Understanding the variations of the “glass ceiling” within and across unions : the heuristic interest of a “union career” methodology. Sophie Pochic, CMH-CNRS Cécile Guillaume, CLERSE-CNRS . Women under-representation in the Trade Union’s movement. A universal paradox ?
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Sophie Pochic, CMH-CNRS
Cécile Guillaume, CLERSE-CNRS
A universal paradox ?
Paradox between the continuous feminization of the workforce and the constant under-representation of women in the structures, cultures and agendas of unions, in all countries. Two examples :
- France (CFDT, 2nd trade union, 600.000 mbs), 45% of women, 27% of regional executives, 35% of Bureau National (30 national leaders) in 2004
- Hungary (MSZOSZ, 1st trade union, 235.000 mbs), 48% of women, no female regional secretary and 22% of the Executive Committee in 2005
However, very different national contexts, with more or less developed union equality policies and contrasting industrial models :
- in France, low union density (7% for women and 9% for men), with a mix of radical (quotas) and liberal equality measures within the CFDT, even if equality remains secondary in the union agenda
- in Hungary, moderate union density (22% for women and 17% for men), with the inheritance of a formal egalitarian model but a refusal of radical measures and a global EU-approach of “equal opportunities”.
How can we understand the replication of a « gendered glass ceiling » in these two contrasted union contexts ? By comparing and matching union careers as a way to reveal the organisational processes and norms that contribute to the reproduction of gender inequalities :
- in the Chicago school tradition, a career is a trajectory in a specific world with a mix of planned and contingent positions and events, with objective and subjective dimensions
- a career is embedded in an organisational context and a set of social relations, particularly in union structures where roles and positions are less formally defined than in the corporate world
- studies on gender and organisations convinced us to focus the analysis on the embeddedness of gendered inequalities in organisational structures, cultures and practices, emphasizing the processes that create inequalities
- the choice of two contrasted cases (France and Hungary) allow to separate put the societal dimensions (employment regime, welfare and gender regime, industrial relations systems) that interfere with organisational processes.
A case-oriented comparative and cross-national approach (France and Hungary)
Qualitative life-stories interviews with women and men trade unionists in France and in Hungary, a snow-ball sample in search of “variety” in terms of level of responsibilities (elected officials, paid officers, rep., lay activists) and gender => access to different generations (from 1960s to 2000s)
Embedded in one union organisation in each country => purposively selected cases to emphasize a “contrast of contexts” between unions with different levels of feminisation and varied equality policies (combined with study of documents, field-work in conferences and training sessions)
France : 50 interviews, 8 at the confederation level of the CFDT, 17 in “masculine” industrial federation (Metal workers, Construction, Utilities, Transportation), 25 in more feminised federations (Services, Health, Communication)
Hungary : 46 interviews, 9 at the confederation level of the MSZOSZ, 15 in the union for trade (KASZ), 22 in the Metal Workers union (VASAS).
1. The informal organisation of careers
Career narratives reveal the central role of “significant others” and the prevalence of informal rules and processes in the making of trade unionists:
- in both countries, informal recruitment processes and internal co-opting preside over the organization of careers at all levels of the hierarchy, from trade union peers support at the workplace level to sponsorship (and campaigning) by other union officers to access officials positions,
- with a gendered bias (mostly male officers) and obvious sexism in male-dominated unions, reinforced by age discrimination against young women (HU ++), active but rare mentoring from senior women officers (FR +)
But contrasted attractiveness of union “employment markets”:
- open-market with few applicants in a context of participation shortage (high turn-over, low paid, ‘cushy job’ stigmata) in FR / reduced and rather depreciated opportunities in HU (low turn-over, ageing staff attached to their seats, ‘old regime’ stigmata), particularly for officers positions
- access to union positions dependent on union rights and resources, labour law and support of the State (very weak in HU, loss of resources linked to union density decline / strong in FR, even in private sector).
1. The informal organisation of careers
Career narratives reveal the typical career routes and their evolution :
- in both countries, permanence and domination of an inherited activist pattern “rank-and-file” and, at national level, fierce competition among a small pool of long serving loyal officers (mostly men)
- however, development of new routes : ‘expertise routes’ (recruitment, legal action, health & safety, economic action, international), favourable to women and new profiles, but narrow careers paths for young paid-officers without an activist experience.
With different history in terms of women employment and union representation :
- until 1989 in Hungary, compulsory union membership (96%) and high level of female employment rate, numerous senior female trade unionists but concentrated in technical or secondary leadership positions. For new generations, women work mostly in unorganised workplaces (private services or industries, small firms, except from public services)
- in France, historical under-organisation of female workplaces, but continuing feminization of union membership and a large scale recruitment strategy was launched in 1985 by the CFDT.
3. The secondary role of equality policies
Career narratives allow to demonstrate that internal equality policies have been unable to tackle issues such as internal job segregation:
- inheritance of a “women section” in Hungary (as youth section) and refusal of quotas; in France support of quotas at national level since 1982 but defense of a “mixité” policy (a mix of women and men)
- “homology” between women’ segregation at work and within trade unions:
* women are specialised in certain roles at all stages of their union career (recruitment/organizing, administrative roles, training, communication, legal activities)
* they have difficulties to be identified as possible managers
- symbolic hierarchy of skills, which remains male-dominated and linked to gender work segregation:
* recruitment and organising skills: for new entrants and female
* expertise: gender-neutral but few promotion opportunities
* negotiation, management and political skills: more senior and male .
- difficulty to say if it is a “feminine” trait or a “new entrant” strategy, in a context of competition between old and new legitimacies (servicing / organising, expertise / charisma…).
3. The secondary role of equality policies
Career narratives allow to demonstrate that equality policies have been unable to tackle issues such as class differences and qualification issues :
- behind gender issues, class/race issues that are rarely addressed, especially in Hungary but also in France. Obvious under-representation of “new workers” : low-paid women, black workers, contingent workers (fixed-term and temp contracts)…
- qualification issues, as a trade union leader is also « a manager » (writing and communication skills needed) :
* at national/regional level, always easier for qualified activists with diplomas, especially within the CFDT (social-partnership strategy and “reformist” action) but also in Hungary (legal advice, economic expertise, health and safety expertise)
* union training quite developed in France (used to be in Hungary but lack of resources today), with technical and ideological dimensions (often after the selection), but emphasis on the “training-on-the job” - common refusal of “separate” women-only trainings or conferences.
A strategy of biographical matching has been developed to illustrate the re-production of gender inequalities in the access to union leadership.