News and Information

'Black Tuesday' strike in France
October 4, 2005

Strikers in Marseille

Strikers speak out
A one-day national strike has caused massive disruption to transport, schools and industry across France.

Hundreds of thousands attended marches nationwide. Official figures suggested between 15% and 30% of public sector workers observed the strike.

The strikers oppose government economic policies, including plans to privatise state firms, and complain that low pay is eroding their purchasing power.

The strike is seen as a big test of new PM Dominique de Villepin's reform plan.

French media dubbed the strike "Black Tuesday" for the premier, who says his reforms are meant to stimulate the job market.

More action

Unions said protests from Le Havre in the north to the southern port of Marseille drew one million demonstrators. Police said the number was fewer than half that.

Mixed feelings in Paris

In pictures

The unions said 150,000 attended in Paris, carrying banners reading: "Together for employment, purchasing power, workers' rights."

They are angry at high unemployment and government reforms, which have made it easier for small companies to hire and sack staff.

Union leaders were quick to threaten more action if their demands went unheeded.

Bernard Thibault, of the General Labour Confederation, said: "The government and employers have a few days to give tangible signs they have heard the message.

"We are already poised to start planning a follow-up if the right response doesn't come."

Mr de Villepin said he "heard the message being sent to us by the French".

Strikers in Marseille

Parisians split over strike

"We want to respond to their concerns and their aspirations. They want results and we are fighting for them."

Official figures showed railway staff were the biggest supporters in the public sector, with about 30% staying away from work. Nearly 230,000 teachers failed to go to school

In Marseille and Bordeaux public transport was at a standstill. Paris suffered disruptions to all rail lines although services were less affected than feared.

More than 400 short and medium-haul flights at Paris' two main airports were cancelled.

About half of regional and inter-city high-speed trains ran to schedule, the SNCF railway company said.

Clashes broke out between police and protesters in Ajaccio in Corsica.

Thousands of tourists had been stranded on the island for several days when staff of the SNCM ferry firm went on strike over government plans to sell it off.

Major test

Some commuters at the Paris Saint-Lazare railway station said they supported the action.

"All of the rights that our ancestors took centuries to acquire are being squeezed," Jean Aubigny told the Associated Press.

But another told the agency he objected to the delays.

"They don't even know why they're protesting with all the strikes they stage," Florent Courtois said.

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I live in the Paris suburbs and cross the city from North to South every day to get to work. My journey took me far less time than usual this morning and my metro train was far less crowded, as many people stayed away from work because they were on strike or because they took a day off. It is difficult for many of us in the private sector to join strike action, as unions are so weak, so I, like many others, can only offer moral support (what the French call a 'strike by proxy'). With salaries failing to make up for big hikes in fuel prices, rents, local taxes and public transport, we need more union power, not less. The French government is totally out of tune with public opinion, as the Euro referendum result showed so clearly.
Colin Falconer, Saint-Denis, France

People with a negative attitude towards the French people's strikes should for a moment put away their selfish reasons and think about the broader issue. This is not just about being unable to go your own daily businesses, it is about rights and freedoms which people have fought over for many years, and which they are not prepared to lose. The last, so-called socialist government here in Germany has started a few years ago on jumping on the neo-liberalist, Americanised bandwagon; and what has it bought to the Germans? "Hartz 4", a new labour policy, which by many are described as modern-day slavery. Sacking professional, skilled workers from their jobs, to fill the vacancies with unskilled unemployed people at 1 Euro per hour in addition to their meagre dole. If this is what the EU is about then good on all the French people for standing up and refusing to put up with it.
Agostino Imondi, Berlin

