Sunday, September 20, 2009

The CNT of France (CNT Vignoles) is the larger of two French anarchosyndicalist union federations that bear the same name. The basic difference between them and the CNT AIT of France is that the latter refuse to participate in any of the union elections (of which there are many- see later) that are periodically held in French workplaces. There is much debate about whether the CNT's participation is a good or bad thing, but only results can determine which it is. As least in one place the CNT has managed to gain considerable popularity amongst a section of workers without compromising its principles. The following is a translation from the French, and it recently appeared as a notice of the CNT Seine-Maritime.
Workplace elections in metalalurgy in Seine-Maritime:
Communique of the CNT Seine-Maritime

Elections in the metal business ( John Crane shop)

An impressive victory of the CNT in colleges 1 and 2, that is the lesson we can draw from these elections where the CNT presented itself for the first time in the company.

College 1
With a high turnout of almost 90% in the first round of elections to the Works Committee, the CNT obtained in the workers college61.70% of votes, in fron of the FO with 34% of the vote and the CGT came in dead last with 4.2%. Only the CNT will be elected in this college. This is not a marginal vote or a protest vote but rather is a vote of union density for which the work was performed beforehand. The turnout speaks volumes about the workers' desire for change . College 2

With a turnout of 83.33% in the first round of workplace elections , the CNT leads with 50% of the votes in the college of professionals, in front of the FO which obtained 36% and CGT at 14%. The CNT received an elected delegate and an alternative delegate. Ditto for the FO.

The CNT and CGT did not present candidates in the third college, the managers. In this college the FO was very much ahead of the GGC and the CFDT.

With the new law of union representation, the CGT and CFDT are not considered representative, not having achieved more than 10% of the votes cast, in contrast to the CNT and the FO. By analyzing these results we find that the union density of the CNT was made among the workers and professionals. FO was especially distinguished in settings where their representativeness was undeniable. (the managers-Molly )

The big losers of this election were the CGT and CFDT, which no longer have the conclusive presumption of representativity.

Militants of the CNT thank everyone and all those who worked on this success that will , we are convinced, appeal to others.
A few things are in order if the above is to comprehensible to a North American reader. First of all the pattern of union representation throughout most of Europe, including France, is not the "one workplace, one (or none) union" that we are familiar with here. This has both good and bad points. The good is that, by law, each workplace with over 50 employees must have a 'Works' Council' and any with over 10 employees must have at least one of what is called a 'Workforce Delegate'. The latter are somewhat analogous to a 'shop steward', but not exactly as the delegate need not be a union member. This also means that pretty well all French workplaces have at least some of the protections only afforded by an union shop on this continent. The bad is that bargaining with employers all too often gets mired in simultaneous bargaining amongst the unions themselves as the functions of various bodies are unclear. The competing unions also often make solidarity a difficult thing to achieve, as there is great temptation for one union to try and undercut the other. The final bad is that the complicated system now in place was a response to the radical demand for 'self-management'. It is no such thing, and the fact that it was brought in as if it was tends to taint the very idea of self-management in people's minds. The criticism of people such as the CNT AIT that these bodies function as much for the transmission of management orders and molifying the workforce as they do to protect the workers has at least some validity. The solution of waiting until there is interest in a general assembly of the workers, however, leaves the unionists with very little to do between industrial disputes. It is only at those times that a majority of workers might be interested in scuh things, and when the dispute fades so do the assemblies, whatever the desires of the more militant.

