Text: Laury-Anne Cholez
Translated by Connie Chow-Petit, excerpted from Socialter Magazine, Hors Série issue – Le guide des travailleurs indépendant 2019.
In the suburbs of Lyon, the La Myne laboratory welcomes researchers, engineers and entrepreneurs to experiment and invent. And fight against the precariousness of the self-employed through an innovation of their own accord: a Community permanent contract.
The Myne begins with an enigma. Usually, to understand the nature of a place, you just have to look at its website. But this time, the videos and presentation articles only reinforce its mystery. Is it a co-working? A research laboratory? A third place? A Hacklab? All at once? “We are in a friendly home that connects people together, with the opportunity to experience all kinds of things,” says Connie Chow-Petit with her light Canadian accent from Calgary. With her partner, Benjamin, she is a member of the Historic Mynnois, a community of 300 to 400 members scattered throughout France. The place thus stands out in the current third place ecosystem. First of all by its premises: a pavilion from the 60s nestled at the bottom of a lane in Villeurbanne, just next to the University of Lyon. On the outside, nothing distinguishes it from his neighbours. Except for the little sign “La Myne” for “Manufacture des idées Nouvelles et des Expérimentations”. Inside, the staircase wall is lined with photos of community members. Almost gender parity, often young, mostly white. “There is a real socio-economic diversity in our country. We made an effort from the beginning to proactively seek out different people. Among our members, there is a person who joins the suited MEDEF and the dog punks,” says Benjamin Chow-Petit. You’ll have to take his word for it: no ties or canines were seen during our visit.
A great roommate of inventors
Between 30 and 40 people regularly meet here, in the former lounge converted into a co-working space. Across the way, in the shared kitchen, two large, slightly worn sofas and a coffee table serve as a dining room for community lunches. On the menu today: rice with peppers, pasta, salads, melon and chocolate mousse. All this mainly comes from recovery stock while waiting for the permaculture garden, under construction on a neighbouring plot, to feed the entire clique. On a window edge, a beautiful spider weaves its web in complete tranquility “because it is biodiversity”. We are far, far away from the aseptic co-working that houses an army of bearded startups in plaid shirts. Here, the atmosphere is more like the great sharing of students/engineers/inventors. “Sometimes we have CFOs from big companies who come for an appointment and don’t really know how to behave in a place like this. Last time, the president of the Order of Chartered Accountants, dressed in his suit, had to jump over our gate because the door was stuck,” Benjamin laughs. But the clothes don’t make the man. Or rather, the original decoration in no way presumes the professional qualities of the members of the Myne. Benjamin insists on the 30 to 40 annual scientific publications written by members. With others, he is working on the very serious food project in Lyon, which is responsible for determining how to secure the food supply for the city’s one million inhabitants. Their laboratory was also selected as an incubator for French Tech in 2017 on the themes of energy, cleantech, and cultural and creative industries.
Geo Trouvetou’s lair
Institutional projects thus coexist in harmony with more alternative experiences. The garden level of the house is designed to be able to test, tinker, and invent. The garage gathers a bric-a-brac of all kinds of digital objects, which fill the walls from floor to ceiling. It is the fiefdom of the Atelier Soudé, an association that fights against programmed obsolescence by repairing objects. In the adjacent room, Benjamin exhales from a cupboard a jar with a rather unattractive content: bacteria and yeasts of kombucha, an acidic drink, used to create durable and compostable fabrics. “Imagine if you add graphene to it, it could become a conductive material,” Benjamin explains. To get a glimpse of the extent of the possibilities, you should consult the Myne directory. Some are working on “hackuaponia”. Others are creating evolving bio-inspired furniture (TreeCoach), experimenting with citizen capture of air pollution data (Kuuki) or creating a network of free hosts (IndieHosters). However, it is impossible to make a precise inventory of what occupies the days of our Geo Trouvetou. First, because researchers have rubbed up against it without success. Secondly, because the Mynois prefer to leave the field of possibilities open so that all those wishing to experiment feel welcome. “We cannot communicate on a common reductive message, because some may feel excluded. Anyone is legitimate to represent the Myne. And if it turns out in retrospect that the message delivered was not the right one, we advise,” Benjamin continues.
The Community permanent contract: an innovative employment contract
If members refuse to allow themselves to be locked up under a simplifying label, it can still be said that all share notions of benevolence, open-mindedness, creativity and experimentation. And to fight against the precariousness of self-employed workers. To do this, la Myne has devised an innovative employment contract: a community permanent contract. It is supported by OxaMyne, a partnership with a business cooperative called Oxalis. It is a cooperative that aims to experiment with new legal and labour law tools. “On the one hand, freedom is often synonymous with precariousness. On the other hand, job security puts a lot of pressure on one and the same person. Our idea is to create a permanent contract that is not attached to a single person, but rather to a role and a function. It is thus carried by a group of several people,” says Connie. This type of contract offers several advantages. For the company, first of all, which can develop the position according to the needs of the project. It can also attract certain profiles of high-level independent consultants who do not necessarily want to be employees and who can take advantage of the concept to co-opt juniors, who would never have been able to obtain such a position due to lack of experience. As for the beneficiaries, they can access the benefits of the community contract, rely on the help of their network and contacts in order to collectively distribute the responsibility. This is a departure from the hierarchical archetype of the classic company. But allocating responsibilities requires a high degree of rigour in the sharing of knowledge. The members of la Myne have thus set up a whole series of collaborative tools allowing permanent and precise information feedback. And are considering other innovations to improve the working conditions of self-employed people. “We are working with the National Agency for the Improvement of Working Conditions to take care of the quality of life in general. Because I think you can be precarious and happy,” says Connie.
Through the wide open windows of the house, we hear the sounds of jackhammers cracking the bitumen a few dozen metres away. This is the work for the construction of the new heating system for the expansion of the university. The Maison de la Myne was pre-empted by Greater Lyon and will have to be demolished to make way for the future buildings of the “innovation axis”. “We don’t really know what it is yet,” Benjamin admits. “What is certain is that La Myne will certainly have its place there.” A place perhaps, but certainly not in this form: a shack in its own juice, with walls full of ideas and mantras, open to all. “We’re thinking with an architect about a system to put the house under a large glass roof,” dreams Benjamin. A protective bell to protect a real UFO from the innovation that fights against the individualism of freelancers and the impoverishment of creativity.