France: Unions on the Defensive

France: Unions on the Defensive

PARIS — A deep crisis besets the French labor movement. Membership is shrinking, so is the percentage of unionists who pay dues regularly. The lifelong absorption of the rank and file in union activities is virtually gone. Gone, too, are the charismatic leaders who could galvanize the masses. Union officials are increasingly preoccupied with managerial functions and negotiations—or in attending political meetings. The inspiration to risk major struggles no longer derives from a general plan, guiding immediate achievements toward a better future. Union struggles now are essentially defensive, focused on lost jobs and plant closings. In recent years, jobs in industry have been eliminated by the tens of thousands, especially in labor’s
strongholds—steel, naval construction, auto, and chemicals. At the same time, computerization threatens the service sector, particularly in banking
and insurance.

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