Towards an Institut Européen du Salariat (IES)

An European Institute on the Salariat
mercredi 4 juin 2008
par  postmaster
popularité : 15%

1. The Objective of the IES

The IES (Institut Européen du Salariat or “European Institute on the Salariat”) promotes research and dissemination of results on the history, present condition and theory of the salariat. This term comes from the French word salaire, which means the remuneration of all types of employees. We use the term salariat to refer to the set of institutions that valorize labour and thereby contribute to the constitution of a class of wage earners.

These institutions comprise :

1. collective bargaining agreements, employment status, the relationship between wages and qualification grids ;

2. social contributions and social security : pensions, healthcare, family allowances, unemployment benefits ;

3. labour law, the right to strike, collective bargaining, labour courts ;

4. trade unions, social democracy, employee representation in the workplace ;

5. public services and administrations involved in running the welfare state ;

6. public policies that promote full employment, including monetary, budgetary and industrial policies.

Far from being static, the institutions that valorize labour are in the process of expanding to new domains, such as housing, career security for workers, and financing the economy. At the same time, they are being challenged by policies aimed at so-called “reform” of the welfare state or “modernization” of markets. The European Union in particular has been pursuing such goals on an unprecedented scale.

The social sciences do not consider the salariat to be a legitimate subject of study. The very disciplines which should focus on this major social phenomenon often ignore it altogether. When they do address the subject, they tend to limit the salariat to a single dimension, namely that of subordination of employees to employers, thereby ignoring its potential for emancipation.

The concept of the salariat is usually reduced to a descriptive label applied to different aspects of work relations : job content, employment, unemployment, social protection, industrial relations, trade unionism, etc. These themes are then studied separately, without drawing links between them. The concept of the salariat can be used to unify and interpret all of these themes. Furthermore, it can encompass other aspects of the dynamics of social, economic and political development : social stratification, modes of property ownership and macroeconomic policy. The originality of the IES lies in its goal of using social science to construct a theory that confers a conceptual status on the salariat.

Among workers themselves, as well as in theoretical definitions, the main characteristic of wage earning is usually considered to be subordination. Hence, the institutions associated with the salariat are viewed as so many protective devices designed to reduce the vulnerability inherent to the status of wage earner. Labour law is considered to be based on recognition of subordination and the need to counterbalance its effects. However, socialization of wages represents an alternative to capitalist property based on profit making and to the financial accumulation essential to capitalism. The institutions associated with the salariat contribute to the emancipation of labour through large scale recognition of activities that are not characterized by subordination, such as the work of retirees. It is for this reason that these institutions are so often challenged and sometimes even made out to be their polar opposite, as when social contributions are described as a “tax on labour.” The institutions associated with the salariat could potentially enable workers to redirect the goals of production. The IES (Institut Européen du Salariat or “European Institute of the Salariat”) aims at using empirical and theoretical analyses of the salariat to study this dialectic between subordination and emancipation.

2. Activities of the IES

The Institute is a network of social scientists who are investigating social, political, economic, historical, and legal aspects of the salariat in Europe and its development in different national contexts, as well as within the context of the European Union.

Its activities consist of :

• a monthly seminar, whose goal is to write a Traité du Salariat (“Treatise on the Salariat”) over a five year period. This reference work will emerge from the Notes de l’IES, a regular short publication which might form the basis of a journal.

• books written for academics or a broader audience, published under the IES label ;

• seminars organized on the basis of calls for papers put out by Institute work groups or social science networks ;

• in the longer run, summer workshops where doctoral students can present their work.

The academic members of the Institute consider their research useful for training :

• a semestrial newsletter and an internet site are dedicated to trade unionists, directors of social protection institutions and political leaders with whom the members of the Institute have direct contacts ;

• activities in liaison with training centres for trade unionists ;

• teaching in graduate level university courses.


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