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Sarkozy in showdown with unions?

by Jerome a Paris Thu Jan 15th, 2009 at 05:00:25 PM EST

Sarkozy has had some extremely harsh words today against railway unions:

SNCF: Sarkozy s'en prend au syndicat Sud-Rail
"Je ne peux pas accepter qu'une organisation syndicale irresponsable casse le service public et bafoue l'intérêt des usagers du service public en fermant la 2e gare de France sans prévenir personne", a accusé jeudi Nicolas Sarkozy, désignant nommément le syndicat Sud-Rail.

Railways: Sarkozy attacks the "Sud" union
"I cannot tolerate that a union breaks public service and tramples riders' rights by closing the second railway station in the country ithout any warning", Sarkozy said, blaming the "Sud" union by name.

"Une organisation irresponsable essaie de tourner la loi, se moquant de son outil de travail, de la déontologie du service public" et porte "gravement atteinte à l'image d'une entreprises exceptionnelle", a-t-il accusé lors d'un déplacement à Vesoul (Haute-Saône). Il a évoqué des "images hallucinantes" et des usagers "pris en otage dans des conditions d'une violence inacceptable"."An irresponsible organisation is trying to go around the law, without any respect for its company's assets or public service ethos" and is "gravely damaging the image of an exceptional company," sarkozy said durign a trip to Vesoul. he evoked "unbelievable images" and users "taken hostage in conditions of exceptional violence"

So, what triggered such a scathing outburst?

A usual, he mixes several things. The Gare St-Lazare, the train station for Western Paris, was closed off yesterday afternoon because of a short-notice strike following an attack on a train driver earlier during the day. Such strikes (under a rule called 'droit de retrait', which is allowed when train workers are in a situation of "grave danger for their health or safety") happen each time a railway worker is so attacked; whether they are right or not is an issue that can be debated, but they are certainly not unusual. What was unusual is that the SNCF, the railways company, decided to close the train station (and all attendant traffic) completely for the afternoon, creating massive headaches for commuters stuck in Paris and other travellers.

The background for that one-day event is a strike in Gare St-Lazare - which is several weeks old, whereby train drivers go on strike for 59 mn in the morning (because strikes of less than 1 hour trigger only a loss of pay of one hour, and not the full day), thereby creating disturbances in service for the rest of the day. That strike is caused by a recent reorganisation of work and was, ironically, made possible by the government's recent decision to impose "minimum service" rules that reduce the right to go on strike (thus the 1-hour strikes).

"Sud" is a more radical union, that was created about 15 years ago when some of the existing railway worker unions were deemed to be too soft, but in this case, all unions are outraged by Sarkozy's comments, which, as usual for him, merrily mixes things that have nothing to do with one another: he's blaming the one-hour strikes for closing down the railway station, when they have little to do with one another; also, he's calling unions' actions illegal, when they are anything but, all in order to take advantage of the media noise around the station closure - and it of course helps that the Gare St-Lazare is mostly linked to well-off suburbs.

His language is unusually blunt (talk of "unacceptable violence" is rather aggressive: there was no damage to travellers beyond the inconvenience of not being able to take trains for a few hours and having to find alternative transportation - admittedly something that can be annoying or even mess up your day, but hardly 'violent') and suggests that he'd like to be seen as entering into a direct conflict with the railway unions, of course with the goal of being seen as the man who "broke the unions."

As I've noted before, railway workers, given their strategic position, and their relatively safe jobs, have become a de facto proxy strike representative for the wider French work force, which is almost not unionised and mostly unable to fight for its rights. Railway workers are those that make global strikes visible, and they are most often on strike for country-wide topics - and thus their actions are generally well tolerated and indeed mostly supported by the population, even as it inconveniences commuters (indeed, French people usually make a clear distinction between strikes with a wider purpose and strikes where they fight for their own working conditions, which are much less tolerated). Recent 'reforms' have tried to chip at their right to strike via changes to their work organisation, an attempt to mix the local and the general (ie the reforms appear to change their work conditions, but really limit their ability to participate to wider striked; protesting against such changes can thus be painted as a less popular categorial strike.