How complicated is the system ? Let's begin with the fact that, at least in France there are not one but three different types of workplace elections (four if you count the haggling with the boss and with other unions when there is actual bargaining involved). The elections for 'Industrial Tribunals' are for bodies whose function is to rule on disputes arising from interpretation of contarcts already made. Think of them as something like permanently sitting Conciliation Boards, with greater scope and more judicial power. They are comprised half and half of representatives of employers and employees. Sounds like a formula for deadlock ? It is strongly supported by the larger, more bureaucratic, unions who take it as test of their national popularity, but draws little attention from the average worker. The elections are not connected with any particular workplace and mail in ballots are considered legitimate. The industrial activity of the country is divided into 5 'electoral colleges', managerial and professional staff, industry, commerce, agriculture and miscellaneous. Seen as something of a porkbarrel for the placement of union loyalists who will be from that point forward without any responsibility to the average worker, the last round of elections in late 2008 had a participation rate of 25.5% !!
The fact that the larger bureaucratic unions favour these elections as the test of "representativeness" (what is referred to in the CNT communique above) may be significant. The new law on "industrial democracy" adopted on August 20, 2008 no longer takes the Industrial Tribunal elections as the test of this. At the present time 5 union confederations are considered as "recognized" in terms of national bargaining. The dinosaurs such as the CGT, CFDT and FO (see below) are gradually losing out in the elections for 'Works Councils' and 'Workforce Delegates' which the new law recognizes as the test for such recognition. Both of these lections take place at workplaces, and those elected to them are much more under the supervision and control of the electors than the those in the Industrial Tribunals. These elections, accordingly, draw a far higher turnout- as can be seen from the figures in the CNT communique above.
The 'Workforce Delegates' mentioned above are tasked with bringing grievances to management, to the government Labour Inspectorate and to the Industrial Tribunals if a request to the employer concerning the infringement of the rights and freedoms of an employee is refused. Sorta like shop stewards, but a bit more complicated and not necessarily connected to any particular union (though the delegate may indeed be elected under a 'Union banner'). All enterprises with more than 10 employees is required to have Workforce Delegates. An admirable system if it works well, which it does not always do.
Then there are the elections for the 'Works Councils'. this is what the CNT communique above was talking about. These councils are required in every business with more than 50 employees. The councils consist of the elected representatives of the workers, along with the chief manager of the enterprise who acts as the chair but whose voting capacity is limited. Representatives appointed by the 'representative' trade union also sit in a non-voting capacity. The Council is in charge of the company welfare and cultural programs. It has the responsibility of formal bargaining in the case of profit sharing plans, but its role on other matters is supposed to be purely consultative. Actual bargaining is supposed to be done by the unions, but in practice it is often done by the Councils, and agreements between them and management can have the force of law. Different unions also have different ideas of what the roles of the Councils, the union organizations and actual general assemblies of the workers involved should be. Thus, where anarcho-syndicalist unions such as the CNT or libertarian inclined unions such as the SUD (see below) are popular the process will bend towards a more open involvement of the workers while where dinosaurs such the CGT are involved there will bea lot of backroom deals involved. The actual dividing lines between the powers and responsibilities of the unions and of the Councils varies quite considerably from place to place and from time to time.
If all of this sounds like it is maddeningly complex that is only because it is. With true Gallic rationalism France has created a sort of Rube Goldberg apparatus where the parts whirl madly in all directions and what is actually happening is not always clear. The very complexity, and its tendency to far too often work against rather than for the workers, has led to a certain cynicism about the very concept of 'self-management'. If this is what it is all about then the idea may not be so attractive after all. Perhaps that was an actual intent amongst some of the more clear thinking designers of the system as it was cobbled together from various traditional forms and various laws through the years.
Leaving such questions aside for the moment the fact that libertarian influenced unions such as the SUD and outright anarcho-syndicalist ones such as the CNT are gaining influence in the more democratic and responsive parts of this system can mean nothing but good. But let's conclude this with a little sketchy giude to French unions. I deliberately leave out of the following those "unions" that are undisguised bosses' federations. The (R) after the name of an union indicates that it is presently one of the recognized union federations. And you thought the system of workplace elections was complex ?
1)The CGT. (R)The Confédération générale du travail. Made up of more or less "ex" commies who have broken formal ties with the ever shrinking Communist Party but who have certainly retained every sneaky bureaucratic bad habit that Marxism Leninism ever encouraged...and these are many. Like many other previously communist union federations the functionaries of the CGT managed to survive the collapse of their political party by the sort of masterful cunning that only a lifetime spent in dealing in the shadows gives one.
2)The CFDT. (R)The Confédération française démocratique du travail. Basically a social democratic federation, but with the fissiparousness so characteristic of French politics made up of a number of mutually antagonistic factions.
3)FO.(R). Force ouvrière. Speaking of "factions"...historically a coalition between right wing unionists and (presumably right wing) Trotskyists. Historically held together more by hatred of the Communist Party than anything else. A worthy sentiment for sure, but hardly a "complete program". Having a hard time holding together now that the mutual enemy is in its dotage. Undoubtedly even more faction ridden than the CFDT.
4)CFTC.(R) The Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens. The French Confederation of Christian Workers. God's shop stewards ??? Social Christian in orientation which can mean a great number of different things in different places. Nowhere near as sinister as the so-called "unions" that evangelists have tried to set up on this continent-especially Alberta. Something of a social club for that small proportion of the French population who actually take Catholicism seriously. A constant presence, undoubtedly under the special protection of St. Joseph.
5)The CFE-CGC (R). The Confédération française de l'encadrement-Confédération générale des cadres. Hardly belongs as an "union", but recognized as such. Membership made up of managers and executives. Its existence very dependent upon the desire of the French state to have everything in perfect 'rational' order.
6)The SUD. Solidaires unitaires démocratique. Newer, more radical, union federation with a membership of varying sympathies from left social democrat, to left socialist, to ecologist to anarchist. Works closely with other 'social movements'.
6)The UNSA. The Union nationale des syndicats autonomes. Another right wing union for white collar workers. Basically the same as the CFE-CGC, but perhaps less exclusive.
7)The CNT. The Confédération nationale du travail. What can I say...the good guys.

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