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Strikes For Members

Reader question: Why do French strikes always seem to be on Tuesdays and Thursdays?

The Local France
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Reader question: Why do French strikes always seem to be on Tuesdays and Thursdays?
A demonstrator, wearing a jacket of the French union General Confederation of Labour (CGT), waves a light flare during a rally in Lyon, south-eastern France (Photo by OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE / AFP)

If a one-day strike is called in France there is a high chance that it will be on either a Tuesday or a Thursday - here's why.

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There are two types of strikes in France - unlimited or open-ended strikes that run for days or weeks at a time and single-day actions.

And if it's a one-day strike, there is a high chance that it will be on either a Tuesday or a Thursday - as we have seen with the latest pension reform strikes which have been called for Thursday, January 19th and Tuesday, January 31st.

This is useful to know if you're planning a trip and have some flexibility over your days of travel, but this doesn't just happen by accident.

READ MORE: Calendar: The French pension strike dates to remember

Stéphane Sirot, a historian specialising in the sociology of strikes and trade unionism, explained to French newspaper Le Parisien that it's all about maximising turnout.

Put simply, unions declare strikes on the days when the greatest number of people are working, in order to have the highest possible number of strikers in order to heap pressure on the employers and/or government. 

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For this reason, weekends and public holidays are out because these days tend to have a reduced workforce. Workers who work on weekends, such as train drivers or waste collectors, often take Mondays or Fridays as rest days, so again there is a limited number of people who can strike.

There is another reason Mondays are out, said Sirot; "A sort of 'battle plan meeting' is generally held the day before a strike, in order to organise, for example, demonstration plans. However, the union leaders are not going to meet on a Sunday to refine the last points."

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

And Fridays have a further problem: "If a renewable strike starts on a Friday and a day of action is put in place on the following Monday, people working in the public sector will have four days of pay taken away, because the administration considers that they are on strike for the whole period. In order not to deplete the finances of strikers, unions are careful not to organise mobilisations on a Friday."

And Wednesdays? This is more of a historic reason relating to French schools giving children Wednesday afternoons off - which means that many parents also take the whole of Wednesday or the afternoon off. These days the Wednesday half-day is less common, but it still happens so unions usually avoid Wednesdays as well - leaving Tuesdays and Thursdays the optimum strike days.

You may also have noticed that demos are divided into two kinds - union-organised marches which take place during the week and those organised by political parties which happen at the weekend, usually on Saturdays.

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"Union-organised demos usually go together with strikes - which is to say the stopping of the working time. In their eyes, demonstrating on weekends is not unionism," added Sirot.

Of course, if the one-day strikes turn into une grève illimité (unlimited strike) or une grève reconductible (renewable strikes) they will encompass the whole week.

If you want to keep up with ongoing strike action in France, head to our strike section found HERE.

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