Challenges for Workers and Unions
Edited by Carole Thornley, Steve Jefferys and Beatrice Appay
Chapter 13: Growing Power Asymmetries, Individualization and the Continuing Relevance of Collective Responses
Rachid Bouchareb INTRODUCTION The difficulties workers in SMEs have in asserting their rights, in joining trade unions and in breathing life into the formal channels of employee representation are well established. They reflect in a particularly obvious way the inequalities in all waged relationships under private property. Constitutive of the way waged relationships operate is a natural hierarchy, imposed as much by the irregularity of employment or of working time as by the persistence of the asymmetrical power relations that separate an employer from a precarious collective of waged workers (Bouquin, 2006; Bouquin et al., 2007). In SMEs even the concept of ‘social dialogue’ that developed over several decades out of a concern for good governance and a degree of democratization of employment relations has almost always proved inoperative. Despite this, the working relationships in SMEs do not appear more ‘pacific’ than in larger companies. Industrial conflicts occur there as frequently because of the way employers act, even if the conflicts are not expressed in as visible or spectacular a way. Thus, for example, while the use of the strike is quite rare, SME employees make up the biggest group of plaintiffs in industrial tribunals in France (the Prud’hommes), and are getting still more numerous. How to understand these forms of resistance which, at first glance, appear primarily individual? Does one have to analyse them as interpersonal conflicts, whose speedy resolution is enough to preserve the existing contractual framework? Or, on the contrary, should they be analysed as new forms...
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