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Renewal in the French Trade Union Movement

A Grassroots Perspective


Heather Connolly

Drawing on ethnographic research in the breakaway trade union movement Fédération des Syndicats Solidaires, Unitaires et Démocratiques (SUD), this book explores broad questions of trade union renewal in France. The SUD movement emerged in 1988 with the avowed intention to revitalise French trade unionism. Since its emergence the movement has increasingly been cited as a prime instigator of social unrest in France. In a wider context of union decline in Europe, this research considers to what extent and in what ways SUD has been able to develop and sustain collective organisation, identity and mobilisation.
Research was conducted in a local-level union of SUD-Rail, a union which emerged in the French public railway sector in 1996 from an ideological split within one of France’s largest trade union confederations, the Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail (CFDT). From an ethnographic perspective, the book contributes a thick description of trade unionism at the local level and, drawing on social movement theory, analyses activists’ attempts to confront and renew practices and structures in trade unionism. The book evaluates the success of the SUD movement and the prospects for a more sustained renewal of French trade unionism.
Contents: Trade unions in Europe: From decline to renewal – The significance of the SUD movement for trade union renewal in France – Researching the social processes of unionism in France: an ethnographic approach – Industrial relations in the French railways and the emergence of SUD-Rail – Developing and sustaining participative democracy in SUD-Rail – Membership recruitment and replenishment of activists – Developing and maintaining links with workers – Constructing a militant identity and mobilising workers – The partial renewal of French trade unions caught between conflicting identities.