Encyclopedia of Contemporary French Culture

By Alex Hughes; Keith Reader | Go to book overview

U

unions

France is one of the industrialized countries with the lowest level of unionization, and the unions are divided, particularly at political level. Nevertheless, their influence is considerable and they play a far more important political and social role than the low number of cardholders would seem to indicate.

The first trade union 'confederation' was the CGT (Confédération Générale du Travail), launched in 1895. Since then, unions have become embedded in the institutional framework as a 'social partner' to employers' associations and government, and they are one of the main channels for the resolution of conflicts in society. The right to belong to a union is written into the Preamble to the French Constitution, as is the right to strike. It is a long way from the past: during the nineteenth century, attempts to form workers' associations were severely repressed, and it was only after a long struggle that limited rights to form associations were won in 1864, and full rights recognized in 1884. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the CGT was the only 'confederation' (except the far smaller Christian CFTC), but it divided after the break-up between Communists and Socialists in 1920. In 1936, the two CGTs re-merged, but in 1947, with the Cold War starting, a strong minority split up to form the social democratic CGT-FO (later the FO, the Force Ouvrière) supported and funded at first by the United States, with the CGT increasingly under Communist influence. This was not the only split. In 1964, a majority of the CFTC, now a large 'confederation', decided to shed the religious dimension of the union, and became the CFDT (Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail), with a minority continuing the CFTC. Therefore, there are four main 'confederations': CGT, CFDT, FO and CFTC. But if that is not complicated enough, there is also a 'confederation' for middle management, the CGC (Confédération Générale des Cadres), and a number of independent, professionally based unions, for instance in education (FEN and FSU), in the police, etc.

This fragmentation appears disastrous, given that less than 8 per cent of the workforce hold a union card. Some sectors are well unionized (such as education and public transport), but others have only a residual membership (like trade and tourism). Membership has fallen steadily since the 1970s, as traditionally unionized industries suffered from the economic crisis, and the sociopolitical climate of France changed. Resort to strike action has become less frequent: between 3 million and 5 million work days were lost through strike in the 1970s every year, under 1 million since the late 1980s, and just under half a million in 1994. However, some national conflicts, such as those which occurred at the end of 1996 in protest against social security reforms and threats to public sector employment, still attract strong support.

The main 'confederations' also achieve much

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Encyclopedia of Contemporary French Culture
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface x
  • Introduction xi
  • Acknowledgements xiii
  • Classified Contents List xiv
  • A 1
  • Further Reading 3
  • Further Reading 13
  • Further Reading 18
  • Further Reading 26
  • Further Reading 27
  • Further Reading 30
  • B 44
  • Further Reading 66
  • Further Reading 70
  • Major Works 79
  • C 85
  • Further Reading 91
  • Further Reading 99
  • Further Reading 111
  • Further Reading 113
  • D 135
  • Further Reading 144
  • Further Reading 150
  • Major Works 152
  • E 168
  • Further Reading 194
  • F 197
  • Further Reading 200
  • Further Reading 207
  • Major Works 214
  • Further Reading 245
  • G 252
  • Further Reading 279
  • Further Reading 280
  • H 283
  • I 290
  • Further Reading 297
  • J 302
  • Further Reading 303
  • Major Works 307
  • K 310
  • Further Reading 317
  • L 318
  • Major Works 324
  • Major Works 325
  • M 350
  • Further Reading 352
  • Further Reading 354
  • Major Works 364
  • Further Reading 379
  • Further Reading 380
  • N 388
  • Further Reading 397
  • O 401
  • P 404
  • Further Reading 419
  • Major Works 424
  • Q 449
  • R 450
  • Further Reading 462
  • Further Reading 469
  • Major Works 470
  • Major Works 472
  • Further Reading 474
  • S 478
  • Further Reading 484
  • Further Reading 508
  • T 515
  • U 540
  • V 544
  • Further Reading 549
  • Further Reading 554
  • W 555
  • Further Reading 560
  • X 568
  • Y 569
  • Index 572
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