The French Civil Service Elections II - Election Day

Written by Mickus   
Thursday, 04 December 2014 00:56
by Francis Mickus

Paris December 4, 2014

The electoral process I had recently described was the result of major shifts known as the 2008 Bercy Accords. The one final change not discussed is probably the most important.

It may come as a surprise to some, but up until now, voters elected union labels, rather than specific representatives. This means that an elector voted for a union, say, the CGT, and what it stood for. The union in turn would name the specific people that would actually do the job of representing their colleagues. This had the advantage of letting the union respond in real time to changes in staff. If a representative was transferred or retired or was just tired of serving as a rep, than the union could immediately name someone else instead. Seats were allocated proportionately as a result of the vote.

When the system was set up, it actually made sense. There were at the time three major unions competing for representation, but pretty much everyone was a member of one of the three. The remainder became a “swing vote”. Nobody however called into question the credibility of any of the major unions. Over the years, that broke up and splinter groups formed, some going on to become powerfully influential unions in their own right, others fading away.

Today, twelve ‘unions’ are running for office at the Ministry of Culture. Whom do they represent? That really is the question, considering that only about 10% of the work force is actually carrying a union card. The Bercy Accords tried to answer the question by requiring that a given union draw up a list of candidates that would actually serve as representatives. If these people purport to represent the workforce, there must be names and faces behind the labels. Each list must technically be able to hold a majority of seats, which means that each list must contain candidates for at least two thirds of the seats; moreover each representative must have a replacement. There are fifteen seats up for election at the Ministry of Culture. That means thirty people for a full list (fifteen representatives and their fifteen replacements). Any union that intends to run for office must come up with at least two thirds of the total. Therefore for a union to be even considered, it must draw up a list of at least twenty people.

Add to that a concurrent election held on the same day at the local level (there is a vote for the Musée d’Orsay, the Louvre, and so forth), that means union must come up with a hefty number of people. The Musée d’Orsay, for instance has ten seats up for election. The same rules apply. For a list to even be accepted for consideration, it must come up with a list of at least fourteen people. Well where do you find all those candidates? For starters, not all the national lists appear both nationally and locally. Some unions have local strongholds and can muster enough candidates from those sites to draw up a national candidacy. Smaller unions have combined forces to set up a joint list. Considering that a given union exists because it believes in its philosophy and strategy, it is uncertain how long such combinations can hold.

Most lists have candidates that double deck, in other words who are running for both local and national office. (There are some that do so much of this that they become permanent union representatives, i.e., while officially working for a given site, they are working full time at the union. And there is enough work to justify this practice, and not enough active members.) Some lists aren’t even submitting union members, just sympathizers – who will not always stand even if elected. And while the CGT bureau at the Musée d’Orsay voted unanimously to reaffirm the requirement that all candidates be to date in their membership, this is not the case for other unions.

Strangely enough, Government has expressed great concern over the outcome. Will there be a strong enough majority to actually be able to hold successful negotiations? Will enough people even bother to vote? Whom will these unions actually be representing? This is indeed strange, considering that Government and management in general have run a successfully persistent policies of undermining and discrediting union representation in particular and democracy in general, from ignoring labor representatives’ objections to making unilateral decisions. Since there are no strikes, why should they bother changing their ways? Everyone is happy.

Well, no, nobody is happy but it doesn’t help to have twelve lists running for office – many of them empty shells despite the Bercy Accords – and it helps even less that most likely less that 10% of the workforce nationally is unionized. Unions exist to bargain collectively (which in fact helps management as it is a tremendous time and money saver). Thus, the essence of union activity is to build a common ground for all workers to pull together and achieve a common goal: that workers’ interests are heard and their needs met to actually safely and successfully achieve the task put before them.

Paradoxically, the democratic trappings of this elective process have the opposite effect. Each list must argue its case, which by definition must differ from the other lists’ cases. When the dust has settled and the various seats have been allocated can such a common ground be built?

It will be for the workers to decide today. your social media marketing partner
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