The International Handbook of Labour Unions
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The International Handbook of Labour Unions

Responses to Neo-Liberalism

Edited by Gregor Gall, Adrian Wilkinson and Richard Hurd

Since the 1970s, the spread of neo-liberalism across the world has radically reconfigured the relationship between unions, employers and the state. The contributors highlight that this is the major cause and effect of union decline and if there is to be any union revitalisation and return to former levels of influence, then unions need to respond in appropriate political and practical ways. Written in a clear and accessible style, the Handbook examines unions’ efforts to date in many of the major economies of the world, providing foundations for understanding each country.
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Chapter 8: France: Union Responses to Neo-liberalism

Sylvie Contrepois


Sylvie Contrepois INTRODUCTION Despite the large victory of the left wing parties during the presidential national elections in 1981, the neo-liberal vogue spread very rapidly in France. Neo-liberalism is defined by Dumenil and Lévy (2001: 1) as the ‘ideological expression to the return to hegemony of the financial fraction of the ruling class’. It expressed itself through financialisation of the French economy, privatisations of large companies and deregulation of labour legislation. Significantly, as early as 1984, the freezing of public sector wages became an entrenched and firm policy (politique de rigueur), prompting the Communist Party’s ministers to leave the government, under pressure from its electorate. The shift towards neo-liberalism also affected the unions, which were increasingly becoming destabilised as a result of the weakening of the security of the labour force. Their place in the industrial relation system was directly challenged by a range of measures. The crises that they experienced during the 1980s and the 1990s placed them among the weakest of any union movements in Europe and created an abundant literature that explored the likelihood of their survival in a society more and more governed by neo-liberal concepts. A minority of analysts and commentators thought that they were simply destined to disappear under the tide of the neo-liberal onslaught. According to these analyses, the crisis revealed the ineffectiveness of the unions as ‘mediating bodies’ that had for a certain period usurped the sovereign power of citizens. Alternatively, others argued that the union decline was the result of...

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