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Class, Inequality and the Political Order

  • R. W. Johnson

Abstract

In 1965 the Left was able to mobilise only 55 per cent of the industrial working-class behind Mitterrand in his presidential run-off against De Gaulle. Nine years later no less than 73 per cent of workers supported Mitterrand on the second ballot against Giscard. The conservative working-class vote had fallen by two-fifths in less than a decade. This large and rapid shift towards more class-based political behaviour affected not merely election results but the whole tenor and content of political debate. With a quite surprising suddenness politics ceased to centre on the Algerian and constitutional crises and French grandeur and became, again, the old battleground between haves and have-nots.

Keywords

Presidential Election Labour Movement Political Order French Society Social Security Contribution 
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Notes

  1. 2.
    H. Kahn et al., The Next 200 years (London: 1977) pp. 189–90.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    M Sawyer, ‘Income Distribution in OECD Countries, OECD Economic Outlook (Paris: July 1976) p. 16. Table 7.1 may actually underestimate the extent to which France exceeds other nations in income inequality. In 1967 the UN Economic Commission for Europe provided data on the share of total income received by the poorest 40 per cent of the population in Canada, Norway, the USA, Sweden, the UK, Japan, Holland, West Germany and France. In France this group received (in 1962) only 9.5 per cent of all income. In all the other countries studied the comparable figure fell with a range of 15.4–20 per centGoogle Scholar
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  4. 5.
    J. Marceau, Class and Status in France: Economic Change and Social Immobility 1945–1975 (Oxford: 1977) p. 30.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    A. Babeau and D. Strauss-Kahn, La Richesse des Français (Paris: 1977) p. 164 provide income distribution figures for 1975 showing the bottom 30 per cent receiving 9 per cent (OECD 1970=8.1 per cent), the richest 20 per cent receiving 48 per cent (OECD 1970= 47.6 per cent) and the richest 10 per cent 33 per cent (OECD 1970 = 29.3 per cent).Google Scholar
  6. 12.
    Atkinson argues that Britain probably heads the wealth inequality league with a distribution significantly more unequal than that found in the USA, West Germany, Denmark and New Zealand, for example. Such comparisons are normally based on the Gini coefficient scale, running from 0 (=perfect equality) to 1 (=perfect inequality — all wealth held by a single household): Babeau and Strauss-Kahn calculate a Gini coefficient for France (1975) of 0.54–0.55. This runs quite close to the official Inland Revenue estimate for Britain (1970) of a Gini coefficient of 0.65. A. B. Atkinson, Unequal Shares: Wealth in Britain (London: 1974)pp. 19–20, and his The Economics of Inequality, pp. 121–42; Le Monde, 18 April 1978. Babeau and Strauss-Kahn believe the level of inequality of wealth in France to be less than that of the UK or the USA but comparable to that of Canada or West Germany: op. cit., pp. 166–7.Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    A. Babeau in Le Monde, October 1977.Google Scholar
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    R. Lattès, La Fortune des Français (Paris: 1977), reviewed in Le Monde, 15 December 1977.Google Scholar
  9. 20.
    Research in Britain, for example, has shown that poor housing conditions are probably the greatest single determinant of working-class educational underachievement: see J. W. B. Douglas, The Home and the School (London: 1969) especially pp. 60–7.Google Scholar
  10. 24.
    M. Parodi, Low-Income Groups and Methods of Dealing with their Problems (Paris: OECD, 1966) p. 16.Google Scholar
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    M. Parodi, L’Economie et la Société Française de 1945–1970 (Paris: 1971) p. 222.Google Scholar
  12. 26.
    Marceau, op. cit., pp. 70–1. Again, it is worth noting the findings of British social research which suggest that overcrowding has particularly pernicious effects on the life-chances of children, resulting, on average, in a nine-month retardation in reading age, together with similar disadvantages in arithmetical ability and general social adjustment. More routinely, of course, lack of amenities and overcrowding are closely associated with poor physical and psychological health, higher mortality rates and so on. See R. Davie et al., From Birth to Seven: The Second Report of the National Child Development Study (London: 1972) pp. 50–7.Google Scholar