If the French want to protect their lifestyle, then they are 100% correct to strike
Raymund MacVicar, Antibes, France
Power to the people! If you don't like workers who strike, then go live somewhere else where it's not tolerated - like China or the US. There are many social models in the world. The neo-liberal one is not the best for everyone. If the French want to protect their lifestyle, then they are 100% correct to strike. I've lived there for more than 16 years. It is changing...but slower than some other European countries. Maybe those who point to Britain's liberal economy can suggest an alternative to Thatcherism's way of dealing with unionised labour? If the choice is between slow change and fighting on the streets like we saw in the 80s in the UK, then I will always choose slow change.
Raymund MacVicar, Antibes, France

I'm a 64 yr old expat. My retired teacher husband is out demonstrating today for the reasons explained by Alun Griffiths' post below. Usually in France those that cannot strike because of the fear of being fired are supportive of those that do and that demonstrate for them. How do people show their disapproval of the system in Britain? Or don't they any more?
Suzanne Fade, France

Why do the French continue to think and act as if they deserve something for nothing? The recent strikes are just another example of the society's overall inability to accept the changes occurring around the world. French people along with most westerners will have to accept that there are greater pressures pushing wages down then up and that state firms are inefficient in any industry. These two factors alone should be clear enough to make the strikers realize that they will simply have to work more hours more efficiently or settle for less.
Mike, New York, USA

I am a student in Grenoble and this is the first time I have experienced a French style strike! We had been warned but did not expect the extent of disruption that we have experienced today. People were fainting on overcrowded trams, of which there were very few! However the atmosphere in the centre of town is quite amazing with lots of people parading around singing! No doubt this is the first of many to come during my year abroad!
Catherine Witcombe and Kirsty Mc Vicar, Grenoble

I find it sad the lack of Solidarity and understanding, more about what happens to the "me" generation.
David Eaton , Preston

This isn't the first strike this year, and it won't be the last. Public transport strikes here are nothing new, and do not benefit the many. These people are striking with a view to protecting themselves. These strikes are in protest against privatisation, or in other words, possible job cuts. No doubt I would be tempted to strike too if I worked for a state owned company. These guys retire many years before the rest of the workforce, and receive benefits far better than anyone else too. Creating a more flexible workforce can only help the stagnant French economy. And that, unfortunately, is not what these people are aiming for.
Chris, Paris, France

Strikes in France are another illustration that the French model is broken
Jean Frolet, Atlanta USA
Strikes in France are another illustration that the French model is broken. Because the state has a monopoly on crucial services it gives the employees the power to take the French population (and politicians) hostage and essentially bully them into submission (more pay, less work is the usual theme). The French still work along the revolutionary lines of 1789 and have not yet graduated to resolving fundamental social items outside of the street. This is why I left France and only return on holidays. It makes for a fascinating social museum though.
Jean Frolet, Atlanta USA

We were due to fly to Limoge to-day only to be informed after queuing and waiting at the airport that all flights to France were cancelled. What these strikers do not understand is the long term damage they are doing to their country and tourism. Regretfully we will think twice before visiting again.
Edmund Roberts, Nantwich Cheshire

So good to see it annoys so much the British. Since Thatcher's era, you gave up all your rights and Blair carries on the transformation towards an even more liberal society where the poor are left in one corner (as seen in New Orleans). In France, we are fighting for what is left despite shutting down many of the services. One day may not achieve a lot but this is a warning to let the government know of what is coming. Public services should remain public. Look at your own case i.e train network and transport.
Anon, France

I don't know what the strikers expect the government to actually do. They are complaining about the reform of public services and unemployment, but the French state is almost broke and the economy is in decline. France has to take the bitter pill of economic reform, and forfeiting a day's GDP is not the way to do it!
Daniel Norton, Bedford, UK

To be fair, most of the Metros and suburban trains are running. And on the doors of all the stations there are public notices explaining the times of the limited available services. But what I can't understand is that outside my apartment (Place De La Republique) I have had hours of techno music blaring away whilst the members of the unions are hanging around - participating in absolutely nothing. Except dancing and eating that is. There are huge open BBQs everywhere and stalls selling Lenin and Che Guevara hats, scarfs and flags. The only thing the union reps are achieving today is annoying the ordinary working public and the tourists.
Graeme, Paris, France (Place De La Republique)

