From Bargaining to Contentious Politics : Undestanding Change within Trade Unions. The Case of the French Confederation Force Ouvriere
Political science CERAPS/CRPS (CNRS) Lille, France
From Bargaining to Contentious Politics : Undestanding Change within Trade Unions
The Case of the French Confederation Force Ouvrière
Force ouvrière was born during the Cold War from a split of the communist-led Confédération générale du Travail. Like many other Unions in Europe and the whole world, its strategy was destabilized by globalization in the 1980s. The Confederation, that had promoted negotiation and compromise, progressively turned into dissent action and ideological critique. This transformation cannot be explained as the mechanical result of a change in the configuration of industrial relations or political opportunities. It can neither be understood as the consequence of a political plot led by a minority of radical activists - though it is, in France, the common interpretation. Our proposal aims at showing that one can make sense of that evolution by taking into account FO's organizational form, considering it as a universe of significations and practices.
Throughout an analyzis of organizational archives and interviews with actors, we show that union members had to accept and learn, at a wider level, new sorts of practices : developing a common sense of membership at an interprofessional level, demonstrating and competing in the street with other organizations, using discourse within the organization to confront ideas and strategies and not only to express consensus, homogeneizing the organizational image, linking that organizational identity to the affirmation of specific aims?
We thus show what a social trajectory of « radicalization » means from the actors' viewpoint, by stressing the breaks it implies amongst practices and representations. In the same time, we intend to point out the limits of this radicalization, by articulating those breaks with the continuity of the organizational and symbolic structures that bounds the « thought world » of those activists. Indeed, FO's "contentious" turn less contributed to homogenizing the organization in a radical way than developing the confederal scene as a setting for new sorts of activist commitment, beside negotiating technique.