International & Comparative Labor Workshop
February 26, 2008
Chris Howell, Professor of Politics, Oberlin College, Presents
"The Transformation of French Industrial Relations: Statism in a Post-Dirigiste Era"
When: Tuesday, February 26, 2008, 4:30 p.m.
Where: ILR, 215 Ives Hall
Beneath the surface of social protest something quite fundamental has changed in the regulation of class relations in France. This paper explores two paradoxes of the transformation of the postwar system of French class relations. First, a dense network of institutions of social dialogue and worker representation has become implanted in French firms at the same time as trade union strength has declined. Second, the transformation has involved decentralization and a relaxation of centralized labor market regulation on the part of the state, yet the French state remains a central actor in the reconstruction of the industrial relations system. The paper argues that institutional reform of industrial relations became a precondition for economic restructuring.
However, reform could not take place without the active intervention of the state because employers and trade unions alone were unable to create durable industrial relations institutions. Successive French governments sought to permit greater flexibility as long as its introduction was negotiated. However, negotiation requires someone to negotiate with, and the collapse of trade unionism meant the need for new actors on the labor side. Only the state could both create and confer legitimacy upon those new actors. The result has been a transformation in the landscape of French industrial relations, and the emergence of a dizzying array of new forms of labor representation.