In 2003 I spent a year teaching in a high school Lyon, France. In that year, a combined period of two weeks of teaching time was lost due to teaching strikes or transport strikes, however, not one of these strikes proved successful in changing plans and policies. I understand that these strikes are important, however, it is the children who are missing out.
Rachael Adamson, Essex, United Kingdom

Arrived this morning on Eurostar - it was great, no crowds and on time. Metro services are a pleasant journey today - less crowded than normal. Interesting to see a lot more traffic wardens on duty than normal!
Malcolm Bradshaw, Paris, France

I lived in France for nearly five years and grew used to regular strikes. Those who complain about them need to realise two things: a) the strikes are a sure fire way to get the government listening - witness their concessions already over the ferry privatisation; b)the French are defending a way of life which millions of anglophones worldwide covet. Contrary to some of the comments which have been made so far, the French are not striking for fun: they are passionate and serious about their society, which I think is admirable.
Chloe, Adelaide Australia

Strikes in France will never be a problem for me again. In 2002 we were nearly stranded on holiday in central France with a young baby by fuel depot blockades and farmers blocking the motorway. The owner of our holiday cottage took no interest in out situation and we relied on phone calls to relatives in the UK to navigate back, avoiding blocked roads. We have never gone on holiday in France since and I never intend to again. Neither do I buy French products if I can help it. The protesters have a point but why inflict misery on ordinary people.
Mark, Glasgow UK

I have lived in France for five years. It's true the strikes can be annoying, but they rarely last long. It's also worth pointing out that in France I have had fewer disruptions to my travel plans due to strikes than I had in the two years I lived in England where the disruptions were blamed on signal failure/leaves/snow/staff shortages/etc. And it's not like it's a surprise. This strike has been public knowledge since at least late last week. I received an email from the train company on Thursday suggesting ways in which I could change my travel plans to avoid the strike.
Peter, Paris, France

I'm French and have been living and working in the UK for several years. This is exactly why I don't intend to go back! Whenever I return to visit family and friends, there is a strike. 5% of the population, with guaranteed employment and pension, manage to paralyse a country and prevent the rest of the population to go to work. I got fed up with it. It is time the French realise they have got to work and engage in reforms if they want unemployment to go down and the national economy stop sliding in international league tables.
Morgane, Oxford, UK

Let us support the unions and their call for strike. They are the last materialization of opposition to the thought that economy realism must force us to give up the social rights that earlier generations have fought for. Complaints of transport or school disruptions sadly show the narrow minded self interest and resignation of the haves and the would-likes. The time is not to complain but to reflect upon the sense of our existence as humans within a society, not statistics within a global economy. Wake up!
Zoko, France

Are the French aware that the EU is not there to subsidise their lives as they try to live as they always have? Wake up, smell the coffee!! Change is happening like it or not - and these days if you aren't competitive companies will just... leave.
Richard, London, UK

What our French neighbours need is a good dose of Thatcherism, it did us no harm at all!
Howard Farthing, UK

This is absolutely typical - the French love to strike! When I lived there you could hardly switch the TV on without some mention of potential or actual strikes. It's time that the strikers realised that rather than helping, their actions are compounding their economic problems. They love their 35 hour week, strong employment protection laws, fantastic social security benefits, but until the French realise that they need to be more competitive in this globalised world and work more, not less, then they are doomed to economic failure. That's fine with me, but as a European citizen who would like to see parts of "the project" work they risk bringing down other more entrepreneurial countries like the UK and Ireland down with them. Soon Europe, and maybe eventually the US, will be has-beens on the world stage, unless we work together and work harder.
Andy Evans, Dublin, Ireland

Socialism is failing in France. So what do the French want? More socialism! It doesn't make sense. The want the government to run and control everything even when it fails. What they need is a free market.
Rob, Rochester, USA

