Accueil » 73-3 ( 2018) » Hommage à Jacques Bélanger/A tribute to Jacques Bélanger

Hommage à Jacques Bélanger/A tribute to Jacques Bélanger

Gregor Murray, Gilles Trudeau et Christian Lévesque

Résumé

C’est avec tristesse et désarroi que nous apprenions, le 28 juin 2018, le décès de notre collègue et ami, Jacques Bélanger. Comme bien des lecteurs et des lectrices de la revue RI/IR le savent, Jacques Bélanger fut un professeur titulaire renommé du Département des relations industrielles de l’Université Laval, un contributeur fréquent à RI/IR, et le codirecteur et cofondateur du Centre de recherche interuniversitaire sur la mondialisation et le travail, le CRIMT.

Intellectuel brillant, théoricien novateur, pédagogue chevronné, comment, dans un espace si restreint, donner un juste aperçu de ce que Jacques fut et de son immense contribution à la recherche et à l’avancement des connaissances sur le travail humain dans ses multiples déclinaisons ?

Jacques Bélanger, chercheur de réputation mondiale, est toujours demeuré profondément attaché à ses origines et à Saint-Vallier de Bellechasse, son village natal. Son penchant pour les activités intellectuelles, combiné à ses performances toutes relatives dans les travaux manuels, l’a toutefois destiné aux études universitaires plutôt qu’à la ferme familiale. Il les entreprit à l’Université Laval, à Québec, où il compléta son baccalauréat et sa maîtrise en relations industrielles. Reconnaissant l’étudiant remarquable qu’il était, l’abbé Gérard Dion, alors fondateur et professeur éminent du Département des relations industrielles, le convainquit de s’inscrire au programme de doctorat de l’Université Warwick, en Angleterre. C’était en février 1978.

Ses études doctorales ont profondément marqué Jacques Bélanger, ainsi que le cours de sa carrière universitaire. À l’époque, les programmes doctoraux anglais n’offraient aucune scolarité, et ne reposaient que sur l’élaboration d’un projet de recherche qui devait, ultimement, mener à une thèse de doctorat. Mais comment développer un projet de thèse quand on n’a encore jamais réalisé une recherche ? Dans la meilleure tradition empirique britannique, et face à cet étudiant manifestement studieux, mais dont la connaissance de l’anglais était moins que rudimentaire, son directeur de recherche de renommée internationale, le professeur Hugh Clegg, l’envoya dans une fonderie du Black Country, près de Birmingham, un des berceaux de la révolution industrielle. C’est certainement de là que l’anglais impeccable de Jacques tire ses origines. Partant de cette première expérience, et dans l’ambiance de recherche en relations industrielles à l’Université Warwick qu’il a tellement appréciée, Jacques a mis à l’épreuve une approche ethnographique qui a caractérisé les recherches si originales qu’il a conduites par la suite.

Jacques voulait comprendre les stratégies des acteurs, convaincus de la cohérence de leur raisonnement, en dépit et à cause des facteurs contingents et structurels qui contraignent ou qui facilitent leurs actions. À ses yeux, la mondialisation de l’économie n’était pas surdéterminante; elle permettait plutôt aux acteurs de développer de nouvelles stratégies dans un contexte globalisé, d’où sa passion à découvrir ces stratégies « sur le terrain ». L’originalité et la nature de sa démarche intellectuelle ressortent bien des ouvrages suivants, qui figurent parmi les plus marquants : Workplace Industrial Relations and the Global Challenge (1994), Being Local Worldwide (2000), Work and Employment Relations in the High-Performance Workplace (2002) et L’organisation de la production et du travail (2004).

Sa contribution à l’analyse des fondements du conflit et de la coopération dans la relation d’emploi ainsi qu’à l’étude des formes de résistance et de consentement des travailleurs et des travailleuses en milieu de travail est indéniable. Son apport à la compréhension du fonctionnement des firmes multinationales est reconnu internationalement. Avec des collègues britanniques, canadiens et irlandais, il a amorcé, au milieu des années 2000, un vaste projet de recherche sur les pratiques de gestion de l’emploi des filiales des firmes multinationales. À terme, neuf équipes, composées de chercheurs et chercheuses provenant d’autant de pays répartis sur quatre continents, participeront à ce projet. À partir de ses nombreuses enquêtes de terrain, Jacques a aussi contribué à l’essor de la recherche comparative en relations industrielles au Canada, et a incité de nombreux jeunes à suivre son sillon.

Abstract

A Tribute to Jacques Bélanger (1952-2018)
Our reaction to news of the death of our dear colleague and friend, Jacques Bélanger, on 28 June 2018, was one of deep sadness and dismay. As so many RI/IR readers will know, Jacques was a distinguished Professor in the Industrial Relations Department at Université Laval, a frequent contributor to RI/IR, and the co-director and co-founder of the Interuniversity Research Centre on Globalization and Work, the CRIMT.

