A review of the French literature on industrial relations demonstrates marked contrasts to the English literature. This paper seeks to understand the broader pattern of industrial relations in two French plants and, where possible, to assess the typicality of the findings. It focuses upon what will be termed “arms’-length bargaining”, by which is meant that at plant level, bargaining in terms of negotiations around a table, in other words, of an institutionalized form, is of limited significance. Nevertheless, the two parties have a considerable impact upon each other; that is pressures are imposed at the workplace rather than at the bargaining table. In such a situation, the crucial factor from the union point of view is to prove to management that the demands put forward are strongly felt by the workforce. It is in this respect that the strike and other forms of collective action assume particular importance. Arms’-length bargaining therefore involves two crucial types of strategy for both employers and the unions: the first is issue-specific, while the second seeks to influence the broader background conditions in one’s own favour.