I am an English student studying in Rennes. When I eventually managed to get to university today after metro strikes, I went to the university canteen to find it shut. I tried to walk back into the town centre to find food but traffic was chaos because there was a massive anti-immigration rally blocking all the roads. This is a country where protest is part of the culture- it achieves very little but everyone enjoys a good shout and a day off work!
Jenny Shaw, Rennes, France

There is great disruption of the Grenoble transport network. On my way to school (Bicycle, 14 kilometres) I saw only 2 trams, and 3 busses, significantly less than normal. Trains are also going at a much less frequent rate, a friend of mine will have only one option of trains to catch, and it is expected to be packed.
Alan, Grenoble, France

Our flight from London to Basle was cancelled due to this ridiculous protest by, yet again, French workers. We were already on the plane ready to go. The sight of old people in wheelchairs being wheeled on and off of aeroplanes, then forced to sit in waiting lounges for hours on end, hoping to be put up in a hotel, was infuriating. What is the point? Sack the lot of them and replace them with a modern, flexible workforce who are not afraid to modernise.
DP, UK/Switzerland

I have lived and worked in France for over 12 years, escaping Britain at the time because of the increasing liberalisation of the culture. The strikes today in France are not just about the SNCM dispute which we know so much about here in Marseille, or Transport issues. It is a general strike which falls as a continuation of the European referendum and the No Vote last May, and as a general criticism of the ineptitude of the current government.

France is a country which has, despite the pressures of the mode of thinking which dominates the world economy and institutions, managed to retain many of the social advantages of a real social democracy and welfare state. The majority of the population are not ready to give these up, either through pressure from Europe or the current government. Sure action affects people as they try and go about their daily business, but not as much as they will get "hurt" if the neo liberal culture is allowed to ride roughshod.
Alun Griffiths, Marseille, France

The French have tried to ignore the realities of world commerce
Mark, Liverpool,UK
For the last 40 years, the French have tried to ignore the realities of world commerce often using other EU members as supportive' cash-cows'. Unfortunately, I believe that France will suffer repeated civil strife over the next decade as they come to terms with their bankrupt world trade model philosophy. I only hope that the UK, Germany, Holland et al do not end up having to prop up the current regime financially in order to halt the onset of a 6th Republic. France needs to change, the world waits for no one (country).
Mark, Liverpool,UK

My family and I moved to France from the UK in Jan 2004. Funny, we moved to France for a more relaxed lifestyle and better schooling - since then all the teachers at my youngest daughter's school have resigned in protest at staff cuts and today my eldest daughter, who only started college (secondary school) in Sept has spent the day at home due to strike action, the third time since we arrived. I'm all for solidarity, but I can't quite see how the teachers depriving the children of an education helps the transport workers in their fight with the government!
Andy Barton, Saint Civran, France

"A more relaxed lifestyle, better schooling", as well as better care, are things to be defended. That's why this strike. Welcome.
Marc Lyra, Rennes, France

I'm a Welsh girl out here teaching for a year. Travelling to and from work has been a nightmare. There are no metros at all, fewer trams and scarcely any buses. I understand that strikes are important but why all methods of transport and wouldn't a national demo be more useful? It seems the French are always on strike!
Rachel Thomas, Lyon, France

Seafrance Dover to Calais service is also being disrupted due to strike action, by French workers
Anon, Dover

Living and working in France for several years one has come to accept the strikes as relatively normal. They happen so often that no one really knows why the unions are striking. The disruption to the transport system, however, is unjust and has little effect because people, like me, just take time off so as not to be affected. The worse affected are the children of those parents who have no choice but to go to work. With the schools and state nurseries closed the parents are obliged to find alternative arrangements which can result in a days unpaid leave. Generally the strikes are tolerated with the inevitable Gallic shrug of the shoulders!
Tom Atkins, Paris France


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