The August 2003 heatwave resulted in an additional 15,000 deaths in France, mostly among the very old. In the aftermath of the disaster, an annual Solidarity Day (Journee de Solidarite) was introduced as part of the reform process. By cancelling a public holiday, the French government sought to raise 2 billion euros to finance healthcare for the elderly and disabled. The first such day in May 2005 led to confusion, with opposition from unions, demonstrations by public sector employees and considerable uncertainty among the workforce as to its legal status. This article seeks to analyse this public policy experiment through the lens of Marcel Mauss' theory of gift and reciprocity, exploring potential normative justifications for the French state's organisation of the day-and therein the constraints-while examining the moral and political obligations placed upon workers, the elderly and the Republic through the engineering of collective solidarity. It seeks to test the relevance and limits of the gift cycle as a tool for contemporary political and social analysis of the modern welfare state.
- FRENCH HEATWAVE