Accueil » 53-1 ( 1998) » La régulation paritaire du changement à l'épreuve de la mondialisation

La régulation paritaire du changement à l'épreuve de la mondialisation

Christian Lévesque et Gregor Murray

Résumé

La mondialisation n'est pas un phénomène qui détermine la capacité de régulation des syndicats à l'échelon des établissements. Son impact ne peut être saisi qu'à travers les dynamiques sociales propres aux milieux de travail touchés par le changement. Cet article identifie les conditions et les ressources associées à la régulation paritaire des changements et évalue en quoi les exigences de cette régulation dans les milieux de travail fortement intégrés à l'économie mondiale diffèrent de celles qui caractérisent les milieux de travail moins orientés vers les marchés internationaux. Nous concluons que le syndicat plus exposé à l'économie internationale doit faire preuve d'une plus forte capacité d'action pour assurer sa présence dans le processus de régulation.

Abstract

Globalization and the Joint Regulation of Workplace Change

The suggestion that globalization has altered the balance of power between unions and management has become commonplace. Faced with increasing capital mobility, downsizing, outsourcing and pressures for workplace change, it is argued that unions at the local level have little choice but to accept workplace changes initiated by the employer. This weakening of union power, it is suggested, is attributable to two factors: the imperative of competition, which is driving contractual concessions and more flexible working practices; and the greater leverage available to multinational firms vis-à-vis local unions. It is not obvious, however, that the power of a local union is inversely proportional to its degree of exposure to the international economy. The capacity of the local union to influence workplace change is not simply the result of globalization. First, employers may include or exclude the union in the process of workplace change. Secondly, the real distribution of power within multinational firms is often complex, with local managers having considerable discretion over the process of change. Finally, the mobility of capital within multinational firms is limited by both capital intensity and the degree of integration of production operations (for example, just-in-time production techniques). In other words, the impact of globalization on the capacity of the local union to negotiate workplace change is much more complex than the initial hypothesis suggests. This
research attempts to identify the conditions under which local unions can affect the course of workplace change.

To do so, we draw on a detailed survey of local union presidents conducted in collaboration with one of the major union confederations in Quebec. This article examines a sub-sample of 210 local unions operating in 210 establishments in the Quebec manufacturing sector. On the basis of ownership and percentage of production destined for export, these were categorized according to their degree of exposure to the international economy.

We first establish that there is indeed more workplace change taking place in the establishments with international exposure. In particular, there is more pressure on employment (downsizing, use of contractual and part-time labour) and more changes in work organization (changes in job content, teamwork, quality programs). We then identify the characteristics of workplaces where unions play a greater role in the regulation of workplace change. Our focus is on establishments where there has been a change in job content, the introduction of teams, the introduction of a quality program or technological change in the three years preceding our survey. Local unions were assigned to one of three categories: a strong capacity to regulate workplace change (at least half of the workplace changes resulted in a formal agreement); a medium capacity (either an agreement on one of several changes or the existence of a joint committee on workplace change); or a weak capacity (neither agreements nor a joint committee on workplace change).

What are the characteristics of workplaces where the union demonstrates a stronger capacity to negotiate change? The nature of change (teamwork), cooperative management behaviour, a larger size of the local union, a more sophisticated local union organization (the presence of shop stewards and a greater degree of membership solidarity), the integration of the local union into larger union structures and a proactive union position on work reorganization are all factors associated with a stronger union capacity to negotiate workplace change. This suggests that, when faced with local union strength, an employer wishing to effect workplace change (especially the introduction of teams) cannot easily exclude the local union from the process. Conversely, the introduction of quality programs, more conflictual management behaviour and weak local union resources (isolated from the larger union, less sophisticated local organization and the absence of an autonomous position on work reorganization) are all associated with a weak local union capacity to influence change. In such circumstances, the employer is more likely to proceed unilaterally.

Does the degree of union involvement in workplace change vary according to the degree of exposure to the international economy? As was argued at the outset, globalization does not overdetermine the social relations of production in the workplace. Rather, it is necessary to scrutinize the way in which it impacts on the social dynamics of production. In the establishments with both a high and a low exposure to the international economy, agreement on workplace change is more likely when teams are being introduced, when management behaviour is more cooperative and where the local union exhibits a sophisticated degree of organization. However, whereas in the establishments with a lower degree of exposure to the international economy union size is an important factor, size is not a determinant of local union capacity to regulate workplace change in establishments with a higher degree of exposure to the international economy. Rather, locals unions able to regulate change in such establishments are also characterized by less isolation from the larger union and a more proactive position on workplace change.

What then does globalization mean for local union capacity to negotiate workplace change? Our results suggest that unions faced with a higher degree of exposure to the international economy must be able to mobilize greater resources in order to influence the course of workplace change. Not only must they draw on a sophisticated local organization which allows the union to communicate with its members and be assured of their support — a condition which also applies to the negotiation of change in establishments with less exposure to the international economy — but they must be able to draw on the technical and ideological expertise of the larger union and the solidarities that the larger union represents, and they must also be able to articulate an autonomous or proactive position on work organization.

Resumen

La reglamentación conjunta del cambio a prueba de la mundialización

La mundialización no es un fenómeno que sobre determina la capacidad de regulación de los sindicatos a la escala de los establecimientos. Su impacto no puede comprenderse que a través de las dinámicas sociales propias al medio de trabajo que se ven afectadas por el cambio. Este articulo identifica las condiciones y los recursos asociados a la regulación conjunta de los cambios y evalúa en que las exigencias de la regulación conjunta dentro de los medios de trabajo fuertemente integrados a la economía mundial difiere de aquellos que caracterizan los medios de trabajo menos ligados a los mercados internacionales. Concluimos que los sindicatos mas expuestos a la economía internacional debe demostrar mas capacidad de acción para asegurar su presencia dentro del proceso de regulación