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LATEST: Will French pension strikes continue over the summer?

French unions have announced fresh strikes for June, vowing "the battle continues" - but just how long are the protests over pension reform likely to last?

LATEST: Will French pension strikes continue over the summer?

Since mid-January, France has been in the grip of furious protests over Emmanuel  Macron’s planned pension reforms.

The reform has now been signed into law, but unions say they won’t give up. The head of the largest union, the CFDT, Laurent Berger said on Thursday that “the battle continues” and the union will take every opportunity to try and challenge the reform.

Unions have announced fresh strike dates for June – so what can we expect in the weeks and months to come?

Key dates

Much is still uncertain, but there are some key dates that we do know;

May 3rd – the Constitutional Council will give its ruling on whether the pension reform should be the subject of a referendum. Street protests in several cities followed the last ruling from the Council on pension reform.

June 6th – the next ‘day of mobilisation’ – which will combine strikes in key sectors including aviation and transport with demos in towns and cities across France.

June 8th – the French parliament will vote on a new bill, put forward by one of the smaller opposition groups, to scrap the pension reform bill.

September 1st – the government has stated that it wants to pension reform to come into effect from September 1st.


So how much are services like transport likely to be disrupted by strikes over the summer?

At present there is only one strike date announced, but the usual pattern since January has been for the intersyndicale – the group representing all eight union federations – to use the evening of each strike to announce the date for the next one, so there may be more to come.

You can keep up with the latest on our regularly updated strike calendar.

These dates are ‘mass strike’ days, when various different groups – from teachers to train drivers to waste collectors – go on strike, but some unions have also announced extra dates, including railway workers and air traffic controllers.

However it’s noticeable that the strikes have become a lot less disruptive as the months have gone on.

Two recent ‘days of anger’ announced by rail workers saw all trains run as normal, while the most recent ‘mass strike’ days also saw normal service on most city public transport routes and only minor disruption on trains.

Air traffic controllers’ strikes have been more disruptive – causing between 20-30 percent of flights in certain airports to be cancelled on strike days, and between 10 and 15 percent cancellations – including of flights passing over France – on other days.

READ MORE: Calendar: The latest French pension strike dates to remember

The general pattern of big strike movements is that strikes become less disruptive as time goes on – French workers are not paid when they are on strike, so long-running actions see more and more people return to work when they can no longer afford to miss out on pay.

Peak holiday travel periods can also be integral moments of the year for unions – particularly those representing transport and aviation workers – to negotiate pay rises and other benefits with employers, so it is possible that the summer will see more strikes unrelated to pension reform.

Wildcard actions

Some of the more radical unions like the CGT and FO have been threatening more disruptive actions – including cutting the power to big events such as the Cannes Film Festival and the French Open tennis tournament.

While it’s true that unions have succeeded in cutting electricity to some towns, these actions are usually geographically limited and last only a couple of hours – many commentators see such desperate action as a sign of union weakness, rather than strength.

READ MORE: OPINION: Drunk on their own rhetoric, certain French unions resort to guerrilla actions in pensions battle

What next?

The French government is hoping to move on from pensions and start a ‘new dialogue’, while unions and opposition politicians are equally determined not to let them.

So it seems that protests will continue at least for a few weeks.

However, the real question is whether the unions can muster the support to make any further strikes truly disruptive.

You can follow all the latest announcements in our strike section HERE.

Member comments

  1. Have some unions become unable to halt strike actions – or have strikes taken on anlife of their own – or is strike behaviour influenced by the firebug sector – or will strikes gradually fizzle out? Whatever the visible activity, what are the real reasons overall for striking, often with violence?

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Entertainers’ union plans strike for Olympics opening ceremony

A French performing artists union announced plans for a strike coinciding with the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Paris, protesting "outrageous disparities in treatment" between performers recruited for the spectacle.

Entertainers' union plans strike for Olympics opening ceremony

“We regret to have to announce filing a strike notice for the show on July 26th as well as for the upcoming rehearsals for the opening ceremony for the Paralympic Games” on August 28th, the union said in a statement.

It said it had “alerted” Paname24, the executive producer of the ceremonies, several times about contractual practices not in accordance with the collective agreement.

“We also highlighted outrageous disparities in treatment as well as an absence of social dialogue during preparations for the ceremonies,” the union added.

Asked by AFP, a member of the SFA-CGT union suggested that around “250 to 300 professional dancers” of the 3,000 signed up for the Olympics “were recruited under shameful (financial) conditions”.

“Why are some non-Parisian artists being paid and housed, when the majority of them — the most precarious — won’t be, even though they have the same employment contracts,” the union said.

Some 3,000 dancers, musicians and actors will take to the banks of the river Seine and its bridges as part of the ceremony which will carry athletes along a six-kilometre (four mile) route, the first time a summer Games has begun outside the main stadium.