It's not clear yet where Sarkozy is going with this now. He forced the SNCF boss to apologize publicly on national TV, and to reimburse commuters for their monthly passes, and his words quoted above suggest he might want to push on with this fight; on the other hand, he's been trying to avoid anything that could fan the flames of social unrest, given the current context of crisis, so this may be yet another case of shooting from the mouth. But it should be followed closely.


Display:
with better knowledge of this (linca, melanchthon, others?) to comment and correct me if I got this all wrong.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Jan 15th, 2009 at 05:01:47 PM EST
as you say are more popular in France than strikes for gains of the striking workers, are illegal in Germany.

Der Amerikaner ist die Orchidee unter den Menschen
Volker Pispers
by Martin (weiser.mensch(at)googlemail.com) on Thu Jan 15th, 2009 at 06:39:52 PM EST
Jerome doesn't say "strikes for political change", he says railway workers

have become a de facto proxy strike representative for the wider French work force, which is almost not unionised and mostly unable to fight for its rights

In other words, employees in sectors where union representation is weak (SMEs in particular) find that their own rights are better respected when unionised sectors like the railways take strike action, and are therefore inclined to accept or even support such strike action.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 02:32:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
employees in sectors where union representation is weak (SMEs in particular) find that their own rights are better respected when unionised sectors like the railways take strike action, and are therefore inclined to accept or even support such strike action.

I beg to disagree. It is right that many employees in non-unionised sector understand and sometimes support employees from unionised sectors when they go on strike for good reasons, because they would like to have the same opportunity to fight. However, that doesn't mean railways workers' strikes are representing others workers' interests by proxy. This narrative is merely promoted by some organisations in order to justify unpopular strikes.

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 03:58:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, I was expanding on Jérôme's view in opposition to Martin's interpretation of it.

But I think you should consider the situation of employees in small to middling enterprises (about half of private sector employees in France, I think) who may feel that, when the public sector unions are capable of showing their teeth, that has an effect on the employee/employer balance of power that they themselves are tributary to. That is (or has been over several decades) a widely-shared perception. And one that may not be entirely mistaken, in my view.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 05:35:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't disagree on the fact that SMEs' employees feel sympathy for the workers who can go on strike when they themselves can't. What I question is the "by proxy" idea. I think that, unfortunately, the strikes in the public sector have little impact on the employer/employee relationship in the public sector. A good example is the case of the reform of the retirement scheme in the private sector.    

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 05:47:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What happens is when you have reforms of national import (say, a change to the retirement age that applies to all), unions will call for a strike or a day of demonstration, where all workers are invited to participate, but the reality is that the majority of those that do participate are the workers in public service jobs or in a few still heavily industrialised old industry. and what makes the strike most visible is if it is accompanied by reduced public transport service because everybody is forced to notice it.

So the train workers are fighting for their own interests, just in a context where these interests are impacted by wider decisions, not just decisions from their employer.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 04:31:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I understood it in that way.

In Germany striking to undo a change to the retirement age that applies to all is illegal, if the retirement age is set by the parliament and not an issue of a direct contract between employers and employees.

Der Amerikaner ist die Orchidee unter den Menschen
Volker Pispers

by Martin (weiser.mensch(at)googlemail.com) on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 08:09:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
my original post wasn't clear.

The things that affect workers across branches are usually political. E.g. for wage settlements contracts can have only symbolical effect cross branch.

Der Amerikaner ist die Orchidee unter den Menschen
Volker Pispers

by Martin (weiser.mensch(at)googlemail.com) on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 08:30:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I was particularly shocked by how it was reported on France Info (someone was driving me back from Clamart and happened to be listening -so maybe it's their daily routine to report things like that, but since I hadn't heard the stating in months I was rather surprised).

It was claimed to be facing huge fury by the commuters. Which may be, but well, I've seen strikes going on for much longer than that without having such an extreme unpopularity. My impression was that they picked the three most virulent people and quoted them like it was a nation-wide statement.

