In France, trade unions were legalised in 1884, but developed very slowly. Trade unions have never enjoyed phenomenal support in France as in the post-war period approximately 35% of workers belonged to a trade union as opposed to a mere 8-9% nowadays, which is by far the lowest proportion amongst the highly industrialised countries.
It has been noticed that since the 1970s there has been a drastic and significant drop in trade union support. It is also true that trade unions in most other European countries have suffered a decline in support and effectiveness, but the French case is most striking. Despite the difficulties arising from the contemporary situation of French society making it problematic for trade unions to find the required support, they still manage to be influential in certain fields and at particular moments of crises.
[...] Political influence Politicians need representatives to discuss with and the only ones they can find are trade unions so they just address them and as trade unions still claim they represent the working class they are considered to be the most effective agents in shaping the attitudes of the working class. Trade unions are thus influential and important because they remain the safest way to get to the employees and are the only agency supposed to really represent the working class and there is no competing organisation. [...]
[...] The disappearance of the classes ouvrière for a myriad of reasons was a great blow to trade unions as this was the class, which was most supportive to them, explaining the considerable loss of support noted for trade unions. Deunionisation coincided with the decline of industrial workers, including foremen and technicians, and more commonly the métallos (steel workers, metalworkers, workers in heavy machinery and electrical manufacturing and aviation workers). They formerly constituted the nucleus of trade unions and thus when this group of workers declined, so did trade union support. [...]
[...] Nonetheless, the disappearance of these individuals, and the creation of smaller groups in the workplace able to obtain collective goods such as salary increases, improvements in hours and working conditions and so on is more effecting than in larger groups (Olson's theory) and reduces the influence and need to affiliate with a trade union explaining their decline. The political context also contributes to the “désyndicalisation” One of the key problems with French trade unions is their affiliation to political parties and the fact that workers do not like this as they feel their trade unions were not independent. [...]
[...] There was also a period to 1986, where it appeared that trade unions were dictating policy to the government in power, the period is often called République des professeurs”. This was due to the extraordinary teacher representation amongst deputies and ministers. In conclusion, there is no doubt of deunionisation concerning French trade unions caused by internal problems with the construction and ideologies of these groups, as well as political, economic and cultural contexts. However, they do continue to exerce influence, especially in periods of crises such as Mai 1968 where it is estimated the strikes peaked with some nine million persons involved. [...]
[...] Although this helps the creation of jobs, trade unions cannot agree to this and so there is greater distance between social democratic parties and trade unions as the latter cannot afford to be considered as co-responsible for the failures of these parties' policies. Trade unions could not define themselves as opposition groups if they were publicly consorting with the government. In this way, the government and politics have created an unfavourable situation for trade union recruitment and support. In response to the growing resentment and hostility of managers to negotiate with trade unions, the socialist Minister of Labour implemented the Auroux laws in order to provide legislative support for trade unions. [...]
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