On 22nd March 2018 - tens of thousands of train drivers, teachers, nurses, air traffic controllers and other public sector staff went on strike across the country. For the first time, civil servants and railway staff also joined the strike. There were 180 street demonstrations nationwide.
The workers came out in opposition to the changes in labour laws that the French government had begun in August 2017. Since May 2017,when the present government came to power, it has been claiming that the victory of President Macron’s party was a mandate given by the people to change labour laws that would make the economy more efficient and better able to deal with mass unemployment! The truth is that the labour laws had been made more capital friendly by the introduction of a 46-hour working week - up from 35 - allowing employers to lower wages for extra work hours, and facilitating lay-offs for economic purposes.
The ongoing reforms include a cap on payouts for unfair dismissals and greater freedom for employers to hire and fire. Employers will be given more flexibility to negotiate pay and conditions with their workers while reducing the costs of firing staff.
Over 5 million workers in France’s public sector are angry with the betrayal of promises made by Macron during his election campaign. He had promised better recognition and remuneration for public sector staff – instead he is now talking of slashing government budget, relying more on contract workers and such anti-worker measures. The government is also seeking to cut the number of public workers by 120,000 over five years.
Railway workers are planning a prolonged strike action that could last until June 2018. They plan to strike on two days out of every five, from 3 April until 28 June. They are protesting against the government’s plans to push through sweeping changes to France’s vast state rail system, including cutting costs by limiting special employment rights for rail workers. The government plans to quickly push through changes by special executive decree without a vote in parliament if necessary – a repeat of what the previous government had done.
In July 2016, the then French government used a provision of the Constitution to force through the legislation without a parliamentary debate and vote. The current President was then the Economic Minister and architect of the reform.
Since becoming President in May 2017, Macron has been pushing ahead with labour reforms while pacifying the public that France is finally going to get over its economic problems. The experience of France’s workers tells a different story, and now they are getting organized to resist the attack.