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How can French strikers afford to keep striking?
CGT union protesters in Lille on June 9th. Photo: AFP

How can French strikers afford to keep striking?

The Local · 10 Jun 2016, 13:34

Published: 10 Jun 2016 13:33 GMT+02:00
Updated: 10 Jun 2016 13:34 GMT+02:00

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With the Euro 2016 football tournament kicking off on Friday, the ongoing strikes are a huge headache for the French government, which says it’s ready to make a controversial move that would force workers on strike to go back to work

Strikers who are in stand off with the French government over its labour law reforms, are of course facing their own headache of a sort - a loss of pay.

“Their work contract is suspended. As there’s no work performance, there’s no payment,” said Stéphanie Matteudi, studies director of the Institut supérieur du travail (IST). “That’s largely why social movements don’t continue indefinitely.” 

Some strikers have already gone back to work, because it was financially necessary, but many rail workers or staff at oil refineries are plowing on despite losing many days pay in recent weeks and months.

“At one time, the unions could negotiate payment for all or part of the strike days,” said Stéphane Béal, a lawyer specializing in social rights. 

But these days, that’s pretty rare, although “it’s sometimes possible to see the strike days transformed into working time or leave,” added Matteudi. 

There are other options however.

'A financial solidarity fund'

The unions behind these social movements aren't leaving their workers in the lurch.

As of June 10th, the CGT union at the head of the strikes against the labour law reforms had raised around €245,000 as a “financial solidarity fund with the workers on strike”.

The fund was put together on May 23rd by four branches of the CGT union: first CGT info’com and later CGT Air France, Goodyear, and the Parisian printing house union.

“It was launched at a turning point in the social movement, when the rolling strikes started to be organized,” Romain Altmann, secretary general of the CGT info’com union, told the Figaro

“It’s a fund for all salaried workers, even those in other non-CGT unions or non-union workers,” he added.

A waste treatment site is blocked by CGT strikers in Ivry-sur-Seine, near Paris on June 8. Writing on the barrier reads "Strike". Photo: AFP

Where does this money come from?

It’s based entirely on donations. 

Around 4,658 people have donated to the solidarity fund, giving anywhere between €5 and €5,000. The average donation is €46.

This is despite the fact that almost 6 out of 10 salaried workers now disapprove of the continuing strikes, according to a poll released last Sunday by BVI for i-Télé.

Donations can be made on paper or, more commonly for this fund at least, on the Internet, where 83 percent of the money has been raised.

Who are these donors?

Many who can’t participate in the strikes for one reason or another choose to contribute financially instead. 

The donations especially come from “young people between 20 and 30 years old, sometimes in a precarious or difficult situation and who aren’t necessarily able to go on strike,” said Altmann. 

The other demographic tends to be retirees who “in their time fought for their rights and who, with an intergenerational logic, want to contribute even if they’re not affected by the labour laws.”

(Rail workers on strike. AFP)

How much do the workers get?

On average, each salaried worker gets between €30 and €50 per day.

“It’s compensation to help the strikers. It’s not supposed to compensate for the salary of a day’s work,” said Altmann.  

The first cheque, of €15,000, went to rail workers in Versailles. 

So do these funds really make a difference in the strikes?

Not really, according to Dominique Andolfatto, a political science professor at the University of Bourgogne Franche-Comté. 

“This can extend the strike by a few more days, but it won’t be decisive,” Andolfatto told Capital newspaper. “What would be decisive would be to create strike funds that really compensate strikers, which is the case in Germany.”

“These funds compensate the strikers, so people know much they’ll be affected when they cease to work. As a result, their strikes are massive because strikers aren't making a financial sacrifice.” 

Only the reformist CFDT union has an official, transparent strike fund, the Cnas, which compares to those in Germany. 

In 2012, it held more than €100 million, supplied by a portion of the membership fee of each of its 860,000 members. 

'Public not strikers deserve compensation'

On the other hand, Valerie Pécresse, president of the Ile-de-France region, told BFMTV that its the travellers in Ile-de-France who deserve financial compensation for putting up with the strikes in the past weeks.

She said that she plans to talk to the government and the SNCF rail network, saying that "when and where the service was not respected, I will ask for compensation."

by Katie Warren

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