The following article was first published as the editorial of workplace bulletins distributed by members of L’Etincelle (The Spark) faction in France.

June 26, 2017

Heat waves like last week’s – which hit 66 departments for several days – may happen more often in the coming years, because of global warming. So we might learn a few things from that one…

“Situation under control”: really?

Despite multiplying alerts, the authorities have insisted that everything was all right. No increase in mortality rate in retirement homes, unlike in 2003 when 15,000 old people died prematurely. Hospitals didn’t reach their bursting point, despite and increase of 30% in emergency admissions. Lifeguards even agreed to overtime so swimming pools could stay opened longer. Were it not for the people who opened fire hydrants, all would have been hunky dory…

Really? Then why were students brought to hospital, as in Nersac? Why did the father of a one and a half year old kid waiting for a liver transplant reported to a newspaper that there was no fan in the kid’s room when the temperature reached 35°C? Not to mention that pollution dramatically increased in large cities such as Paris, Lyon, or Grenoble…

“You are too hot? You still have to work”

…summed up L’Usine Nouvelle, a business magazine. Indeed, a lot of our coworkers had fainting fits, for instance at PSA Caen, with management doing little to help except for distributing bottles of water, which sometimes weren’t even cold. Not to mention construction sites.

In offices, things weren’t that much better. The Part-Dieu business tower in Lyon lost its air conditioning three weeks ago, and windows cannot be opened. Only Orange moved its 360 employees… thinking that would be cheaper than a productivity loss. The other 800 employees in the tower, working for smaller companies, were left to fight over fans in the neighborhood supermarket.

In the France Bleu Champagne-Ardenne radio station, the temperature was between 35 and 50°C depending on the room, and even reached 80°C next to computing servers! One employee fainted before the station suspended its broadcasts.

While employers must take precautions to avoid the ill effects of heat, there is no legal temperature beyond which work must stop.

Don’t give us too much heat…

There were reactions at places were workers had organised. Bus drivers protested in Meaux and Nantes after temperatures behind the wheels reached 50°C. Six bus drivers in Nantes made an impression when they skirted the ban on wearing shorts by… wearing skirts. Small world: at the same time, British schoolboys, also prohibited from wearing shorts, did the same. FYI to those who dream of bringing back school uniforms: you might very well trigger a rebellion!

Especially in schools where it’s hotter inside than outside for lack of insulation: “They tell me to close the shutters. We don’t even have shutters!” complained a school director about the advice she received from her line managers. In Nîmes and Avignon, primary school teachers and parents organised protests together.

…or there will be hell to pay

From cars to factories breakdowns, from offices to construction sites transformed into ovens, the heat wave highlights a set of policies ranging from public sector cuts to exploitation for profits. There is no lack of solutions. Will global warming heat up social rebellion? Hopefully. The historian Michelle Perrot has shown that in 19th century France strikes occurred more in the summer. Some traditions should be kept up…