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FR336 The Left and the Trade Unions in France

Module Code: FR336
Module Name: The Left and the Trade Unions in France
Module Coordinator: Dr Philippe Le Goff
Term 1
Module Credits: 15

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.

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, with the rapid decline of the Communist Party and the establishment of the Socialist Party as a party of government. François Hollande was the second Socialist President of the Republic (2012-2017), but since the Hollande presidency one might wonder if French social democracy is a spent force.

In recent years the radical left, under the leadership of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, has enjoyed a success which few had anticipated, apparently in part due to profound disillusionment with mainstream parties of left and right. The election of Macron in 2017 (and his re-election in 2022) raises questions regarding whether a political current can really be 'above 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, including the recent rise of the Gilets jaunes.

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 particularly important aspect of French politics and society in a relatively short space of time.

General 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.
  • Michel Winock, La Gauche en France, Paris, Perrin, 2006

Assessment Method

4000-4500 word essay