Accueil » 50-3 ( 1995) » L'influence des institutions sur l'action syndicale durant la crise de la construction navale en France et au Québec

L'influence des institutions sur l'action syndicale durant la crise de la construction navale en France et au Québec

Reynald Bourque


Cet article traite de l'influence des systèmes nationaux de relations industrielles sur l'action syndicale dans la construction navale en France et au Québec durant la période de crise des années 1970 et 1980. Nos analyses révèlent que malgré la convergence des revendications présentées par les syndicats en France et au Québec pour atténuer les effets de cette crise sur l'emploi, les actions mises en oeuvre par les organisations syndicales dominantes dans les chantiers navals français et québécois sont de nature et de portée substantiellement différente.


This article deals with the influence of national industrial relations institutions on union action in the French and Quebec shipbuilding industries during the 1970s and 1980s. Our central thesis is that, to a large extent, legal and institutional structures determined the scope and nature of labour responses to managerial policies and practices during the crisis faced by the shipbuilding industries in the two countries beginning in 1975.

The analysis reveals that the decline in both production and jobs during that period elicited similar demands by unions for employment protection in both French and Quebec shipyards. However, union approaches to the ensuing conflicts over employment protection were very different in the two countries. The institutional framework of industrial relations, specifically the rules relating to the status and role of labour unions, and the legal framework for collective bargaining and dispute resolution, had a decisive influence on the range of options avallable to unions in the two countries.

The conceptual framework used to compare the determinants of union action in the two countries is based mainly on the theoretical contributions to the comparative analysis of industrial relations made by Dunlop (1958) and Poole (1986). The empirical evidence shows that, while the positions and proposals adopted by unions at the local and national levels were quite similar in the two countries, the points at issue and the conduct of conflicts in the shipyards were very different. In French shipyards, management attempts to reduce the labour force in a situation of declining production were generally opposed by all the unions present at the local level and very often culminated in work stoppages intended to modify or diminish the effects of job suppression. In contrast, in Quebec shipyards, the right of management to lay off workers and to reduce the labour force is usually recognized in the labour contract and conflicts thus related to monetary issues and job flexibility rather than to reduction of the work force.

The institutional framework of union action appears to be an important determinant of the level, focus and issues of labour conflict in French and Quebec shipyards. Our main conclusion is that union action is largely determined by the rules defining the identity and rights of the actors directly involved in the industrial relations System at different levels of interaction. Such action is also strongly influenced by the rules governing the interchange between employers and unions in the course of collective bargaining and industrial conflict. These rules are, according to Dunlop and Poole, the major factor in the continuing diversity among industrial relations Systems.