Workplace elections held at Ministry of the Economy

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Elections of employee representatives on the joint committees at the French Ministry of the Economy, Finance and Industry were held in December 2000 and January 2001. These elections are an important barometer of the support and representativeness of the various trade unions. The latest elections were particularly important since they followed the industrial action in early 2000 over a proposed reform of the Ministry. They produced some changes in the position of the major unions and also indicated a degree of fragmentation and dispersal, as well as polarisation between the Ministry's various divisions.

The Ministry of the Economy, Finances and Industry has one of the highest levels of trade union membership in the French civil service (close to 40%). Traditionally, Ministry of Finance civil servants have a high turn-out at elections of representatives to the Ministry's various joint committees (commissions paritaire). The unions with most support are CFDT, CGT, CGT-FO and the Federation of Independent Unitary Unions (Fédération des syndicats unitaires, autonome, FDSU). Support at the elections for the various unions in percentage terms has changed very little over the past 20 years. CGT-FO has traditionally been the dominant union in this sector, while support for CGT, which was strong in the late 1970s, has dwindled over the past 20 years. The independent brand of trade unionism of FDSU, represented by the National Unified Taxation Union (Syndicat national unifié des Impôts, SNUI), has grown over the years from a strong base in the Ministry's general taxation division. The other mainstream unions, CFTC and CFE-CGC, play a lesser role, while an increasing number of independent unions are attempting to find their niche on the margins of the representation spectrum.

The latest elections to the Ministry's joint committees - held between 5 December 2000 and 30 January 2001 - were of particular interest, as they followed the industrial action that took place in early 2000 over a proposed reform of the Ministry, which was finally shelved (FR0004157F). The elections ran, for the most part, true to form. They confirmed the previous trend of high voter turn-out, with close to 86% of staff voting in the Ministry as a whole and even higher rates in the Ministry's two major departments of taxation (89.6%) and public accounts (88.8%), which were at the heart of the industrial action in early 2000.

The standings of the various unions did not change significantly. The four largest unions took over 85% of the votes, but this was down from 87.5% in the 1997 election. Among the "big four," the order changed somewhat, even though gains and losses were minimal, at least among the three largest unions. FDSU scored 24.6%, up 1.3 points, and ousted CGT-FO from the number one spot. CGT-FO was indeed pushed into third place by CGT, a result that confirms the turn-around in the latter's electoral fortunes (22.4%, up 0.9 points). CFDT, with 16.5%, down 1.5 points on 1997, continued its slide that now puts it 6 points behind CGT-FO, which is now the third most supported union (22.3%, down 1.2 points). The other nationally representative unions fell back slightly - CFE-CGC lost 2.8 points and CFTC slipped from 4.4% to 3.7%.

The phenomenon of fragmentation and dispersal has continued with the emergence in some divisions of the Ministry of new unions, such as the Federation of Independent Finance and Industry Unions (Fédération des syndicats autonomes des finances et de l'industrie), affiliated to the National Federation of Independent Unions (Union nationale des syndicats autonomes, UNSA). This new cluster has split the independent unions, in particular, in the public accounts division. Several unions affiliated to Solidarity, Unity, Democracy (Solidaire, Unitaire, Démocratique, SUD) have emerged - especially in the customs division - which have refused to affiliate to FDSU, even though the latter is involved with other SUD-affiliated unions at the national level.

This overall trend can be tied into the industrial action that took place at the Ministry in 2000. Employees of the two divisions of the Ministry that experienced the most industrial unrest supported the majority unions: SNUI at taxation and CGT-FO at public accounts. However, CGT-FO slipped back 2.4 points in the taxation division to stand at 11.6% of the vote, while FDSU found it difficult to increase its support outside the taxation division (6.8% at public accounts, up one point). CGT made headway in all divisions while CFDT lost ground across the Ministry.

The overall picture is that while there is an increasing dispersion of votes, polarisation is setting in. FDSU and CGT have made significant gains, in the former case continuing a rise in support which has been witnessed for several years. CGT-FO and CFDT have dropped back somewhat. However, CGT-FO's loss of overall support has been offset by an increase in its dominance in the public accounts division. FDSU support is unevenly spread and is mainly concentrated in the taxation division (where it won 45.9% of the vote, up 1.7 points). This has hampered the organisation's ability to influence union policy on a Ministry-wide level.

With a forthcoming new reform of the Ministry is geared to "decompartmentalising" the activities of the main divisions, there is a very real prospect that the various unions may end up being concentrated in specific divisions.

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