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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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France’s SNCF announces October date for Christmas rail tickets sale

Mark your calendars, as French rail operators have announced that ticket sales for the Christmas holiday period will open soon.

France's SNCF announces October date for Christmas rail tickets sale

France’s national rail service, SNCF, announced on Friday that tickets for the Christmas period would go on sale starting October 4th. 

SNCF high-speed train tickets typically become available about three months in advance. As of Friday, for example, you could only book with the domestic TGV (high-speed train) service up until November 8th. 

TGV InOui (premium high-speed trains) tickets for the period of December 10th to January 9th will be available here

Intercité (classic) train tickets for the same period will be available here

Low-cost OuiGo tickets will be available for an even larger period, from December 10th to July 5th, and can be booked here

If you are unsure of which kind of train is suitable for your journey (or even just goes where you want it to go), check the SNCF website for further details on prices and itineraries. 

Eurostar tickets for the Christmas period are already on sale. 

What about the rest of the year?

If you want to book tickets from mid-January 2024 and onwards, you are going to have to wait for a little while (unless you are travelling on a OuiGo train). 

Sales for TGV InOui and Intercité services will open progressively for services between January 9th to February 9th. 

If however you want to book trains for the February school holidays, you set a reminder for November 15th, which is the date that tickets for TGV InOui and Intercité services will go on sale for the period of February 10th to March 24th.