On the other hand, I didn't hear or read much from journalists stating the obvious : that Sarkozy's statements are lies (to claim that Sud closed the station is preposterous -as if they had the ability to do so), designed to be extremely provocative, totally out of bounds (the violence bit particularly)...
As ever, a Sarkozy's statement is mere display that he is among the 10 000 least qualified people in France to hold his job.

But, hey:
"I cannot tolerate that a political party breaks public service and tramples voters' rights by closing the rule of law in the country without any warning", allegorical figure Marianne said, blaming the "UMP" party by name.

"An irresponsible organisation is trying to go around the law, without any respect for its country's assets or public service ethos" and is "gravely damaging the image of an exceptional country," she said during a trip to Vesoul. She evoked "unbelievable images" and Democracy "taken hostage in conditions of exceptional violence"

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 02:39:17 AM EST
I think there are a number of things in Sarkozy's communications choice here.

One is that he systematically occupies the media cycle. This is probably what he's best at as a political leader. And filling up the media space, imposing on the media the rhythm he sets, often means just communicating, being there in front of the TV cameras and the mics and appearing angry, active, in perpetual movement. And changing the subject often enough that people don't get round to talking or thinking about anything else.

Next, what he and his team are good at is identifying issues. The stuff he communicates on needs to press buttons, to stir controversy, to hit a painful spot, to touch right on a split or contradiction in society, and all the better if he can take a provocative angle on it, if he can demonise a supposed enemy, in this case an "extremist" union. So he is constantly firing off squibs that very often stir up populist feeling in the cause of the policies he really pursues, that are not beneficial to the lower strata of society at all. Faux-populist Demagoguery For Dummies, Chapter One, perhaps, but he does it very efficiently.

In this case (and for several months now, it seems to me) he is feeling his way with some hope towards a showdown with public sector unions, or, if not a showdown, a new status quo in which they occupy a weaker position. The contradiction he is exploiting, the split he is working to enlarge, lies in the decline of the old feeling of solidarity between workers in non-union private sector jobs with the public sector unions that could act, as you say, as their proxy. The way to work on it is to emphasize the difficulties encountered by the users when public services are interrupted: parents have to take a day off work to look after their kids when teachers strike, commuters have to wait for hours for public transport to and from their jobs, etc. Twenty-thirty years ago, more women were at home to absorb this kind of difficulty; there are now far more women at work, and they bear the brunt of public service interruptions since they have to combine a job with dealing with the kids' schooling and putting food on the table.

The St Lazare situation has been building up commuter frustration for some time now, and Sarko has something to surf on. It's easy money for the media, too: just send a journalist with a microphone and collect the angry words, pick a bunch of them that make it look like there's a revolt on its way, these are stories that work. It seems to me women have been more virulent than men of late (in strike situations including teachers), and I've certainly heard "I understand why they're on strike, I'm not against the right to strike, but this is impossible, it's just impossible".

That's what Sarko is building on. What he wants to make of it is to weaken the unions, limit the right to strike, and thus be able to pursue his reduction of the public sector and public services agenda. Which is not at all in the interests of families with children at school, or workers who commute by public transport.

It's fairly predictable he'll succeed in the current environment. The political opposition is, to say the least, not on its toes. The unions are not particularly smart about communications, and users really do come up against surliness and lack of information during strikes. Perhaps a strike has to do some harm for the employers to take some notice of it, but the unions are missing a whole communications game imo. The national railways SNCF have a terrible labour relations history, but who knows that half the problem is the management that is anti-union and obdurate by tradition? The unions should be thinking of ways to get across that the management is to blame when the situation becomes so extreme there are strikes. At the moment, only the unions are to blame, according to public opinion.

Above all, we need political and union action on new and ambitious themes. The unions are right jobs are constantly being suppressed, and that this is bad for public service. But they should be talking about the need for major public investment in rail, and not just high speed: a huge extension of rail-based public transport around cities like Paris, for example, (but not only), where SNCF has been content for years to let the network crumble in obedience to the trains must die so cars can live ideology that permeates the decider class in so many (all?) of our countries.

