Trends and Prospects in 34 Countries
Edited By Craig Phelan
Shifting Patterns in French Trade Unionism 159
SYLVIE CONTREPOIS 1 Shifting Patterns in French Trade Unionism 1. Introduction As a new century begins, French trade unionism seems to be in a period of convalescence. It is divided, it has been weakened by a sub- stantial drop in membership, and it has suffered a significant loss of influence throughout the 1980s and 1990s. It has therefore lost most of its capacity for action and opposition. It nevertheless remains a key negotiating partner for employers and public authorities, who en- deavour to develop and strengthen the structures of social dialogue. One notable consequence is that a large number of French experts now regard trade unions as a set of institutions integrated into the main mechanisms of society, and whose ambition is nowadays not so much to put an end to the relationships of exploitation and domination that legitimated their creation, but rather to sustain the existence of the elite who control them (Labbé 1997). Yet the evolution of union organisations has not followed a clear- cut path. Even at the height of crisis, unions undertook to adapt to the structural transformations taking place in the wage-earning class, and their endeavours have met with some success. Moreover, in an extremely unfavourable economic, social and political environment (Contrepois 2003), they have sought the means to maintain their capacity for autonomous action. The first part of this chapter is an account of the evolution of the French trade unionism, with an emphasis on the specific aspects of the industrial relations model to...
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