It’s not like work in the 21st century means the same thing as it did in the 19th or the 18th. Still, there is powerful symbolism here in the half-naked man protesting labor “reform” in Paris. It’s hard to look at the figure in the AP photo, the man detained by riot police, without different metaphors of the worker, many historical, coming to mind. Think, the importance of a strong back. Or, “back breaking” work.
Today’s labor market and the types of tasks required of contemporary workers might not conjure images of strength or physical demand. Still, as President Hollande goes to war with unions and the rank-and-file to drastically erode rights and benefits, the nakedness and the prostration feels as apt as it is raw. It also puts the symbolism in a different frame. Like the working class believing that the government and industry wants nothing less than the shirt off its back. Or more relevant to the escalating crisis, the government seems intent on breaking the back of the resistance.
(photo: Laurent Cipriani/AP via Twitter. caption: “#France Riot police officers detain a man during a demonstration against the labor reform in #Paris.)