France: Unprecedented long strike, will Macron bow?

France: Unprecedented long strike, will Macron bow?

Already for a month the Macron and his government pension plans are being discontinued. It is the largest strike wave since 1968. This week seems to be decisive in the showdown.

The strikes in public transportation are of course the most tangible and striking. Depots have been blocked for a month so that buses, subways or trains can only run sporadically. A fourth of the TGVs is standing still, as are four in ten TER trains and three in five intercity trains. In the Paris metro it is only the automatic trains that run.

The strikes are also continuing in other sectors. For example, work has still not resumed in seven out of eight French refineries. The call is made to go even further this week and to effectively block the refineries.

Things remain restless in high schools and universities. School gates are blocked early by students and students so that classes and exams cannot take place. This has been the case in the Sorbonne and Nanterre in recent days. Teachers also declare solidarity with the strike.

Before and during the Christmas period, more creative action methods were also used to keep up the pressure on the French government. The striking employees of the Paris opera, for example, gave a concert on the Place de la Bastille.

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At various places in the country, posts were made by pèages to ensure a free passage for motorists and the gilets jaunes continued to take to the streets in the past weekends to protest, just like the trade unions, against the pension reforms.

One of the most discussed and powerful means of action that is used is blocking electricity and gas supplies. According to spokespersons for the CGT trade union, this is targeted: government buildings, commercial centers and companies are targeted, so that economic activity is disrupted. Efforts are also being made to redistribute energy.

In the meantime, solidarity with the strikers remains high. The most recent polls show that a majority of French people still think the strike is justified and should have little of Macron’s reform plans. Solidarity with the strikers also crosses national borders. French-speaking unions in Belgium have decided to raise money to feed French strikers.


The cliché wants nothing more deadly for social protest than a leave period. Perhaps Macron and his followers had hoped that the fire of the strike would be extinguished during the Christmas period. Even at the start of the holidays, a Christmas file was called for, but the strikers had little interest in that. The strikes and actions continued unabated and the clumsy communication of Macron during the Christmas period had a certain share in this.

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In his New Year’s speech, Macron announced that he hoped to reach a compromise with the trade unions, but at the same time emphasized that the pension system would be reformed anyway. In other words, just before the transition from old to new, Macron indicated that the French did not have to count on big concessions. Jean-Luc Mélenchon and the trade union representatives talked about a declaration of war and the strikers saw their intention to go ahead.

What also encouraged the strikers was the entry of Jean-François Cirelli to the légion d’honneur, say the club of most deserving French citizens. Cirelli is the current director of the French branch of BlackRock, an American asset manager specializing in, among other things, … pension funds. The fact that Cirelli was allowed to officially join the légion d’honneur shortly after New Year was proof for many French people that the pension reform serves to enrich companies such as BlackRock. In any case, it was hard to imagine a worse moment to include Cirelli in the légion d’honneur.

Last week?

This week promises to be decisive. General action days and therefore also demonstrations are planned for 9 and 11 January. The turnout at these demonstrations will determine the (perception of) the power of the movement. At the same time, the unions and government will meet again this week. The chance that an effective compromise will be reached is rather small. CGT, the largest and most combative trade union in the country, is demanding, together with Force Ouvrière, the complete withdrawal of the proposed reform. Other unions in particular want the increase in the retirement age to be revised to sixty-four.

It is therefore possible that the different trade unions will be separated from each other by making cautious and partial concessions. But this would not mean that the fight was over for Macron. After all, the displeasure that has been expressed by the yellow jackets for a year remains great and the protest that is now partly channeled by the unions may, if the latter fail to act, take on a more uncontrolled form.

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