Accueil » 54-4 ( 1999) » SUD-PTT, un nouveau syndicalisme «politique» ?

SUD-PTT, un nouveau syndicalisme «politique» ?

Yvan Sainsaulieu


Le syndicat SUD-PTTest une scission récente (1989) de la CFDT, la deuxième centrale syndicale en France. Il est animé par une génération de militants marqués par Mai 1968, politiquement proches de l'extrême gauche. Mais ces militants sont aux prises avec une génération de nouveaux adhérents, dans un contexte d'urgence sociale. Idéologie et préférence partisane sont mises de côté au nom du pragmatisme, tandis qu'un sens élevé des questions transversales aboutit à un syndicalisme sociétal original, qui a fait école dans différents secteurs.


SUD is a very contemporary type of unionism : it rejects a single, general discourse in favour of a complex balance of cultural sensibilites and a range of policies, linked to each other simply by common themes; it is as much a "front" as an organization, a sort of organized front. Furthermore, it is a melting pot, in the sense that a wide range of concerns — political and social, qualitative and quantitative, materialist and post-materialist — are mixed together, as well as in the sense that the result is a common denominator : pragmatic militancy (contestation pragmatique).

This approach is obviously advantageous in terms of its openness and its integrative capacity. This is what explains the attachment of its members to a profile of pragmatic militancy, an economical profile in which there is an expectation of confrontations rich in different sensibilities, but which does not stand in the way of immediate action. In this manner, sudistetrade unionism is attractive more in cultural than ideological terms, for it provides each member with a meaningful experience without forcing everyone into the same mould.

SUD's attraction is due to its ability to provide for the coexistence of a range of union and political approaches, without, as yet, the appearance of any fault Unes creating internal divisions. In this context, the members are involved in a cultural experience of access to meaning, but the lack of a transformational project makes a long-term synthesis and mobilization difficult. There is no shortage of radical ideas and practices, but, in the absence of confederalization, these are in practice focused on a single occupational universe, thereby rendering inoperable the class radicalism that is sometimes expressed. Furthermore, these ideas remain wholly rhetorical or symbolic as they related to the wider society, where SUD claims to act more as a thorn in the side of the powerful rather than construct a new social project.

This lack of a social perspective highlights the limited progress made by the "militants of 68", whose original political posture was too dogmatic to lead to mass, open politicization, but was at the same time too diffuse.

The CFDT got around this problem by aligning itself with the non-communist left, distinct from the philosophical communism of the CGT. However, for radical trade unionism, this proximity helped to discredit the option of political action, leading in tum to the split that created SUD. But the focus on the defence of immediate interests means that this type of unionism tends towards a pragmatism that is at once reformist, routine and self-satisfying. In the long run, this can blunt its radical commitment to social transformation, as well as its innovative, critical and, indeed, irreverent practices.

Lacking a clear vision of its link to society, SUD-PTT is meanwhile unable to offer any ideas for reshaping trade unionism or the public sector, and so it falls back on emphasizing the virtues of pluralism and of the recourse to criticism to create the conditions through which an innovative organization can be built.

Like SUD-PTT, the CGT no longer has a social project, so much so that observers commonly contrast "the pragmatic exploitation of discontent with the elaboration of a social project."

As if to confirm this reading, the CGT has removed the reference to the "abolition of capitalist exploitation" from its statutes. It underlined that the paralysis of the confederation may prevent it from satisfying the aspirations of its young new members, who are "looking for dynamic organizations." We would also like to take the opportunity to qualify the term "pragmatic" that is applied to the militant trade unionism that we have examined. SUD-PTT profits from the dynamism of young, politically experienced leaders who head up a lean and relatively non-bureaucratie structure. In the opinion of even its fiercest adversaries, SUD-PTT "has a well structured discourse, plays the card of transparency, and has a demonstrated ability to produce analyses of the Telecomsthat appeal as much to managers as to the rest of the employees."1 An "old soldier of CGT-Poste" seconded this compliment in the following terms : "The SUD activiste, well schooled thanks to their involvement in the extrême left, are everywhere." SUD-PTT is certainly not short on ideas—about women, the Third World, Bosnia and Kosovo, unemployment, homosexuality, immigration, the class struggle, and the restructuring of firms in general and of the public sector in particular. Its links to the grassroots and the responsibilities in the ex-PTTs provide a degree of legitimacy to this ideological baggage. The CGT certainly cannot match SUD's ability to change direction or its reactive capacity, at least in qualitative terms. Moreover, the CGT's recent shift towards reformist trade unionism, its rapprochement with the government and its desire for social peace, leaves an opening that is waiting to be filled, especially in the public sector.

The PTTs therefore have an electoral terrain for trade union renewal, for a trade unionism that is neither too accommodating nor old-fashioned. This has allowed inventive and committed activists to create some manoeuvring room. More broadly, this raises the question of whether we are witnessing the emergence of a new model of militancy.


El sindicato SUD-PTT est un grupo que se separo recientemente (1989) de la CFDT, la segunda central sindical en Francia. Esta animado por una generaciòn de militantes marcados por los hechos de mayo de 1968, polìticamente cercanos a la izquierda extrema. Pero estos militantes se encuentran con el problema de la nueva generaciòn de miembros, en un contexto de urgencia social. Ideologìa y preferencia partisana se ponen de lado para favorizar el pragmatismo, mientras que un sentido elevado de las preguntas transversales acaba con un sindicalismo social original que se a convertido en escuela en varios sectores.