• France's news in English
Strikes in France
Why is there a major national strike in France?
Photos: AFP

Why is there a major national strike in France?

Ben McPartland · 26 Jan 2016, 07:51

Published: 26 Jan 2016 07:51 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Tax drivers:

Most of the disruption on Tuesday looks set to be caused by French taxi drivers whose “forceful” protests will see them hold “go slows” around airports and in the centres of cities.

Taxi drivers have a longstanding grudge against what they see as unfair competition from the likes of Uber and other private hire firms known as VTCs in France.

While last June’s violent protest by taxi drivers was directed against the now banned UberPop service, Tuesday’s show of strength is in anger at the government’s failure to enforce laws designed to protect their industry.

A raft of rules were brought in to prevent VTCs from encroaching on taxi drivers’ turf, such as a ban on them picking people up on the street or waiting at airports unless they had a booking.

But taxi driver unions say these laws are not being enforced and as a result their takings have nosedived dramatically and their livelihoods are threatened.

Public sympathy level: 2/10 – Taxi drivers are hardly cherished by the French public, especially given what happened last June.

Air Traffic Controllers

French air traffic controllers have been fairly frequent strikers in recent years and they still have major grudges against the government. With the two major unions calling for a walk-out, between 20 and 50 percent of flights to and from France are set to be hit.

The unions are demanding for more controllers to be recruited to relieve the burden on overworked staff, who, to be fair, have to concentrate pretty hard while they are working. They say air traffic has increased dramatically, but there hasn’t been the same rise in the number of controllers.

“If this continues we will no longer be able to deal with the rise of air traffic,” said union leader Olivier Joffrin.

Unions are also angry at what they see as a lack of “social dialogue” - which means talks between unions and civil aviation bosses at the DGAC - as well as a drop in their “spending power”, something highly valued by French civil servants.

The controllers' unions want to be exempted from proposed changes to how salaries are calculated, which they say would hurt their purchasing power.

Controllers have tried to fight against the perception that they have it easy.

“We are not privileged. We are only the only ones who take the risks in air transport,” said one union leader.

Public sympathy level: 5/10 - Many see them as having an easy job, plus no one likes to have their flight cancelled. But then again they are kind of handy.

Civil servants

Three unions representing civil servants have called a strike which is set to see many of France’s 5.6 million “fonctionnaires” walk out.

All kinds of public institutions will be hit from hospitals in Paris to tourist attractions like the Chateau de Versailles, which won’t open on time on Tuesday.

Essentially unions denounced a pay freeze that has been in place since 2010 as well as a loss of jobs in key sectors. 

The leftist FO union says that, with inflation, the July 2010 freeze on the index used to calculate salaries has cost civil servants eight percent of their purchasing power.

The striking unions also denounce job losses totalling some 150,000 since 2007 and say the hospital sector is especially in need of new jobs.

Civil Service Minister Marylise Lebranchu said unfreezing the index would not be enough to satisfy the unions.

Public sympathy level: 7/10 Most of France likes their civil servants, indeed many French ARE civil servants and no one likes a five-year pay freeze.


Teachers have been regularly involved in industrial action in recent years.

Kindergarten and primary school teachers are striking for higher pay. About a third of them, or 100,000, are expected to take part, according to their union, which predicts a stay away rate of up to 45 percent in Paris.

They claim they are the lowest paid primary school teachers in Europe. While a French primary school teacher picks up a an average wage of €2,100 per month, their German counterparts are paid €3,900.

Middle school teachers are also protesting against the the education ministry’s reforms of “colleges” as they are known in France.

Story continues below…

The reforms includes controversial measures such as cuts to language classes.

The main parts of the reform that have proved controversial are giving more autonomy to schools and replacing Latin and Ancient Greek languages classes with more general lessons on ancient civilization and culture.

Unions are also angry at plans to scrap the learning of a second modern language for gifted children (around 16 percent took these classes) at the age of 11, replacing it with a modern language for everyone at 12.

Public sympathy level: 5/10 - Many admit reforms need to be carried out and while many middle class parents lament the loss of language classes, parents have failed to mobilize behind the teachers.


Tuesday travellers may also encounter roadblocks set up by a different set of protesters: farmers upset over falling prices.

Some 200 farmers in the Reims area east of Paris set up roadblocks on major arteries on Monday in solidarity with livestock farmers in Brittany, who resumed their protests after suspending them for the weekend, blocking roads with tractors and burning tyres.

The farmers' unions are demanding that distributors and major food companies pay equitable prices for their produce and livestock.

Sympathy level: 9/10 - Everyone loves French farmers

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
France’s 'Jungle' children arrive in UK
Authorities will start to clear the ‘Jungle’ migrant camp on Monday. Photo: Denis Charlet / AFP file picture

The first group of children from the French "Jungle" migrant camp with no connection to Britain have arrived in the country, the Home Office said Sunday, ahead of the camp's planned demolition.

French FM calls for end to Aleppo 'massacre'
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault says the international community cannot ‘come to a negotiation under the bombs’. Photo: Dominick Reuter / AFP file picture

France's foreign minister urged the international community to "do everything" to end the "massacre" in the Syrian city of Aleppo on Sunday after fighting resumed following a 72-hour truce declared by Damascus ally Russia.

French cheer police, reviving Charlie spirit
French police officers on Saturday demonstrated for the fifth night in a row to protest mounting attacks on officers. Photo: Thomas Samson / AFP

Angry French police have taken to the streets for five nights in a row -- and Parisians have started to cheer them on, reviving scenes last seen following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in 2015.

Scarlett Johansson turns popcorn girl in Paris
US actress Scarlett Johansson greets customers at the Yummy Pop gourmet popcorn shop in the Marais district of Paris. Photo: Benjamin Cremel / AFP

Hollywood superstar Scarlett Johansson swapped the red carpet for a turn behind the counter at her new popcorn shop in Paris on Saturday.

US couple donates huge art collection to Paris
Marlene (centre) and Spencer (right) are donating their collection ‘for the benefit of art lovers’. Photo: Thomas Samson / AFP

A Texan couple who discovered their love for art during a trip to Paris in the 1970s are to donate the multi-million dollar collection they have amassed since to the French capital.

France to clear 'Jungle' migrant camp Monday
Migrants will be bussed from the camp to some 300 temporary accommodation centres around France. Photo: Denis Charlet/ AFP

The "Jungle" migrant camp on France's northern coast will be cleared of its residents on Monday before being demolished, authorities said Friday.

How life for expats in France has changed over the years
A market in Eymet, southwestern France. Photo: AFP

Foreigners in France explain how life has changed over the years.

London calling for Calais youths, but only a chosen few
Photo: AFP

Dozens of Calais minors are still hanging their hopes on help from the UK, but not all will be so lucky.

17 different ways to talk about sex in French
Photo: Helga Weber/Flickr

Fancy a quick run with the one-legged man?

Yikes! This is what a rat-infested French jail looks like
Photo: YouTube/France Bleu TV.

This video is not for sufferers of ratophobia (or musophobia as the condition is officially called).

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
The ups and downs of being both French and English
How Brexit vote has changed life for expats in France
Twelve French insults we'd love to have in English
What's on in France: Ten of the best events in October
jobs available