To overcome the many crises of its history, French socialism relied on two long unwavering pillars: its town halls, which allowed it to weave local networks partially compensating for its inability to build a mass party, and State agents. If the last municipal elections have recalled the robustness of the first pillar, the presidential and legislative elections since 2017 have highlighted the collapse of the second. The divorce between the Socialist Party (PS) and this fraction of the middle classes whose heart traditionally leaned to the left is consumed. In 2012, more than 45 % of teachers, for example, brought their voices to François Hollande. They are only 19 % to support Benoît Hamon in 2017 and 3 % Anne Hidalgo in April 2022.
This phenomenon affects all European socialist and social democratic parties since the early 2000s. But the loss of state agents is particularly heavy for French socialism which, unlike its German, Austrian or Austrian or From northern Europe, has never been able to count on a solid worker seat. On the other hand, its ability to politically translate a republican, secular and protection culture of “small” by the extension and strengthening of the social state enabled it to reach a significant fraction of the public service very early on. On the eve of the First World War, the teachers represented a quarter of the members of the young SFIO. In 1951, an internal survey estimated the share of civil servants within the 25 %party, including a large share of public sector workers, the number of which has increased considerably with liberation nationalizations. Socialists, however, suffer on this field the harsh competition from a communist party, much better established in workers’ circles.
In the 1970s, the strategy of conquering power promoted by François Mitterrand induces major organizational and sociological transformations within the PS. His professionalization allows him to appear as a credible government alternative to Gaullism and to the right center and to penetrate the summits of the State, which the SFIO had never managed to do. Between 1979 and 2000, the proportion of executives and higher intellectual professions from the high public service increased regularly in its governing bodies. The share of civil servants and workers in the public sector – including an increasing portion of retirees – more than double between 1973 and 1986 and stabilized around 55 % in the following decade. As in the time of the SFIO, the party can count on union relays in the public service – Force Ouvrière, Federation of National Education, CFDT – although the relationship with these organizations is never simple.
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