No need to tell you where Sarkozy stands on this.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 04:03:26 AM EST
But it's been hard for unions to do anything but be on the defensive, over the past 20 years, given the overall context (neolib propaganda and "reform", with big French companies quite actively in the lead there) - protecting what exists is not and was not a ridiculous strategy, even if it offers few attractive prospects.

Also, trying to win a PR war against Sarkozy is always going to be a tough exercise, in the best of times.

On the other hand, the coming crisis is possibly going to make people more open to listen to those that are at least doing something to protect them.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 04:27:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The PR problem stems, imo, from years of not facing it.

As for a major, political-party and unions together, project for public transport, two or three times over thirty years that I've been able, in conversation with rail union members, to suggest that they should be plugging such a project, be identified with it in public opinion, I've come across blank stares and incomprehension. Even they had assimilated the concrete, cars, trucks, and planes agenda, and were simply concerned with holding on to what they had left in their small corner. That's a failure of their leadership, and more broadly of the left in general.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 05:22:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not sure he'll succeed. As a short term strategy, he will, but I don't think he's counting on what the change in the economic circumstances will bring, and given current political institutions in France are systematically incapable of addressing those circumstances, he'll find that he is on the wrong side of history.

At rush hour in Paris, it could be Mother Theresa holding up traffic and a Parisian would find a way to find her a ticket to hell, that is predictable. But old media, and Sarko's deft use of it, is increasingly less relevant for larger segments of the population. The information disintermediation isn't just an American phenomenon, and I suspect, in destroying more or less credible State media, Sarko is hastening it. (And helping RTL along the way, like in the old days.)

The good news is that, in a recession, media concerns are sytematically put in a nasty position, and many (especially print) were already under pressure, so the decredibilisation of old forms of media would have accelerated on its own.


The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 05:11:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You're right, of course, that the evolution of the crisis is the unknown that may change everything. I was evaluating the state of the communications game as it stands.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 05:27:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think that the economic and social crisis will have huge effects on the French industrial relations system. There are two possible strategies for the government: either they try to foster social dialogue and build national and local pacts (employers, unions and public authorities) to save employment, develop skills and raise the workers' purchasing power, or they try to use the crisis to break the unions and impose "reforms". It looks like Sarkozy is adopting the latter.

I agree with you: it is not sure he will succeed. And Sarkozy is a pragmatist: if he faces strong opposition from the unions and the civil society, he will backpedal...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 06:10:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's a great comment afew. You should transcribe it in French, cut it down a bit, and send it to the French newspapers; and why not send it to the English papers as well.

Hey, Grandma Moses started late!
by LEP on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 05:35:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, LEP. Unfortunately I must now get on with other work, but I might do something with it later.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 05:47:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As always, my experience, though anecdotal, was to have my questions answered by a very obliging young man at the train station Cannes. 30 minutes later he noticed me reluctant to enter a train which was incorrectly tracked, and told me to get on.

Just sayin'

Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge.

Frank Delaney ~ Ireland

by siegestate (siegestate or beyondwarispeace.com) on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 06:53:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Also, a tangent to another post about the unions communications.

There was a one page, small print write up in French detailing the reasons for the strike. (I think that the PACA region strike is different than the Paris strike.)

It was too detailed, I think for anyone, and certainly for my French (and there were quite a number of english speakers on that train.)

In a hearts and minds war where the enemy has the press in his pocket, this isn't going to work.

Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge.

Frank Delaney ~ Ireland

by siegestate (siegestate or beyondwarispeace.com) on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 07:15:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's worth noting that there is an international right-wing meme here.

In the UK (where the public sector unions are relatively weaker) the focus from the media has been on "public sector pensions."

Huge, repeated waves of stories are put out attacking the security and relative size of public sector worker pensions compared to private workers whose pensions are increasingly being (quietly) defaulted on by corporations.

Instead of holding the corporations responsible, or asking questions about the whole structure of the pensions system, or indeed about the huge pensions that private sector top managers seem to get the focus has been on trying to set private workers against public ones...

