Challenges for Workers and Unions
Edited by Carole Thornley, Steve Jefferys and Beatrice Appay
Chapter 12: Organizing and Mobilizing Precarious Workers in France: The Case of Cleaners in the Railways
Heather Connolly INTRODUCTION This chapter explores trade union activity in the cleaning sector in France in the railways. Cleaning has become one of the fastest growing occupations in North America, Australasia and Western Europe (Herod and Aguiar, 2006). In a context of labour market deregulation, there has been an increase in outsourcing and a growth in the number of cleaning companies. In most countries the cleaning sector draws its workforce from the most vulnerable segments of the labour market: women, young people and immigrants (Bernstein, 1986), and working conditions are particularly difficult. For Wills, cleaning work is ‘emblematic of “bottom-end” service work in countries like Britain, where the work is poor quality, low-paid, without additional benefits and with little chance to secure workplace organization’ (2008, p. 310). The organization and management of employment in this highly competitive sector are based on a quest for maximum flexibility in terms of variation in both employees’ working schedule and wages, as well as on external flexibility – by outsourcing. The increasing use of subcontracting is aimed at increasing the competitiveness of companies by compressing production costs to a minimum. Herod and Aguiar (2006), studying cleaners in the global economy, argue that the combined impact of marketization, privatization, deregulation, cuts in welfare provision and an assault on collectivism have eroded the wages, conditions and potential power of cleaners. The cleaning sector in France is also subject to these trends. The labour force working in this sector is particularly vulnerable and Puech (2004), in her study...
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