ABSTRACT

Trade unions were legalised in France in 1884. This followed years of repression after the Chapelier Law of 1791 outlawed all associations of employers and employees, in the name of individualism and economic liberalism, in the aftermath of the 1789 Revolution. The development of trade unions was, however, slow even after legality, for a combination of reasons. First, the slow industrialisation of France resulted in a weak and scattered working class – more often than not working in small rural industries – that was difficult to organise collectively. Where trade unions were established, they met with the hostility of the state and employers, reinforcing a tendency to see society in terms of a class struggle. Weakness and radicalism were mutually reinforcing, and divisions over ideology, strategies and tactics soon surfaced in the face of an intransigent employer class backed up by the state. Of these divisions, the most basic and durable have been those around religion, with the CFTC being established in 1919 as a Catholic alternative to the CGT, and those separating communists from non-communists. Thus, again, FO was established in 1948 in reaction to increasing PCF influence in the CGT. Added to this, the CFDT emerged from the CFTC to provide a ‘third way’ between the bureaucratic state socialism of the PCF-CGT tandem and the welfare statism of reformist unions and political parties. As the main organisations recruiting members across the economy, these unions have been in competition amongst themselves, and with occupation-based unions, resulting in a divided and numerically weak trade union movement.