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 02:34:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
that public pensions are where they are (slighlt better, and safer) as a trade-off for lower pay during most of the work life of the public sector workers. It was the deal from the beginning, and public workers can be understnadably miffed that they have done their part of the deal (work 40 years at pay below what they could have gotten in the private sector with the same qualifications) and now the quid pro quo is cancelled...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 05:16:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, this is true only for the high level civil servants. The vast majority of civil servants earn more than private sector employees.

Apprendre avec l'INSEE - Salaires par CSP et sexe

Salaires nets annuels moyens en 2006 en euros
en équivalent temps-plein

  Secteur privé et semi-public Fonction publique
  Femmes Hommes F / H %* Femmes Hommes F / H %
Cadres 37 917   49 304   77 27 581   33 839   82
Professions intermédiaires 21 787   24 782   88 21 943   23 927   92
Employés 16 019   16 983   94 18 143   18 756   97
Ouvriers 14 529  17 480   83
Ensemble 20 201   24 902   81 24 574   28 417   86

* Y compris les chefs d'entreprise salariés.
** Rapport du salaire féminin sur le salaire masculin en %

DADS 2006 , INSEE : chiffres clés - secteur privé et fonction publique

Then, you have to distinguish between three categories of civil servants: state , hospitals and local administrations (municipalities, départements, regional councils...). For state and hospitals, salaries a higher than in the private sector. For local administrations, salaries are at the same level or a little under the private sector.

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 06:27:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The same table, only ten years ago, would have shown the opposite. It's not that public sector workers are so well paid: it reveals the damage on private sector wages.
by Bernard on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 07:05:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
that's the absolute wrong conclusion. Public sector workers earn less at a given qualification leve - but as the average public servant has higher qualifications on average (on account of all those teachers, mostly), the gross average is higher in the public sector.

The weighted average would not be. You should not be making such a simple confusion (which is, incidentally, a typical rigt wing talking point).

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 07:38:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There is no confusion. Please look at the data by category in the table. Teachers are counted in the professions intermédiaires category, where the net salaries are more or less the same in the public and private sector.

It is important to look at the net salaries, because civil servants pay less for health protection and pension.

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 09:17:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
People with qualifications to become secondary school teachers would have usually applied for cadre-level  employment in the private sector, not profession intermédiaire...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 04:52:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Also, do these data take into account that the typical public sector employee is quite older that the typical private sector employee, in France ?

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 04:55:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But a typical left wing talking point is that payment for qualification level is an absolutely fair, equitable and objective basis for determining remuneration.  But why should a train driver with an honours degree be paid more than a train driver who hasn't got one?  The qualification has to result in extra productivity or quality of service for it to be an acceptable proxy for productivity, quality or value.  

Yes - in Ireland civil servants spend their live doing courses and obtaining qualifications at public expense.  It is a form of "knowledge capitalism" where the knowledge is used for private gain but not necessarily to improve the quality/efficiency of any work done.

The notion that qualifications automatically entitle you to higher pay/preferment is a peculiarly middle class conceit IMHO.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 09:27:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
just a French one.

It's similarly true in the private sector (maybe even moreso) that your diploma drives your earnings and your career prospects. That's how France works; this is not at all a talking point of anybody.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Jan 19th, 2009 at 05:45:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Changed "aggression of" to "attack on".
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 04:19:59 AM EST


In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 04:23:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There are several issues. First, the fact that the regional railway network's organisation is so complex and tight that this kind strike (59 minutes) wreaks havoc in the traffic for the whole day. So a very small loss for the employees leads to a strong effect on the users' lives (with the logical political consequences). This creates an incentive to go on strike for all kinds of reasons. In that case, the railway users were furious because they hadn't been informed about the strike in advance.

And don't tell me railways employees' strikes are defending other employees' interests by proxy (see my comment above): as far as I know, none of their strikes has resulted in improvements in other employees conditions...

SUD is an extreme-left union that exists almost exclusively in the public sector. It never takes part in social dialogue and collective bargaining. One must understand that this rakes place within the framework of the French industrial relations system. In this system, when a collective agreement is signed by a union (and not opposed by unions representing a majority of the employees), it applies to all the employees of the company/sector, regardless they are unionised or not. So it is easy to voice radical positions and benefit from the results of bargaining by other, more moderate unions...

