French Strike Update

Yesterday’s daylong nationwide transport workers strike in France was a qualified success for the unions, who achieved their goal of putting half a million people in the streets. But as Libération explains, it won’t be very easy for them to convert their show of force into a unified stance. To begin with, they remain divided amongst themselves about the ongoing reform of the “special regimes.” A few militant unions are pushing to return them to 37.5 years of contribution for a full pension, some are okay with where things stand now (re-aligned with the general retirement system of 40 years contribution) but refuse the possibility of prolonging them to 41 years as is now planned, and others refuse to rule out 41 years in return for concessions. Complicating the picture is a proposed law restricting participation in official negotiations to unions representing ten percent of their profession.

On a practical level, the strike had a limited impact (the Paris subways, for instance, were running fine), which is not necessarily a bad thing for the unions. They were more interested in showing their ability to mobilize than to actually risk alienating popular opinion. Perhaps more worrisome for the unions is the fact the French media (or at least the online newspapers) seemed to all but ignore the action.

On the other hand, the fishermen’s movement is one that could easily capture the popular imagination, combining as it does the plight of an artisanal industry with the rising cost of fuel, with the potential interference of the EU’s technocrats in Brussels as a simmering plotline. In a situation growing more and more volatile by the week, the fishermen of the Atlantic coast have refused to go to sea and blocked a number of major ports to protest the government’s inadequate response to the rising cost of diesel fuel. A handful of strikes were lifted yesterday, but others either remained in place or escalated in tone.