Weak or No Ties : New Convergencies? The relationship between party in government and unions in Italy and France after 2007
Some scholars have emphasized the diversity of France and Italy within the southern group of countries by underlying the complexity affecting any attempt at classification. Traditional union identities are subject to transformation and each model have been changing in time (Hyman 2013). Important economic, political and institutional changes have occurred in both countries since the late 1970s: deindustrialization, unemployment, outsourcing, privatizations, the rise of capital markets.
This contribution compare the Italian and French unionism by focusing on the role of strategic collective actors in changing industrial relations institutions. It analyses the ongoing transformations by taking into account both the influence of each institutional arrangements and the outcome deriving from the relashionship among collective actors: parties and unions, unions and employers, unions and their members and among different unions.
Modernization of French capitalism implied reframing industrial relations into the categories of market competition. From 1982, a series of legislative measures have been encouraging the decentralization of collective bargaining. This radical break with the former state-managed economy occurred under left-wing governments, leading to the collapse of union membership in the last quarter of the 20th century, from 25 to less than 8%. Collective bargaining coverage in France reach over 90 per cent, but French union density is now the lowest union density among advanced capitalist countries in Western Europe. This lead some scholars to define French unionism as a 'virtual unionism' (Howell,1998; 2009) meaning that the importance of labor unions is not a matter of power, but of influence and that legitimacy of labor unions depends on the state. Unions together with employers play an important role in the administration of the complex institutional apparatus.
In Italy, from the 1980s modernization has tended to be negotiated rather than unilaterally imposed as in France. Unstable governments with little popular legitimacy had to negotiate with unions over significant social and economic policy moves. This strengthened unions' public status, but also made them co-responsible for at times unpopular reforms. Over the same period Italian unions lost employed membership, and main unions faced serious challenges from autonomous rivals.
But Unions are not homogenous actors- nor is the state or parties- and Unionism is permanently mobilized and redefined by various actors and groups (Yon, 2013). Therefore in order to understand how unions still play an important role in joint regulation (Milner and Mathers, 2013), and how unions can be instrumental in both constructing and contesting Neoliberalism, it’s necessary to examine the active role they have played and still play in structuring employment relations at all levels.