Strikes For Members

Grève illimitée or générale: 12 bits of French strike vocab you need to know

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
Grève illimitée or générale: 12 bits of French strike vocab you need to know
Strikes have been part of life in France for many decades. Photo from 1947 by AFP

If you're learning French it's a good idea to stick to everyday topics - and what is more quintessentially French than a strike? Here is some vocabulary to help you understand what is going on at strike times.


Not all French strikes are created equal, so it's important to know what type of strike is going on, as this will help you understand how much disruption it's likely to cause.

You can hear the pronunciation of all of these words (plus a couple of explicit ones) in our Talking France strike special podcast episode. Download here or listen on the link below.


Une grève - a strike. This is the basic word for strike, and striking workers are en grève (on strike)

Un mouvement social - literally translated as 'social movement' this is another way of saying strike. It's the word that transport companies tend to use, so if you hear an announcement that starts with En raison d'un mouvement social (because of a strike) it's likely to be telling you that your train/plane/bus is either cancelled or delayed.


Une grève illimitée - unions must file notice of their intention to strike, and this is either a notice for a set date or series of dates, or an 'unlimited' strike notice. This doesn't necessarily mean that the strike will continue indefinitely, unions sometimes file an 'unlimited' notice and then decide to take only only on certain days, for example every Wednesday

Une grève generale - a general strike is when all or almost all workers (including public and private sector) are on strike. These are very rare and haven't really been seen in France since 1968. Most strikes are either specific to a sector - eg a teachers' strike - or cover multiple sectors such as transport workers, teachers and civil servants. You will, however, hear people calling for a 'general strike' at times of social tension.

Intersyndical - this means that several different unions have joined together to back a strike. Because of the fragmented nature of the French union landscape, strikes usually only cause major disruption when most or all of the eight union federations unite.

READ ALSO 16 phrases to use if you get caught up in a strike

Très suivi - literally 'very followed' this means a strike with strong backing from workers, which is therefore likely to cause a lot of disruption.

Se mobiliser - the general verb 'to mobilise' signifies that workers are taking action - usually by striking but sometimes by staging protests (this is particularly the case among the essential workers who are banned from striking such as police and certain health workers) and demonstrations.

Manif - the verb is manifester (to demonstrate) and the noun is une manifestation but the phrase you will probably hear most often is the shortened form to describe a march or demo.

Perturbé/ perturbations - delayed/delays. This is the general word telling you that a certain service will be disrupted by strike action. You might also hear fortement pertubé (severely disrupted) or légèrement pertubé (mildly disrupted).

Retardé - delayed. If your train/bus/plane is delayed this is what will appear on the announcement board or app, usually followed by a indication of the length of the delay eg retardé 1h (one hour delay).


Annulé - cancelled

Supprimé - literally translated as 'deleted' this also means cancelled in the context of transport

Articles for further reading:



Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also