IPP Policy Brief n°78 - January 2022

Recounting France’s trade unions

IPP Policy Brief n°78

January 2022

Author : Cyprien Batut, Ulysse Lojkine, Paolo Santini

Contacts : cyprien.batut@gmail.com, ulysse.lojkine@free.fr, paolo.santini5@gmail.com



logo-pdf-minRecounting France’s trade unions



Is France characterized by a particularly low level of unionization compared to other European countries? This is what the comparative literature on trade unions suggests.

In this policy brief, we question this idea and trace a different history of the evolution of the level of unionization in France. Current estimates are based on a double extrapolation of membership data from the two main unions — the Confédération générale du travail (CGT) and the Confédération française démocratique du travail (CFDT) — and the results of workplace elections.

Based on representative surveys of the French population, including polls and international surveys, we estimate that the level of unionization was underestimated until the late 1970s.

Key points:

  • According to representative surveys, the level of unionization in the 1970s would not have been 20%, but almost 40%, which is similar to that of our European neighbors.
  • Our time series is consistent with official estimates from the 1990s onwards. This means that the extent of deunionization in the 1980s may also have been significantly underestimated.
  • We also provide an estimate of the level of unionization between 1949 and 1969. Here again, our estimates are above those currently in circulation.

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