  13. 28.
    J. Charlot, ‘Les Elites Politiques en France de la IIIe à la Ve République’, Archives Européennes de Sociologie, XIV (1973).Google Scholar
  14. 31.
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  15. 31.
    For the best overall study see E. Suleiman, Elites in French Society: The Politics of Survival (Princeton: 1978).Google Scholar
  16. 32.
    B. Wood, ‘Urbanisation and Local Government’ in A. H. Halsey (ed.), Trends in British Society since 1900 (London: 1972) p. 251.Google Scholar
  17. 34.
    In Britain in 1931 6.7 per cent of the employed population were engaged in agriculture (including fishing) and another 5.2 per cent in mining; 42.9 per cent in manufacturing and 45.2 per cent in services (mainly transport and domestic service). In 1951 the figures were agriculture 5.5 per cent, mining 3.1 per cent; manufacturing 45.5 per cent and services 45.9 per cent. A perhaps more telling statistic is that in 1911 74.6 per cent of the occupied British population were manual workers and even in 1966 so were 58.3 per cent, at which point less than 3 per cent worked on the land: my calculations from B. R. Mitchell and P. Deane, Abstract of British Historical Statistics (London: 1962) p. 61, and G. Bain et al., ‘The Labour Force’ in Halsey, op. cit., p. 113.Google Scholar
  18. 35.
    See D. Butler and D. Stokes, Political Change in Britain (London: 1969), especially pp. 66–94.Google Scholar
  19. 36.
    The classic case is perhaps that of Jacques Doriot (‘Le grand Jacques’), who continued to hold the Paris working-class seat he had won as a leading member of the PCF even after his defection in the 1930s to form a Fascist Party, the Parti Populaire Français (PPF). See G. Allardyce, ‘The Political Transition of Jacques Doriot’, Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 1, no. 1 (1966) pp. 56–74.Google Scholar
  20. 37.
    In 1956 66 per cent of industrial workers voted for the Left — 49 per cent for the PCF, 17 per cent for the SFIO — and even this level of class alignment must have been exceeded in the Left’s halcyon days of 1945–6. See M. Dogan, ‘Political Cleavage and Social Stratification in France and Italy’ in S. M. Lipset and S. Rokkan (eds), Party Systems and Voter Alignments: Cross-National Perspectives (New York: 1967) pp. 140–1.Google Scholar
  21. 39.
    D. Goldey, ‘A Precarious Regime: The Events of May 1968’ in P. Williams, French Politicians and Elections: 1951–1969 (London: 1970) p. 246.Google Scholar
  22. 42.
    See F. Ridley Revolutionary Syndicalism in France (London: 1970)Google Scholar
  23. 42.
    T. Zeldin, France 1848–1945: I: Ambition, Love and Politics (Oxford: 1973), especially Chapter 10, ‘Workers’.Google Scholar
  24. 43.
    Few immigrants entered France in 1945–56. Thereafter immigration increased fast to 1958, fell off until 1961, and thereafter increased rapidly again. By 1964–5 the annual rate of entry had reached 150,000; by 1970 it had surpassed 170,000: S. Castles and G. Kosack, Immigrant Workers and Class Structure in Western Europe (London: 1973) pp. 32–4.Google Scholar
  25. 47.
    In Britain the high point of the electoral class alignment was reached in 1966, when 58.5 percent of the skilled and 65.2 per cent of the unskilled working-class (61.5 per cent of the combined group) voted Labour: D. Butler and A. King, The British General Election of 1966 (London: 1966) p. 264. A roughly similar level of working-class alignment with the Left was reached in the 1972 West German election: see R. Irving and W. Paterson, ‘The West German Parliamentary Election of November 1972’, Parliamentary Affairs, vol. XXVI, no. 2 (spring 1973). It is doubtful, in fact, whether the French level of 73 per cent working-class support for the Left in 1973–8 has ever been equalled elsewhere.Google Scholar
  26. see R. Irving and W. Paterson, ‘The West German Parliamentary Election of November 1972’, Parliamentary Affairs, vol. XXVI, no. 2 (spring 1973). It is doubtful, in fact, whether the French level of 73 per cent working-class support for the Left in 1973–8 has ever been equalled elsewhere.Google Scholar

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© R. W. Johnson 1981

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  • R. W. Johnson

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