Prospects of change following intense social mobilisations

In May 2009, following a call by eight trade union organisations, thousands of demonstrators came together in major French towns or took different forms of action in companies to call for measures to promote employment and income. The trade unions called on the employers to assume their responsibilities and commence bargaining on issues such as safeguarding jobs, improving the distribution of added value and profits, and promoting young people’s employment.

A few weeks after the joint trade union mobilisation on 1 May 2009 and the European demonstrations in mid May (EU0906029I, BE0906019I), all of the eight French trade union organisations called for another day of action on 26 May. The joint call for further mobilisation was made by the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (Confédération française démocratique du travail, CFDT), the French Christian Workers’ Confederation (Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens, CFTC), the French Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff – General Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff (Confédération française de l’encadrement – Confédération générale des cadres, CFE-CGC), the General Confederation of Labour (Confédération générale du travail, CGT), the General Confederation of Labour – Force ouvrière (Confédération générale du travail – Force ouvrière, CGT-FO), the Unitary Union Federation (Fédération Syndicale Unitaire, FSU), the Independent Union – Solidarity, Unity, Democracy (Union syndicale – Solidaire, Unitaire, Démocratique, SUD) and the National Federation of Independent Unions (Union nationale des syndicats autonomes, UNSA).

Joint trade union demands

The trade unions’ reasoning for the demonstration on 26 May 2009 concerned the same issues as for the previous demonstrations on 29 January (FR0902029I), 19 March and 1 May; all of these demonstrations calling for greater government action to tackle the social and economic crisis mobilised between 452,000 and 1.3 million people. Meanwhile, the eight trade union organisations carried out different kinds of decentralised actions in companies, reiterating their demands that the government ‘should put labour issues at the heart of its economic policies’. They demand that the government should:

  • raise minimum pay (FR0805049I), minimum social benefits, retirement and other pensions, and link any public aid and reductions in social contributions for companies to measurable compensatory measures regarding employment, qualifications and remuneration;
  • implement an ambitious plan for promoting the employment and qualifications of young people;
  • prolong benefits for jobseekers who have come to the end of their benefit right, and give employment centres (Pôle emploi) (FR0902049I, FR0905029I) the necessary resources to provide jobseekers with personalised assistance;
  • abolish tax exemptions for overtime and the tax shields for wealthier people (FR0709019I), as well as making stock options contribute to solidarity measures, and devoting these new resources to funding social measures;
  • abandon planned civil service job cuts in 2009 and 2010, and undertake measures aiming to reduce job insecurity and respect commitments regarding pay bargaining.

Unions call for changes in corporate policy

The trade unions also addressed their demands to the employers, who should ‘at last assume their responsibility and embark on bargaining’ on:

  • pay policy, industrial policy, job creation in industry sectors, and also on the relationship between contractors and subcontractors to maintain and increase employment, as well as to reduce job insecurity;
  • easier access to short-time working for everyone (FR0905029I), and increasing the duration and level of payment for this form of work, combined with offering training options to enhance qualifications;
  • sharing and redistributing added value and profits generated by companies (FR0905019I), increasing pay and reducing inequalities, particularly between women and men, recognising qualifications, and using public aid to promote employment;
  • measures promoting young people’s employment allowing for their sustainable social and occupational integration;
  • improving and respecting trade union rights, as well as employee representative bodies (institutions représentatives du personnel, IRP) (FR0808029I).

Defining common bargaining roadmap

On 27 May 2009, the Movement of French Enterprises (Mouvement des entreprises de France, MEDEF) received all five representative trade union confederations in order to define the topics of the various discussions and bargaining rounds, which were to be launched in the following weeks. Following the publication of the ‘Cotis report’ on the distribution of added value and profits, and the pay gap in France (FR0905019I), the government gave the employer organisations and trade unions until 15 July to come forward with proposals on how to improve the current situation.

So far, the employers have refused to deal with this topic, as it is not part of their roadmap of issues to be tackled, which includes the following:

  • provisions regarding access to short-time working;
  • developing employability;
  • mobility;
  • employment of young people;
  • rendering career paths more secure;
  • establishing links between unemployment insurance and the system of solidarity for long-term unemployed people.

Further mobilisations in light of rising unemployment

All eight trade union organisations announced another big day of demonstrations throughout France on 13 June 2009 – at a time when economic and social indicators did not make it possible to forecast any rapid improvement of the situation. In April, the number of jobseekers exceeded the 2.5 million mark, which corresponds to an increase in their number of almost 25% over one year. The National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques, INSEE) forecasts that the unemployment rate will exceed 9% by the end of the second quarter of 2009. Meanwhile, the group of minimum wage experts are likely to advocate an increase of the statutory national minimum wage (salaire minimum interprofessionnel de croissance, SMIC) of about 1.25% this summer.

Benoît Robin, Institute for Economic and Social Research (IRES)

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