Ires: 40 years of research at the service of the world of work | Labor Force

The Institute for Economic and Social Research (Ires) celebrated its 40th anniversary on December 13, 2022, at the Economic, Social and Environmental Council (CESE), in Paris. On this occasion, the researchers and the founding unions of the institute—including Force Ouvrière, represented by Frédéric Souillot, its general secretary—debated the challenges of research for the labor movement. How do researchers—those from IRES but not only—inform trade unions about the world of work? ? How do the unions use the work of Ires and how do they want to improve their tool ?

The Ires is indeed the tool of the trade unions, created in 1982 with the aim of meeting the economic and social research needs expressed by the representative trade union organisations. Financed by public funds and the secondment of civil servants, administered by trade unionists, government representatives and scientific personalities, Ires produces research at the request of trade unions and on the initiative of its researchers. The latter have neither the pretension ofenlighten the working class nor to give theoretical foundations to his speeches, recalls Jacques Freysinet, economist at Ires. The articulation between trade unionism and research lies elsewhere.

A look back at 40 years of social democracy

Historical research serves in particular to sequence the changes that have occurred in the world of work. Annette Jobert, researcher at the CNRS, thus lays out a chronology of 40 years of social democracy. From the first era, that of the institutional reforms of the 1980s, and the Auroux laws instituting mandatory annual wage negotiations. To that, between 1997 and 2000, of the regulation of working time by the state and companieswhen the Aubry laws entrust the reduction of working time to negotiation. Then, she continues, comes the period 2007-2008 with the clarification of the competences of the State and of negotiationformalized in article 1 of the labor code, which imposes on the government a prior consultation with trade unions and employers before any labor reform. And finally the recent period (2010-2019) during which the staff representative institutions merged, the company agreement became the source of the standard and the branches wondered about their role. Annette Jobert raises three current questions: What social democracy in VSEs ? What scope for collective bargaining still under constraint ? What participation of employees in decisions in the company ?

Research can also question the involvement of trade unions in public policies. This is what Jérôme Gautié, professor at the University of Paris 1, does in the field of employment and income policies. Since the back-to-work assistance plan (PARE) in 2001, unemployment benefits have left the insurance logic to become incentive. The current unemployment insurance reform continues in this direction. This change is accompanied by a control of the unemployed and sanctions in the event of refusal of a reasonable employment. It asks the unions the question of democratic —or trade union— control of the triptych compensation-support-control of job seekers, analyzes Jérôme Gautié. In addition, the activity bonus for an RSA recipient who takes up employment, and his obligation to seek employment, blurs the boundaries between unemployment compensation and solidarity income, explains the researcher. Finally, the reduction in social security contributions on low wages, object of a political and administrative consensus for 30 yearsresults in a income socialization low wages. Hence these questions, which are of interest to unions: What is labor income ? What is minimum income ? What is unemployment compensation ?asks Jérôme Gautié.

We need unquestionable studies to move the debate forward

Research can also question the essence of unionism. Jean-Michel Denis (Paris I University) recalls that the representation includes a legal and sociological dimension (resembling those one represents). Which for him leads to the question of the the ability of current trade unionism to assume these two dimensions. For him, elective representation is a deadly spiral of competition between unions. He invites them to refuse this assignment and to regain their autonomywhich he seems to place in a initial unionismborn of a critique of political representation and rooted in a group sociology.

For her part, Cristina Nizzoli (Ires) studied union actions in favor of precarious workers: home helpers, carers in nursing homes, meal deliverers. She explains that it’s a job complicated but carrying a union renewal, title of his speech. Faced with fragmented work collectives, the union is returned to its initial mission which is to allow workers to meet, she explains. The union can mobilize external support (families, associations) in order to give visibility to its actions. And in taking the voice of precarious workers seriouslywho did the experience of contemptwe pave the way forunionization experience.

The question of how trade unions make use of IRES research was the subject of a round table bringing together the leaders of the institute’s six founding unions. FO in particular. This presence of the various general secretaries reflects the importance of IRES for the trade union movement.

Thus all the unions underline the interest of having data and analyzes resulting from a scientific approach. We need unquestionable studies to move the debate forwardexplains Frédéric Souillot.

A tool for arguments in front of public authorities

Compared to other confederations, Force Ouvrière has the particularity of commissioning numerous studies of international scope. Reliable international comparisons give us arguments against public authorities, especially when they want to initiate reforms on the pretext that things are better elsewhere., declares the general secretary of FO. The organization is thus at the initiative of a study on The deregulation of the European electricity market (Michel Vakaloulis, November 2022) and its destabilizing effects on the electricity service in France.

The work of researchers is also an anticipatory tool for unions. As early as 2017, a study initiated by FO dealt with the geopolitical, social and environmental issues of China and rare earths (Ramatoulaye Kasse, April 2017).

Studies can also be used to train activists. On this point, Frédéric Souillot admits that FO don’t share enough the studies it orders. He is joined in this observation by several other secretaries general. The unions are not the only ones to neglect to disseminate the work of Ires. A recent audit of the institute reported that, even within the State, which nevertheless sits on the board of directors of Ires, we are sometimes unaware of the existence of the institute. Frédéric Souillot intends to change FO practices. Before, we shared [les études] with [les militants] who asked for them, from now on, we will distribute them during round tables and via educational tools, he announces. FO will create a “ research committee who will be responsible for this task. The work has already been highlighted on the confederation’s website for several months: Ires, a research institute at the service of trade union organizations.

The request for more resources for Ires

Another area for improvement for Ires: better coordination of study orders, but no pooling. Frédéric Souillot recalls that IRES has recently had a scientific council which makes a forecast of the studies and checks what has already been produced. Incidentally, this census justifies the expenses of the institute, which come from public fundsexplains the secretary general of FO.

But the Ires, which is indeed financed by a public subsidy and the provision of civil servants, lacks means. The value of its subsidy has fallen by 20% in 10 years and the number of staff made available has also been reduced. Several researchers are retiring and will not be replaced.

This trade union tool is therefore in danger of deteriorating at the very moment when they need it most, underlined several speakers throughout the colloquium.

Hence this request, repeated several times by the number 1 of the unions: the State, which looks little at the expense when it comes to private practices, must increase the means of the Ires. The Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne, who was to close the day but apologized, could not hear this request. His representative in the room did not have a mandate to speak.

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Ires: 40 years of research at the service of the world of work | Labor Force

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