“The economic and social model that was established in France after the Second World War has lived”

Lhe French employee unions are excluded from economic decisions, at company level as well as government policies, unlike what happens in Germany or in the Nordic countries, whose economic and social model of co-decision gives unions an essential place in company boards of directors: collective negotiations regulate the functioning of the labor market and the organization of work.

Denis Kessler [1952-2023]former vice-president of Medefspoke of “Implied Yalta” to describe the economic and social model that was put in place in France after the Second World War: the bosses reserved decisions concerning the productive model, business strategy and the organization of work; political personnel, public policies; unions, management of social protection. As Mr. Kessler said in an interview with the Journal of the Institute of Economic and Social Research, “in France, the social pact (…) ultimately established the non-inclusion of unions (…) in the economic fields and a formidable integration of these in the social field » (“For an economy of paritarianism”, IRES review noto 24, 1997).

In 1945, the boards of directors of Social Security funds had a large majority of employee representatives, in the name of the principle of “management by those concerned”. We then speak of “social democracy”, preferred to state management, which risked imposing a budgetary logic. This was to allow the extension of social rights, with funding having to be adjusted to needs by increasing contributions.

This managerial role of the unions gave them legitimacy to defend Social Security in the face of government attempts at reform, presented as challenges to “social achievements”. From the 1950s, despite the low rate of union density, the unions demonstrated their capacity to mobilize on the issue. It remained very strong, as shown by the mobilizations of December 1995 against the Juppé plan, and those of 2003, 2010, 2019 and 2023 against the pension reform projects.

State control of governance

Over time, however, employee unions lose their dominance over the management of Social Security, in favor of paritarianism (equal representation of employees and employers), or even tripartism (state intervention). With the Juppé plan of 1995, the nationalization of the governance of the system accelerated, in the name of the fact that Social Security is less directly linked to work (universalization of health rights, basic pension), than taxes ( notably the CSG) represent a growing share of its financing, and that the social partners would not make the difficult decisions… The Juppé plan therefore provides for a reform of the Constitution which, adopted in 1996, establishes the vote on the financing law of the Social security by Parliament.

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