• Towards an Institut Européen du Salariat

  • 26 May 09
  • Goal of the Institute

    For lack of a better translation, we will refer to “wage-earning” in the rest of this presentation. The “Institut Européen du Salariat” (IES) promotes research on “salariat,” a French term that comes from the word for “salary” or “wage.” “Salariat” designates both the status of wage earner and wage earners as a group. 

     For lack of a better translation, we will refer to “wage-earning” in the rest of this presentation. The Institute is dedicated to studying all of the systems, policies and institutions that valorise labour and thereby contribute to strengthening the cohesion of wage earners as a social class. 

    The Institute is dedicated to studying all of the systems, policies and institutions that valorise labour and thereby contribute to strengthening the cohesion of wage earners as a social class. These institutions, systems and policies comprise the following: 

    1. the relationship between wages and qualification grids, collective bargaining agreements, employment status;
    2. social contributions and social security: pensions, healthcare coverage, family allowances, unemployment benefits;
    3. labour rights, the right to strike, collective bargaining, labour courts;
    4. trade unions, social democracy, workers’ representation in the workplace;
    5. public services and ministries involved in social policy;
    6. monetary, budget and industrial policies that favour full employment.

    Far from being static, these institutions are in the process of expanding to new domains, such as housing, career security for workers, or financing ofthe economy. At the same time, they are being challenged by policies currently aimed at so-called “reform” of the welfare state or “modernisation” of markets. By altering the balance of power between regions within Europe, the European Union has been pursuing these reform goals on an unprecedented scale. The social sciences do not consider wageearning to be a legitimate object of study. The very disciplines which should make this major social phenomenon into a central theme, often ignore it altogether. When they do address the subject, they reduce wage-earning to a single dimension, namely subordination, leaving its potential for emancipation unexplored.
    The concept of wage-earning is generally reduced to a descriptive notion applied to certain aspects of labour relations. Instead of being regarded as a theme of study in its own right, wage-earning is used as a generic term for various other aspects of the status of wage earner: job content, employment, unemployment, social protection, industrial relations, trade unionism, etc. These aspects are studied separately, without drawing links between them. The concept of wage-earning can be used to unify and interpret all of these subjects and can encompass other aspects of the dynamics of social, economic and political development: social stratification, different modes of property ownership and macroeconomic policies. The originality of the IES lies in its goal of constructing a theory of wage-earning, supported by social science research that can give it a conceptual status. Among wage earners themselves, as well as in theoretical definitions, wage-earning is usually linked to the concept of subordination, considered to be its main characteristic. The institutions of wage-earning are hence viewed as so many protective devices aimed at reducing the vulnerability inherent to wage-earning. Labour rights are based on recognition of subordination and the need to counter its effects. However, socialisation of wages is an alternative to property based on profit-making and financial accumulation, which are essential to capitalism. Institutions linked to wage- arning contribute to the emancipation of labour through largescale recognition of activities that are not characterised by subordination, such as those of retirees. It is for this reason that these institutions are so often challenged and even made out to be their polar opposite, as in the characterisation of social contributions as a “tax on labour.” The institutions of wage-earning could potentially enable workers to appropriate the goals of production. The IES aims at studying the dialectic between subordination and emancipation, through empirical and theoretical analysis of the status of wage earner and of the class of wage earners.

    Activities of the Institute

    The Institute is a network of social science researchers who are investigating the social, political, economic, historical, and legal aspects of wage- arning in Europe and its institutions in different national contexts and within the European Union.

    Its activities consist of:
    l a monthly seminar, whose goal is to write a “Traité du Salariat” (Treatise on Wage-Earning) over a five-year period. This reference work will emerge from the “Notes de l’IES”, a publication which might form the basis for a journal.
    l scholarly books or those intended for a broader audience, published with the imprimatur of the IES;
    l seminars organised on the basis of calls for papers put out by Institute work groups or social-science networks;
    l in the longer run, summer workshops where doctoral students can present their work.

    The academic members of the Institute consider their research useful for education. The educational and training activities include:
    l a bi-annual newsletter and an internet site dedicated to trade-unionists, directors of social protection institutions and political leaders, with whom the members of the Institute have direct contacts;
    l activities in liaison with training centres for trade unionists;
    l teaching in masters’ courses in universities.