Jacques was a brilliant intellectual, innovative theorist and accomplished teacher. In the few words permitted here, we can only provide a glimpse of his multiple contributions to research and the advancement of knowledge across diverse aspects of contemporary work and employment. Despite his international renown, Jacques Bélanger was profoundly attached to his origins and, in particular, to his birthplace and village of origin, Saint-Vallier de Bellechasse. His predilection for scholarly activity, as well as his evident lack of interest in the manual work required on the family farm from where he hailed, predestined an academic trajectory. He commenced his studies at Université Laval where he completed his BA and MA degrees. Recognizing his remarkable potential, the Abbé Gérard Dion, founder and guiding light in the Industrial Relations Department, convinced Jacques to undertake his doctoral studies at the University of Warwick, starting in February 1978.

Thus began an experience that would profoundly affect Jacques Bélanger’s entire university career. At the time, in the best of British traditions, doctoral students were simply thrown into the deep end of the research pool. With absolutely no course work on offer—the only requirements being a research proposal and the final thesis—how was a student even to start such a journey? Drawing on the finest empiricist traditions, and having to contend with this altogether serious student whose knowledge of English could be generously described as rudimentary at best, his supervisor, world-renown scholar Professor Hugh Clegg, dispatched Jacques to a foundry in the Black Country somewhere beyond Birmingham, one of the cradles of the Industrial Revolution. From this experience, Jacques’ impeccable command of English was forged. Indeed, from these initial workplace encounters and in the supportive industrial relations research environment that he so cherished at Warwick, Jacques Bélanger was to develop a rigorous ethnographic approach that would guide his research methodology for decades.

Jacques sought to comprehend actor strategies, convinced of the coherenceof their reasoning, in spite of and because of the contingent and structural factors likely to constrain or facilitate their actions. In his eyes, the globalization of the economy does not unduly determine what happens in workplaces; rather it gives rise to new actor strategies. Jacques’ passion was to discover these strategies as they are applied in workplace settings. The originality and the methodological rigour of this intellectual trajectory is well reflected in a series of books he coauthored: Workplace Industrial Relations and the Global Challenge (1994), Being Local Worldwide (2000), Work and Employment Relations in the High-Performance Workplace (2002) and L’organisation de la production et du travail (2004).

Jacques made a significant contribution to the analysis of the foundations of conflict and cooperation in the employment relationship through his studies of forms of resistance and consent on the part of employees in their workplaces. He was also a trailblazer in the analysis of multinational firms. For example, with British, Canadian and Irish colleagues, Jacques initiated in the first decade of this century a vast research project on human resource practices in the subsidiaries of multinational firms. Over a decade, nine national teams on four continents participated in this project. Drawing on his multiple field studies, Jacques also greatly stimulated the development of comparative industrial relations research in Canada, thus exerting a huge influence on generations of younger scholars.

Jacques was profoundly attached to his alma mater, the Department of Industrial Relations at Université Laval. He returned there in 1980, after two and half years at Warwick University. This was still a time when a young professor could teach by day and complete his thesis at night. Jacques taught at Laval his entire career where he was valued as a passionate and dedicated teacher. Always driven by intellectual curiosity and the desire to kindle this curiosity among his students, Jacques mentored many to the completion of their MAs and PhDs. A large number of his students went on to have distinguished careers in universities and elsewhere.

Jacques Bélanger was a generous and inspiring colleague. He was always motivated by collective projects rather than individual careerism. He thought of the production of knowledge in industrial relations as a collegial endeavor, based on fruitful exchange and collaboration between those from different countries and disciplines. Using this philosophy, in the 1990s, he played a leading role in the development of a multidisciplinary research team comprised of a diverse group of scholars who shared an interest in the regulation of work in a globalizing economy. His initial group was comprised of researchers from Université Laval, Université de Montreal and HEC Montréal. This was the beginning of a formidable and enduring intellectual adventure, giving rise in 2002 to the creation of the Interuniversity Research Centre on Globalization and Work, the CRIMT. Until quite recently, Jacques was still a co-director of CRIMT, along with Professors Gregor Murray and Christian Lévesque.

So many of us have been affected by Jacques’ intelligence, his analytical rigour, his critical take on the world, his intellectual and pedagogical devotion, his devastating yet subtle sense of humour and, above all, his deep humanity in recognising the capacity of each individual to improve their lot, be it in the workplace or beyond. Now that Jacques is no longer with us, we have a chance to turn our attention away from the terrible illness that led to his premature death. Today we celebrate the person that he was and, for us, will always remain. Jacques was inspirational in so many ways. We owe him an immense debt for his legacy.

As for the signatories of this tribute, not only have we lost a highly valued colleague, but we have also lost an irreplaceable friend. That he lives and will continue to live in our memories is therefore all the more precious for those who have known him over so many years.