Challenges for Workers and Unions
Edited by Carole Thornley, Steve Jefferys and Beatrice Appay
Chapter 15: ‘Politics of Production’, A New Challenge for Unionism: Workers Facing Citizens in the French Civil Nuclear Energy
Patrick Chaskiel INTRODUCTION If the globalization of economic activity is obvious in many ways, it does not mean that all productive activity is now run on a world-wide scale. Many industries are still at least partly managed in the national arena. The chemical sector of production, for example, has not experienced the same type of upheaval as other industries – assembly (automobile) or process (steel industry) – in the sense that the relocation is not massive and, therefore, job losses do not mainly result from relocating production to areas with lower wage costs. For economic reasons electricity also has to be produced as near to the ‘consumers’ as possible. In some cases, transfer attempts have not succeeded because of problems in exporting the technological ‘knack’ or skills.1 In other cases (such as that of chemical fertilizers), production is relatively regionalized, even if it affects cross-border zones. The costs bound up with the transport of hazardous materials increase with distance since the risks (for example, of explosions or toxic leaks) are the object of more and more restrictive regulation. Nevertheless, while French chemical, petrochemical and energy companies have not relocated jobs to Asia,2 they have cut labour costs. This has been achieved first through automation, and then through subcontracting and creating precarious jobs: an oil refinery plant may thus have as many subcontracting workers as ‘direct’ ones. This is a classic, well-known scenario. In fact, cost reduction is not the only threat to workers in highrisk industries. A new challenge has emerged...
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