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France Facts: There has been a rail strike every year since 1947

French workers can be quite a militant bunch and among them rail workers are generally considered among the most radical - with records from SNCF confirming this.

France Facts: There has been a rail strike every year since 1947
Photo: AFP

The French rail operator has confirmed that every year since 1947 there has been at least one strike on the network.

And that doesn't necessarily mean that pre-1947 was a golden age of industrial relations – just that SNCF's records are incomplete before then.


The company's human resources department has drawn up a list of working days lost per employee per year, and confirmed to French radio station France Info that there had been at least one strike every year between 1947 and 2018.

Of course the size of the industrial actions have varied – some have been major stoppages such as the one currently paralysing transport systems all over the country, while others have been minor local disputes that the majority of passengers didn't even notice.

According to SNCF's data, 1956 was the calmest year on the network, with with just 0.01 working days per employee lost.

The biggest number of working days lost was 1968 – the famous year when mass strikes gripped France for many months – with 4.7 million strikes days in total among the company's workforce, which at that time numbered 320,000 people.

Among the 10 worst years for strikes are also 1995 – when another protest over pension reform brought the country to a halt for three weeks – and four years from the last decade – 2007, 2010, 2016 and 2018.

Totals figures for 2019 have not yet been released but that was hardly the calmest year on the railways, with several different industrial actions culminating in mass walk-outs from December 5th in protest over plans to reform the French pension system.

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For members


France Facts: Paris once had a ‘strike square’

The French have something of an international reputation for being fond of a strike - but did you know that Paris once had a Place de Grève (strike square)?

France Facts: Paris once had a 'strike square'

But in this case the French did not name the square after one of their favourite activities, in fact it was the other way round.

The Place de Grève, in central Paris next to the Seine, was the place where unemployed workers gathered, seeking casual labour.

Over time grève came to signify a group of people who were not working.

After the French won the right to strike in 1864 – 20 years before they won the right to form a union – the word attached itself to workers who were choosing to without their labour, rather than people who were unable to find work.

These days the French are quite fond of une grève, and between 2010 and 2017, the number of French strike days was 125 per 1,000 employees, according to a study by the European Trade Union Institute.

As a comparison, the UK, Germany and Sweden had 20, 17 and 3 respectively. 

The Place de Grève still exists, but in 1802 it was renamed the Place de l'Hôtel de Ville and houses the very impressive city hall of Paris.

The square's other claim to fame is that it used to be where public executions took place, and saw the first public use of the guillotine when robber Nicolas Jacques Pelletier was executed on April 25th, 1792.

And France has seen one or two strikes since 1864.