Managing Modern Capitalism: Industrial Renewal and Workplace Democracy in the United States and Western Europe

By M. Donald Hancock; John Logue et al. | Go to book overview

10.
The Rise and Fall of Autogestion in France

BERNARD E. BROWN

Worker participation in French enterprise before the victory of the left in 1981 was practically nonexistent. Enterprise committees (comités d'entreprise, or CEs), created after World War II, devoted themselves almost entirely to external activities (travel, holiday, cultural, and educational programs). Trade unions vied for control of enterprise committees, whose sizable budgets offered opportunities for employment of union militants and shaping of working class culture. But enterprise committees did not share meaningfully in management.

It was the intention of the leftist government in 1981 to change this situation by transforming authority relations within enterprise. Democracy was to be extended into the economy through two channels: expression groups and expanded managerial powers for enterprise committees. A series of four laws was enacted in the latter part of 1982 mandating the creation of expression groups in all enterprises employing more than 200 people and conferring new powers upon enterprise committees. Within three years (when the laws were reviewed, amended, and definitively enacted by Parliament) the climate of labor-management relations had indeed been changed significantly. However, the goals of the left in 1981 were not attained. The structures of workforce participation have come largely under the dominance of management, rather than of workers or their unions. Priorities established for industrial policy (especially the need to compete more effectively in the global economy) prevailed over the demand for economic democracy. The outcome of the attempt to introduce worker control in France highlights the importance of underlying political factors.


THE CRISIS OF THE POSTWAR ECONOMIC MODEL

After World War II a national consensus emerged: that the survival of France in a dangerous world required rapid economic modernization, and that the business class was incapable of doing the job. Compared to other major Western nations, French enterprises were small, underfinanced, and family-owned or managed. The policy worked out under Charles de Gaulle's provisional government--then continued in the Fourth Republic, and reinstituted in the Fifth Republic (with some variations under Georges Pompidou and Giscard d'Estaing)-- was to make up for the deficiencies of French capitalism through a vigorous state.

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