clogged Paris and major European capitals, in an effort to halt competition from chauffeured cars using mobile phone technology to beat licensed cab restrictions.

The early stages of the summer festival programme — a jewel in France’s cultural and tourism crown – has already faced severe disruption following actions by the seasonal workers or intermittents as they are known, which resulted among others, in the cancellation of opera performances at a four -week Montpellier festival, the partial calling-off of a flamenco event in Paris and interruption of the opening of the Rio Loco Latin American festival in Toulouse. Last year the Toulouse festival, which ends June 15, attracted a record 125,000 visitors. Also affected was Theatre Festival d’Anjou Plessis-Macé near Angers where strikers forced the cancellation of the opening night.

Worse lies ahead if a government mediator — rejected as ‘inappropriate’ by strikers — fails to resolve the conflict.

Among the thousands of summer season events under threat are the internationally famous Avignon Theatre Festival, which draws an audience of tens of thousands each year and is set to run from July 4 to July 27.

RFI Radio France International reported: “Performers and technicians are threatening to escalate the strikes if a planned agreement is officially signed at the end of June. ‘If the state approves the March 22 agreement, we reserve the possibility to apply our right to strike from July 4 and the government will take responsibility for the consequences’, artists and technicians at the Avignon festival said in a statement”.

If mediation fails France could face a repeat of the 2003 fiasco when earlier reform efforts resulted in massive disruption of the festival season and saw the Avignon event cancelled for the first time ever. Olivier Py, Avignon festival director, said it would “probably be cancelled” if the strikes went ahead as “no festival can run without performers and stage hands.” avignon threatened by stagehands strike According to La Provence newspaper: “The Aix Music and Opera Festival and the Marseille Dance Festival are also at risk if the conflict is unresolved. The 66th edition of the Aix opera festival is due to open on July 2 with Mozart’s Magic Flute. Some 686 performers and technicians are involved in this €23.5mn Festival which in 2013 attracted 83,600 music lovers”.

Currently 20 festivals of contemporary music (Eurockéennes, Vieilles Charrues, Garorock, Marsatac…), staffed by 5,000 seasonal workers are demanding the reforms be suspended, while private and public organisers and producers of the festivals are calling for a “moratorium” until September 1, Liberation reported.

According to the French Federation of Music Festivals Fédération française des festivals de musique et du spectacle vivant, Languedoc Roussillon in the PACA region is the leader in terms of numbers of French summer festivals staged, which include of course famous cultural landmarks such as opera and classical music at Aix and Orange, theatre at Avignon and Jazz at Marseille and Nice.

The FFFMS, which covers 68 major classical music festivals across France told French News Online, “Paca Region alone stages some 2000 festivals in the summer representing the greater part of the countrywide programme followed by Bretagne, Rhone Alpes, Paris closely followed by Midi-Pyrénées.. There is no central coordinating structure that offers an overview of the status and number of festivals held in France but there are according to FFFMS “literally thousands staged across the country every summer”. A recent European study on the arts and cultural impact of summer festivals — Music festivals, a changing world can be found here.

According to Le Parisien: The unionised and non-unionised seasonal workers involved are threatening to derail France’s summer festivals, starting with Avignon if the negotiations over their employment conditions collapse: 150 backstage crew and performers at Bastille Opera have declared solidarity with the cause and already delayed performances of “La Traviata” at the Bastille Opera .

A new day of action is scheduled for Monday, June 16, with a march from Place du Palais-Royal in Paris as the union representing the protesters’ calls for more walkouts. The Socialist government says it is open to dialogue. Its spokesman Stéphane Le Foll said “the existing system” was “not being challenged. We are open to dialogue, the current system is guaranteed,” the minister said. Earlier Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti, announced a “tripartite dialogue between government and the social partners, initially scheduled for the Autumn would be brought forward to “early summer.”

Meanwhile the CGT-Spectacle union announced that so far some thirty events and theatre companies, festivals, locations had been affected by strike action.

The video report below from Itele.fr describes the impact the dispute could have:

Intermittents : menace sur les festivals d’été – Le 08/06/2014 à 08:41

The special regime for technicians performing and visual artists and allied seasonal workers subjected to short-term contracts covers nearly 110,000 beneficiaries, and has 255,000 contributors.

Those covered must have worked 507 hours over 10 months each year to receive an allowance for the period when they are out of work. The proposed changes to the scheme, designed to save €160 million a year, would mean the affected workforce would pay more social security contributions (up from 10.8% to 12.8%), and no longer earn wages and benefits over and above €4380 gross monthly, against a previous level of € 5,475.

Story: Ken Pottinger

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