A “just” transition or just a transition ? Trade unions and the decarbonisation of the automotive industry in France and Italy

Type de publication:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Bordeaux (2024)


This contribution presents the first results of a comparative research on the role of social dialogue and collective bargaining at company level in the “twin” digital and ecological transition in the automotive sector in France and Italy. Through the analysis of case studies belonging to both component production and final assembly, both OEMs and first-tier suppliers, we aimed at investigating whether trade unions were able to orientate this double transition, or whether they were forced to adapt to it or resist it.
Despite the existence of strong collective bargaining traditions, during the last three decades trade unions in the automotive industry have suffered from the reconstruction of managerial hegemony in the workplace and from reforms that have liberalised the labour market and favoured decentralisation of collective bargaining under the threat of site closures and restructuring. Consequently, our preliminary results show that, faced with processes of digitalisation and decarbonisation of production that have concrete consequences on their own companies and workplaces, trade unions find themselves lacking the necessary resources to orientate them.
On the contrary, unions often face a trade-off of whether to accompany the transition, accepting – even through collective bargaining – its more “unjust” consequences, or to resist it, when such processes jeopardise the persistence of their own jobs. When not confronted with such a brutal alternative, trade unions seem to prefer to focus on their traditional bargaining agenda and to relativise the importance of the transition to e-mobility as “just” one of the many transitions the sector has gone through in recent decades. Even in those cases where they have succeeded in establishing favourable power relations, in fact, unions at the company level seem to lack, on the one hand, the vision and knowledge useful to play a proactive role in the ecological and digital transition, and, on the other hand, the institutional channels necessary to influence the strategic choices of their firms.

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