France set for new week of strike headaches as labour unrest continues

Loic Venance, AFP | A protestor gestures during a nationwide day of protest against the French government’s economic and social reforms on November 16, 2017, in Nantes.

France is due for a jam-packed week of labour turmoil, with striking railworkers and public servants leading the charge.


After a quiet Monday owing to the Pentecost holiday, the week’s agenda is chock full of discontent, starting Tuesday.


Nine public-sector unions representing 5.7 million public service agents have called for strike action and demonstrations to protest reforms and voice salary and staffing concerns in the face of a government that has pledged to cut 120,000 public-sector positions by the time President Emmanuel Macron’s term ends in 2022.

More than 130 demonstrations are scheduled nationwide on Tuesday, with the Paris march due to set off from the Place de la République at 2pm and head southeast for the Place de la Nation.

Tuesday marks the third time since Macron’s election that public-sector workers have taken to the streets, but one unprecedented in that span in terms of union consensus. The leaders of three major labour unions – the far-left CGT and FO and the reform-minded CFDT – are expected to march together for the first time since 2010, when they protested pension reform en masse.

Service disruptions are expected in France’s crèches and schools, in its energy and health sectors, at Pôle Emploi unemployment offices, in the Météo France national weather service, at public broadcasters, among postal workers and in rail and air transportation. France’s civil aviation authority recommended airlines cancel 20 percent of their flights at Paris’s Orly airport and airports in Lyon and Marseille on Tuesday given the disruptions expected.


Mid-week, some SNCF railworkers will be off the job for another two-day strike, their eleventh such stoppage in a long series of rolling stoppages that began in April. Last Friday and Saturday, the tenth two-day stoppage stymied some travelers Pentecost long weekend plans with 16 percent of railworkers striking, including 51.5 percent of train conductors.

>> Read more: Do French unions have the money to win rail strike battle?

Also due Wednesday: the results of a cross-union referendum that asked railworkers to pronounce on whether they were for or against the government’s planned reform for the sector.


With those symbolic referendum results in hand, railworker union leaders head to Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s office on Friday for a new round of talks.


Far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon has called another ironic “party” for Macron in the streets of Paris, following up on a similar mass gathering of anti-Macron factions in the French capital on May 5. Eighty parties and associations are slated to take part in the day of protest, but the headline new joiner this time is the far-left CGT union in a rare open commingling of union and political forces.

La France Insoumise leader Mélenchon is lobbying for a “popular front” that “breaks down the barriers between unions, politics and non-profit associations”. “We need to demonstrate the deep roots of the refusal of [an economically] liberal society,” he said Sunday in an interview broadcast on radio and television for Le Grand Jury-RTL-Le Figaro-LCI.

A new poll by the IFOP firm released on Saturday showed a growing majority of French people surveyed disagree with the railworkers’ strike, with 58 percent calling it unjustified, two percent more than a week earlier. A full 65 percent of those polled want “the government to go all the way” on the reform.

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