And, yes, Sarkozy is jumping on this opportunity created by a relatively unpopular strike to push his anti-union agenda. More generally, I am worried by the nomination of Brice Hortefeux as Minister of Labour. Xavier Bertrand, even if he was in line with Sarkozy, was very knowledgeable in the field of labour and social affairs and had maintained the dialogue with the unions. I fear Hortefeux is going to adopt a much harder line...

And yes,

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 04:35:48 AM EST
But, it never takes part because it is not at the table, not having been recognized by the state as on of the five unions which are considered legitimate representatives of workers.

In other words, you appear to make it that SUD does not by choice participate, but rather, the fact of the matter is that they are not allowed to participate.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 04:47:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It was only at national and sometimes sectoral level that only the "five unions which are considered legitimate representatives of workers" you're mentioning used to be allowed to participate. At company (or organisation) and local level, other unions (like UNSA, FSU, SUD, or FGAAC for SNCF...) could be legitimate and participate in bargaining.

This has changed with  the law of August 2008. Now, any union is legitimate in a company provided it has obtained at least 10% of the votes in the professional elections (or 8% of the votes in a sector). This will induce big changes in the unions strategies (and probably some unions will merge).

 

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 04:58:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Understood, but even before, if a union had the support of its workers like SUD-rail has in the SNCF, the direction was anyhow often forced to deal with it, de facto representativity.

But, I was responding to your comment that SUD was not at the bargaining table. When it wasn't, it wasn't by generally by choice but because it wasn't invited.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 05:00:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
galleries regarding how "radical" and "unrepresentative" SUD is for other workers, the fact of the matter is that in Proud'homale elections just last month, they well more than doubled their previous score. The other solidly left union, the CGT, also progressed well in those elections, the other more "reasonable" unions declining.

Also, SUD's railway worker affiliate, SUD-Rail, is the second biggest union in terms of representation, so if they are supposedly so out of step, it might be surprising that almost 20% of railway workers opted for them (CGT, old-left but still solidly on our side, largely continuing to dominate at 50%, the softer unions picking up the rest.)

The right to strike is a more and more important right given that democratic institutions develop sclerosis, and roughly 1 in 5 french have their views more or less completely ignored by the current political process. That Sud-rail continues its industrial action is important in this regard; this is real, not show-boat action like the "one day strike parade" actions the others tend to engage in, and it is unsurprising that they are picking up support (see prud'homale results) for it.

Given what appears to be coming on the economic horizon, now is not the time to be on the fence. SUD clearly is not on the fence. Nor is Sarkozy.

Those who are will, I suspect, find themselves less and less credible.

And, as usual, the PS is nowhere to be found.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 04:57:39 AM EST
The "Prud'homales" elections are a very poor way to measure unions' legitimacy. First the participation rate is very low: in 2008, less than 26% of workers voted. Second, it is biased, because almost only workers in the big companies and the public sector vote. Very few SME's employees participate in it.

Actually, union leaders are aware of it and the Prud'homales results are not used to measure unions representativeness.

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 05:09:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ahhh, but which union leaders are we talking about?

I can tell you the CGT guys in my town may be aware of the low participation rate, but they were not aware that this discounted the scale of the historic progress they made last month.

I suppose 28% is a low score for such an election but then, that would make any American mayor or major party Presidential nominee illegitimate as well...

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 05:14:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
which union leaders are we talking about?

That includes CGT leaders at national level I talked to (at regional level, too).

Its is not surprising that the unions that gained in these elections use this "success" for PR, and I don't blame them for that. But that says nothing about the significance of these results in terms of legitimacy, especially given the strong bias in favour of public sector and big companies.

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 05:28:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And I should use this as an opportunity to point out to all that, given your unique position, you really do have something more than any of the rest of us in terms of insight into what this means both in terms of future indsutrial relations and in terms of what the leadership are thinking.

I hear bloviators (rank and file) at the bar down the street from my place, and I do recognize the difference.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Fri Jan 16th, 2009 at 05:51:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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