PARIS – Strikes on French railways and the Paris metro against pension reforms could become the longest ever seen in the country.
Sunday marked 25 days of industrial action, exceeding mobilisations in 1995 which lasted 22 days and were also against proposed changes to the country’s system on retirement pay.
During the action almost 25 years ago, the then prime minister Alain Juppe was forced to cave to public opinion and withdrew his plans to suppress special pension schemes.
He faced pressure from millions of French workers who were disrupted by daily strikes, as has been the case with the current action.
The French National Railway Company (SNCF) has seen two other movements that have lasted longer than this one.
One took place between December 1986 and January 1987 for 29 days against changes in wages.
Another was held in 2018 against the abolition of the company’s labour statute, which lasted for 36 days, although not continuously.
French President Emmanuel Macron unsuccessfully called for the strikers to suspend action during the Christmas period so people could travel to be with their families during the holidays.
But the leader has not been in a hurry to open a new round of negotiations.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced the next round of discussions will begin on 7 January once the holidays have ended and two days after a new day of national demonstrations convened by the unions.
Tensions between the executive and the main union behind the protests, the General Confederation of Labour (CGT), increased on Sunday.
CGT leader Philippe Martinez accused the government of “having armed this mess” in an interview published in weekly French newspaper Le Journal Du Dimanche.
Secretary of State for Transport Jean-Baptiste Djebbari responded in the same newspaper that the union “practices blocking and intimidation.”
The rate of strikers in the SNCF has been relatively low in global terms, around nine percent of a workforce of about 140,000 employees, but much higher among engineers, 42 percent, who occupy key positions for the trains to run.
At the beginning of the mobilisation on 5 December the rate of engineers taking part was 86 percent.
The other part of the protest is the Autonomous Parisian Transportation Administration (RATP) with millions of people relying on the capital’s transport system every day.
Disturbances to the service have been as important if not more important as most of the subway lines were left completely or partially without service.
The executive’s strategy to exhaust the movement has not given the expected results so far, despite a call from reformist unions to pause the stoppages during the holidays.
The strike has had a strong impact on daily life in France, since minimum services do not exist in public transport in the country.
In 2007, then French president Nicolas Sarkozy launched a law that instead of putting a limit on striking employees, forced them to declare their intention to support industrial action 48 hours in advance so that companies could organize and inform users of services in operation.
There is a minimum service obligation for air traffic controllers and essential public services, such as hospitals.