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The Left and the Trade Unions in France

Module Code: FR336
Module Name: The Left and the Trade Unions in France
Module Credits: 15

The aim of this module is to allow students to study a particularly important aspect of French politics and society. Known for its history of conflict and popular revolt, France was until recently the home to one of the largest Communist Parties in Western Europe and for many years social democracy had difficulty in establishing itself. The Mitterrand era (1981-95) saw the reversal of this situation, but in recent years the far left (mainly Trotskyist groups) has enjoyed a success which few anticipated. The trade unions, meanwhile, have always been small, divided and on the whole radical. The last decade has seen reconfigurations in the movement which reflect broader activities of social movements. There are excellent sources for the study of the left and the trade unions in France and these will allow students to gain real insight into this topic in a relatively short space of time.

Module Description

  • In this module we will look at the left in France from a historical perspective, mainly since 1945, with a view to understanding what is happening within the left in France today.
  • France is famously a land of conflict and popular revolt and was until recently home to one of the most successful Communist Parties in Western Europe. Largely as a result of this success, government-oriented socialism – or social democracy – had difficulty establishing itself. However, the Mitterrand era (1981-95) saw the reversal of this situation, with the rapid decline of the Communist Party and the establishment of the Socialist Party as a highly credible party of government.
  • In recent years, the far left (mainly Trotskyist-oriented) has enjoyed a success which few had anticipated, apparently in part due to profound disillusionment with mainstream parties of left and right. The trade unions, meanwhile, despite being small, divided and prone to further splits, have at times had a decisive influence on national political events. The last decade has seen reconfigurations in the trade union movement which reflect broader activities of social movements.

Reading List

  • Jean-Jacques Becker and G. Candar (eds.), Histoire des Gauches en France, Paris, La Découverte, 2002. (2 vols)
  • Serge Halimi, Quand la Gauche essayait. Les Leçons de l’exercise du pouvoir 1924, 1936, 1944, 1981, Paris, Arléa, 2000.
  • Nick Hewlett, Modern French Politics. Analysing Conflict and Consensus since 1945, Cambridge, Polity, 1998.
  • René Mouriaux, Le Syndicalisme en France, Paris, PUF/Que sais-je, 2005.
  • Touchard, Jean, La Gauche en France depuis 1900, Paris, Points/Histoire, 1989. Recommended for purchase.
  • Michel Winock, La Gauche en France, Paris, Perrin, 2006

Assessment Method:

These final-year modules will be examined EITHER by a combination of assessed work (50%) and formal examination (50%) OR solely by assessment (100%).