Exploring union renewal in France: an ethnographic study of union activists in SUD-Rail
Connolly, Heather Margarita
This thesis considers the nature and extent of union renewal in France through an ethnographic case study of the breakaway trade union movement 'Fidiration des Syndicats Solidaires, Unitaires et Dimocratiques' more commonly known as SUD. \ud The research was conducted in a local level union of SUD-Rail, a union which emerged in the French public railway sector in 1996 from an ideological split with one of France's largest trade union confederations, the Confidiration Franqaise Dimocratique du Travail (CFDT). As with other SUD trade unions, SUD-Rail emerged with the stated aims to renew and revitalize French trade unionism. In the context of trade union decline and even 'crisis', this research considers to what extent and how the union was able to extend its membership base, replenish activists, maintain links with workers and develop and sustain collective organisation, interests and identity, in spite of the external and internal constraints. The research presents a thick description of trade unionism at the local level and the findings show how activists make attempts to confront and renew existing practices and structures in trade unionism. \ud Overall, the evidence suggests that, in support of existing research on SUD trade unions in various sectors, there has been a partial renewal of trade unionism in the railway sector from the emergence of SUD-Rail. SUD-Rail has been able to influence the industrial relations context and challenge existing trade union identities, practices and organisation. The union has been able to organise previously unorganised workers, replenish activist members and combine an engagement in local as well as more global issues. The research demonstrates how this was achieved through a continuous set of frame alignment processes where activists sought to legitimise and encourage some level of support in the union. However, this research brings to light the tensions in the approach adopted by the SUD unions. To an extent the union could be seen to be reproducing features of the very form of unionism that it sought to confront, including low membership levels and tendencies towards institutionalisation and bureaucracy. This research shows that there are limits to renewal and revitalization which reflect the context of industrial relations and traditions in trade unionism in France. However, they also reflect the universal and perennial dualisms within trade unionism between democracy and bureaucracy and between movement and organisation. This research has shown how these tensions are dealt with in the day-to-day of activities in SUD-Rail. \ud This thesis contributes an in-depth study of the social processes of developing and sustaining trade union renewal in France. The research develops the union renewal debate by helping to further understand how the choices and actions of actors mediate and influence the processes towards building and sustaining collective organisation and identity. The thesis demonstrates the utility of the framing processes concept for organising and analysing the ways in which collective interests and identity are or are not developed and sustained, which has important implications for the prospects of building and sustaining trade union renewal.
Warwick Research Archives Portal Repository (http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/2852/1/WRAP_THESIS_Connolly_2008.pdf)