Accueil » 55-4 ( 2000) » Éléments d'un régime post-fordiste de la négociation collective en France

Éléments d'un régime post-fordiste de la négociation collective en France

Olivier Mériaux


Jusqu'à une période très récente, les réticences des organisations syndicales et patronales françaises envers l'engagement contractuel ainsi que l'emprise des normes étatiques ont considérablement limité la place de la négociation collective dans la régulation des relations du travail. Mais un nouveau régime de la négociation collective est en voie d'émerger : l'autonomisation de l'entreprise comme instance de régulation accompagne et favorise le passage d'une négociation orientée vers la régulation salariale à une négociation de régulation de l'emploi. Celle-ci est porteuse de nouvelles exigences et de nouveaux risques pour l'acteur syndical. Elle appelle sans doute une meilleure prise en compte des dynamiques territoriales dans les institutions de la négociation collective, mais qui pour l'heure bute sur la structuration des acteurs sociaux.


This paper examines the recent changes in collective bargaining in France and the characteristics and conditions of the emergence of a post-Fordist bargaining system.

For the last two years, die system of collective bargaining in France has been through an accelerated phase of change. The "Aubry laws" on 35 hours have revitalized the collective bargaining on working time and work organization by expanding the decentralization movement observed since the early 1980s: the number of enterprise agreements increased from 6,400 in 1987 to 13,300 in 1998 and 31,000 in 1999.

The revival of collective bargaining through the government's political agenda has also rekindled the controversy over the respective roles of die agreement and the law in the production of standards governing labour relations. Due to the social partners' reticence about contractual commitment as well as the state's influence, industry-wide collective bargaining has for a long time been confïned to a secondary role in relation to die legal provisions on which it could only improve or complement. From the early 1980s onwards, this hierarchy of standards based on me principle of favour was gradually weakened as enterprise agreements that allowed for working time beyond statutory standards were legalized.

This radically changed the function of bargaining. As a law- improvement tool, it became an instrument of change and decentralized adaptation to work rules, especially in the firm. Since less than 10 per cent of French employees were unionized, this change gave rise to numerous questions about me unequal distribution of capacities of action between employers and employees' representatives. The greater autonomy of enterprise regulation vis-à-vis die legal standards and industry-wide agreements cardes the risk of a return to employer self-regulation. This risk is all the greater as collective bargaining has become more complex and tends to be more oriented towards job regulation than distributive management of the capital-labour relationship. The "Fordist" social compromise of the "Gloden Age" was based on a scheme of "statutory" bargaining that entalled a trade-off between wages and contribution to production, the organization of which was left to management by die union actor. With a focus on a compromise between employment and competitiveness — through reduction of working time in the case of France — post-Fordist collective bargaining deals simultaneously with all the parameters of me employment relation: working time, qualifications, quantitative job evolution, reorganization of production, wage policy, and investment strategies.

Such an extension of the field of bargaining inevitably leads to a rethinking of the actors' doctrines and strategies, inasmuch as they had strongly incorporated the division between economie and social matters inherent in the Fordist compromise. For employers, this implies sharing, if not only a part of their managerial power, then at least information on the firm's economie strategies. For trade unions, these new contractual dynamics imply greater expertise and a renewal of modes of legitimation, which were previously based mainly on conventional wage demands.

The new paradigm of collective bargaining, which is more autonomous, more complex and more demanding for industrial relations actors, undoubtedly calls for a greater consideration of local or regional dynamics. Previously, the decentraHzation of industrial relations was not accompanied by a regional framework sensitive to the negotiated regulation of labour relations. Yet, the growing importance of local forms of coordination in the performance of social Systems of production, as well as in managerial practices, tends to erase the firm's "physical" borders. The forms of outsourcing of activities that often come with a "triangulation" of labour relations (dissociation between the worker, the user of the workforce and the person responsible for the employment relationship) make the regulation typical of the Fordist era quite ineffectual.

Neither the firm nor the industry is up to the emerging challenges of employment regulation in these new production organizations. Although the legal resources necessary for regionalizing collective bargaining do exist, the hegemony of industry federations and the structural weakness of local inter-industry authorities, both workers' and employers', still constitute a formidable obstacle.


Hasta un periodo muy reciente, las reticencias de parte de las organizaciones sindicales y patronales francesas respecto al compromiso contractual y la influencia de las normas estatales han limitado considerablemente el espacio de la negociacion colectiva en la regulacion de las relaciones de trabajo. Sin embargo, un nuevo régimen de negociacion colectiva esta emergiendo : la autonomizacion de la empresa, en tanto que instancia de regulacion, acompaza y favoriza el transito de una negociacion orientada por la regulacion salarial a una negociacion basada en la regulacion del empleo. Esto plantea al actor sindical nuevas exigencias y nuevos riesgos. No cabe duda que ello requière tomar mejor en cuenta las dinamicas territoriales al interior de las instituciones de negociacion colectiva, aunque estas reposan por el momento sobre la estructuracion de los actores sociales.