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STRIKES

Are French pension strikes over?

Periodic strikes have been causing disruption in France since January, while anti-pension reform demos have repeatedly flared into violence in the big cities - but is the battle over pension reform finally over?

Are French pension strikes over?
A protestor holds a Force Ouvriere (FO) trade union flag as he walks in front of a banner reading "No pension, no peace" Photo by Damien MEYER / AFP

Tuesday, June 6th saw the 14th one-day mass strike in France on the issue of Emmanuel Macron’s pension reforms – which among other things raise the standard pension age from 62 to 64.

But with steeply falling turnout and the end of the political and legal processes to fight the reform, could this also be the final strike day?

Strike announcements

The pattern of the pension battle so far as has been for the inter-syndicale, the federation that represents all eight French unions, to wait until one strike day is over before announcing the next.

The June 6th strike was announced after an unusually long gap – the previous day of action had been May 1st. Since January, the strike days have taken place at roughly two-week intervals, with a break around the spring school holidays.

Among the things that unions consider when calling new strikes is the turnout at previous ones.

Turnout

As is the usual pattern during prolonged strikes, turnout has fallen as the pension strikes have gone on.

French workers are not paid during strikes, so as time goes on many go back to work when they feel they can no longer take the financial hit of sacrificing a day’s pay.

Even allowing for this pattern however, the turnout in the most recent strike days has been low, with national railways and city public transport services able to run normal or quasi normal services on strike days.

Air traffic controllers have proved the most resilient of the strikers, with walk-outs causing around 20 percent of flights in and out of six French airports to be cancelled on Tuesday.

Tuesday also saw a record low turnout at marches and demos around Paris – Interior Ministry figures estimated the total turnout at 280,000, including 31,000 in Paris. 

This represents the lowest turnout since the protests began, and is well short of the 1.2 million people who took to the streets at the start of the protests. 

Public support

Another important factor is public support. Although the strikes have undoubtedly caused disruption, the public remain broadly supportive, with polling for the French Sunday paper Journal Du Dimanche indicating that 57 percent of French people still support the strikes – although this is down from 80 percent at the start of the strikes.

Political progress

In parallel with the battle on the street is the political battle – and several strikes have been called to coincide with key political actions.

However, opponents have now exhausted virtually all legal and political avenues, and the pension reform bill has been signed into law.

A last-ditch attempt to block the bill in parliament will be tabled by the centrist group Liot on Thursday – it is not expected to succeed.  

Unions

These are all the factors that unions need to weigh up when deciding whether to call more strikes.

The tone from union leaders and leftist politicians remains bullish, with hardline CGT union leader Sophie Binet calling for “everyone to take the streets” and slamming the introduction of the pension reform in September as “irresponsible”.

Meanwhile Green MP Sandrine Rousseau says that “defeat is not a foregone conclusion” and hard-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon says that the battle against pension reform “will never stop”.

Balanced against the rhetoric, however, is the knowledge that unions will weaken their own position if they continue to call strikes that cause little or no disruption.

Previous long-running union battles – including the battle against pension reform in 2019 – ended with a splintering of the united front among unions, with the more moderate ending the strikes while the smaller, radical unions kept up the battle, but to little effect. 

Summer holidays

The summer holidays in France traditionally mark a break in mass strike actions, but they are often a time for industrial action from specific unions – especially those involved in the flight and tourist industries.

France still faces problems with inflation and the cost of living, and although Macron may have managed to get his reform passed into law, the mood in France remains testy and hostile. 

READ ALSO Will there be queues at the French border this summer? 

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TRAVEL NEWS

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. 

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