Even by French standards, these strikes are shocking

This week marked the start of a nationwide rail strike in France with no end date. Over the past few months, and especially the past few weeks, nuclear plant staff, oil refinery workers, air-traffic controllers, and others have downed tools in the hope that the government will reverse controversial labor reforms.

France is no stranger to industrial action, but even by its standards the scale of the recent strikes is vast and their aggression significant. The disruptions also come as the country’s stagnant economy and stubbornly high unemployment were just beginning to show (faint) signs of improvement.

Compounding the misery, France is hosting the European soccer championships this year. The tournament kicks off next week, with unions threatening to prolong, and even intensify, their strikes as 2.5 million spectators try to make their way to the matches across the country.

French president François Hollande has tried to ease tensions by hiking pay for some public workers. But on whether the strikes will succeed in watering down reforms, he is unmoved: “I will not back down,” he said. His resolve will be tested, as the scope of the stoppages shows few signs of shrinking.

At some point, especially given the disruption to travel, it may be easier to list the workers who are still going to the office instead of those who aren’t, by choice or necessity.

🚅 Railway workers

Around half of France’s rail services ran on the first full day of an open-ended, nationwide strike yesterday (June 1). Similar disruptions to the schedule are expected for the duration of the strikes. The Paris Metro and suburban rail network workers joined in the industrial action today.

France Strikes
Railway workers burn flares during a demonstration in Paris. (Associated Press/Francois Mori)

📚 Students

Marches and protests have been held across the country in recent months, in some cases blocking schools. The youth-led Nuit Debout (“rise up at night”) movement has staged regular nighttime demonstrations across the country, attracting thousands.

Supporters of social media-driven movement "Nuit Debout" (Up All Night), gather in Paris
Nuit Debout supporters gather in Place de la Republique in Paris. (Reuters/Benoit Tessier)

⛽️ Oil refinery workers

A blockade has been in place outside fuel depots in the north of the country, with some 20% of petrol stations now out of fuel.

Resistance has been fierce.
A protester throws a tyre onto a burning barricade in front of an oil depot in Donges. (Reuters/Stephane Mahe)

⚛ Nuclear plant staff

Workers at the country’s 19 plants went on strike last week, and voted to start another round of rolling stoppages yesterday.

Trade unionists block the entrance of the Nogent Nuclear Power Plant in Nogent sur Seine. (EPA/Christophe Petit Tesson)

🚚 Truckers

In a week of multiple strikes last month, truckers in Bordeaux slowed traffic or blocked access to roads leading to fuel and food depots.

Striking French truckers stage a blockade near Nantes.
Striking French truckers stage a blockade near Nantes. (Reuters/Stephane Mahe)

♻️ Trash collectors

Garbage collectors and sewage workers blocked access to a waste treatment center near Paris earlier this week.

Striking French CGT labour union garbage collectors and sewer workers block access to the waste treatment center of Ivry-sur-Seine, near Paris
Members of the CGT union block access to a waste treatment center near Paris. (Reuters/Charles Platiau)

✈️ Pilots and air-traffic controllers

Around a fifth of flights from Paris Orly airport and a third from Marseille were cancelled during a 36-hour walkout by controllers at the end of March; a further strike is planned for later this week. Air France pilots are also threatening to strike.

🚓 Police

The police themselves staged protests last month, rallying against anti-police violence. The protests turned violent.

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