Social Change at the French Railway Company: Creating Local and Central Work Councils, 1982–1986

By Alexandre Renaud

The Auroux Act, passed on October 28, 1982, extended the powers of “joint production committees” (J.P.C./C.E.) and it obliged “industrial and trading public companies” (E.P.I.C.) to have such committees. As it became such an institution, on January 1st, 1983, the French national railway company (S.N.C.F.) had to abide by the legislation concerning “joint production committees”. This company which until then was not concerned by the said legislation had to include a J.P.C. in an organization characterized by its strongly centralized decision-making process and its very specific social arrangement system. Because of that bond, a deep reconsideration began within the company, bringing into light the railway workers' questioning on the importance of their economic and social particularity. The point was to know whether it had to be defended or abandoned. That reconsideration allowed railway workers to re-launch the debate inside the company and to point out some forces of change and resistance as concerns social evolution in the company. Between the desire for change and resistance, the answer given to the question on how to set J.P.C. eventually highlight the S.N.C.F. as a company crippled with passivity on the one hand, although proving to be capable of getting involved in a significant process of social change on the other hand. This capability is obvious as long as one considers the company and its social development policies over a long period of time. As a matter of fact, considering the size of the company, its technical and social specificities, and the quality and safety required, social changes are only possible in a long period of time.


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