Criticism of the beautiful team

A third place between the private for-profit sector and the public sector, the voluntary sector is far from an ideal world of work. Sociologist Simon Cottin-Marx highlights the complex relationships between volunteers and employees, before outlining some regulatory proposals.

In his recent book, the sociologist Simon Cottin-Marx offers a study of the paradoxes of work in the associative world by exploring the gap between the values ​​held, what he calls associative mythology, and the real and often degraded working conditions in the sector. This work synthesizes, thanks to this transversal focus on work, key elements of understanding the associative world as vivid and complex as it is heterogeneous by combining numerous scientific works and testimonies from associative employees.

The extent of denial

By opening the book with his experience of commitment within the framework of a civic service for a neighborhood association whose values ​​of solidarity and actions in favor of ecology he shares, Simon Cottin-Marx tells us about his first disappointments on the ground in the face of reception conditions. only precarious and vague in the definition of its mission. His disappointments led him to begin research aimed at understanding the extent of denial in the face of the realities of associative work. How can we understand that associations pay so little importance to the working conditions of their employees, and even reproduce certain forms of violence and exploitation, while presenting themselves as an alternative world of work?? Indeed, the associative world, through the principle of non-profit, is thought of as a world of work, which constitutes the breeding ground for a promiseas the author tells us, to meet the needs of work while working for commitment and the common good (p. 15).

However, beyond the missions they assume, the author reminds us that associations constitute a significant world of work, which has nearly 1.8 million employees. And that the promise carried by the associative world often leads to obscuring the dimensions which constitute it as a world of work like any other. The author, following the sociologist of associative work Matthieu Hly (2004), thus defends the concept ofassociative company to underline this paradox that Employer associations are not companies like the others, but like the others they are companies (p. 15). The main contribution of this book to the sociology of the associative world lies precisely in the exploration of the contradictions posed by volunteers placed in the position of employers and their relationship to these functions and responsibilities. Thus, according to Simon Cottin-Marx, these associative companies carry out a social project, mobilizing volunteers, while being employing structures, which inevitably exposes them to a tension between the constraints inherent in any form of management and the more ethical dimension of their project. .

The question is all the more justified since the expectations of employees in the associative world who hope to achieve success in a project of general interest are often justified. This pact which allows forms of commitment and enlistment body and me workers in the sector, all the stronger because they are supported by a militant, political and personal ideal, very quickly come up against the disillusionments of real work experienced on an intimate level. The perspective proposed by Simon Cottin-Marx is therefore to think about associative work with lucidity, without false belief, with the tools of the sociology of work and public policies while opening perspectives on the way in which associative enterprises could become more democratic. in their operation.

The blurred boundaries of the associative world

Chapter 1 traces this contradiction of associative employment: what justifies associative employees accepting precarious contracts, poor working and employment conditions, a legitimizing overcommitment to exceed the hours of the employment contract and low remuneration?? The powerful mechanisms for mobilizing association workers are based precisely on this rhetoric inviting work for a cause, which allows social compensation and symbolic rewards in the name of this ideal of action for the common good. If some, designated as activists, get involved in the associative project sometimes to the detriment of their health or their salary rights, other employees of the associative world hold a job there without however investing in the cause. This low membership, often correlated with the subordinate position of these employees at the bottom of the ladder, nevertheless makes visible an aspect that is denied, even almost taboo, in the associative world: the need to work for the salary and to live for a majority of associative employees.

The question of employment in the associative world is all the more complex as it intersects with a tradition of volunteering, which fuels confusion about the limits of commitment. When paid and free commitments for often identical tasks, missions and skills coexist in the same employing structure, employees and volunteers, pressures and implicit expectations of involvement outside of working hours can be exerted on employees, as well as a risk of denial of their qualifications. Furthermore, in the very numerous small associations with fewer than four employees, volunteers (on the boards of directors) often occupy the position. employer function. Even when the association has more than four employees, the responsibilities relating to the role of employer which are most often assumed in this case by employee managers are not always clearly distributed according to the place and power of the board of directors in the management of human resources. . It appears on the side of the volunteers that this employer function is not completely accepted, or even denied due to ignorance and the burden of tasks, whereas the meaning of volunteer commitment is mainly based on the conduct of an associative and activist project. This vagueness about the responsibilities of associative employers who very rarely see themselves as such, is compounded by emotional and militant closeness with employees. The ambiguities of these relationships which oscillate between comrades and hierarchical relationships have a lot to do with the low unionization rate and the poor management of affinity conflicts which most often end in resignation strategies on the part of employees. It is therefore the ambivalence of these roles and these statuses which makes the borders particularly porous in the associative world, less obvious than in the world of a classic company, between commitment and professional register.

The influence of public authorities

In chapter 2, Simon Cottin-Marx shows how the associative world is prey to a growing influence of public authorities, which limits its autonomy both at the level of the associative project carried out and in the possibilities of offering suitable employment contracts. We must not forget that growing salaries in the associative world are very much part of the restructuring of the welfare state which delegates the implementation of public action to associations. This is especially the case in the field of social action, in which the supervision of associations by accreditation has made it possible to salaried, professionalize and institutionalize a complex and disparate sector still largely supported by charitable associations in the post-war period. The development of New Public Managementin a context of competition for financial resources, nevertheless tends to make the work of association employees more precarious and to develop a fourth civil service lower cost. In the same way, from the 1980s, associations appeared as real levers for employment policies by acting as places for experimenting with subsidized employment statuses or civic services. Some of them have even taken on the role of job creator. The salary configurations of the associative world therefore remain largely dependent on choices in terms of public policies.

But this lack of autonomy extends beyond the instrumentalization of third sector as a variable for adjusting employment policies with the progressive questioning of their autonomy in the very definition of associative projects and missions. Indeed, based on the work of Lionel Prouteau and Viviane Tchernonog (2017), Simon Cottin-Marx insists on the development of a new public-private partnership with the transformation of financing methods where public procurement increasingly replaces subsidization . This shift in logic reinforces both the service provider role of associations, but also their loss of political autonomy while putting associations in competition with each other.

The last chapter sets out two perspectives for the associative world in order not to remain on this disillusionment. There is at the same time a vast project to sort out the question of the responsibilities and the bosses of the associations, particularly in this context of loss of autonomy with the challenge, tells us the author, of assuming this salary relationship and therefore of no longer leaving this sector alternative outside of labor law. Finally, Simon Cottin-Marx invites us to think about democratic work in associations by establishing the conditions so that social dialogue is really possible within them. He gives us the example of the peasant confederation which provides a body for regulation, mediation and training in labor law.

Drawing up a landscape of research work and salary issues in the associative world, this book will be easily accessible to a wide audience of associative actors and researchers. However, we can regret a lack of taking into account the specificities of each associative sector to better understand the differentiated logics of enrollment. Indeed, the reasons for the commitment of association workers deserve to be explored in order to better understand these levers of mobilization at work put into perspective with the state of the job market, the decline in public employment, and the desire to work differently.