French Socialism and the Transformation of Industrial Relations since 1981

  • Chris Howell


This chapter describes and explains the transformation that has taken place in French industrial relations during the Mitterrand era, and discusses some of the consequences for workers and trade unions in France. It will be argued that the nature of French industrial relations, or what I term labour regulation,2 characterized for the bulk of the post-war period by a heavy emphasis upon legislation, weak trade unions inside the firm, and very poorly-developed firm-level collective bargaining, has given way in the 1980s and 1990s to a more firm-centred system of industrial relations. There is a growing disjunction between highly politicized but weak national trade union federations on one hand, and more quiescent and autonomous enterprise unions, representing workers inside the firm but not beyond its boundaries, on the other. However, while labour is weak in the sense of having limited collective resources outside the firm, it is organized within the firm. The emerging form of labour regulation can be termed microcorporatism, because, in Wolfgang Streeck’s memorable phrase, it encourages ‘wildcat co-operation’, in the form of a firm-level bargain, akin to corporatism, in which wage and work flexibility is traded for job security.3 Labour regulation in France was particularly vulnerable to this mutation, and the Auroux reforms of the first Socialist government, allied to the economic conditions of the 1980s, and the transition from a Fordist to a post-Fordist economy (see Chapter 8) encouraged this shift.


Migration Economic Crisis Europe Income OECD 


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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1996

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  • Chris Howell

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