France - A brief chronology of the strike wave

Jan/Feb 1996

10 Oct - "Day of action" called by 3 main unions in public sector over wage freeze and austerity. Massive participation by civil servants, patchy in public services, nil in the rest of the public sector. Rouen university declares a strike against education cuts.
14 Nov - "Day of action" called by all unions in defence of Sécurité Sociale. 81 demonstrations across France.
15 Nov - Juppé gets a standing ovation for his plan in Parliament
21 Nov - 100,000 students in demonstrations across France, with two dozen universities on strike.
24 Nov - Day of action" called by CGT, FSU and some CFDT federations against Juppé's plan, in defence of Sécurité Sociale. 500,000 take part in demonstrations which are particularly large outside Paris. Massive support among civil servants and, this time, train drivers, tube drivers and some bus drivers in Paris.
25 Nov - In rail drivers' depots, CGT activists throw their weight behind the idea of a strike against Juppé's plan as well as the particular measures concerning the railways. Success is uneven at first, then there is a snowball effect.
26 Nov - Railway union activists begin to direct the "visits" towards tube and bus depots in Paris. By the end of the next day few trains are running above or underground in the Greater Paris area.
28 Nov - Day of action" over Sécurité Sociale called by FO, suported by CGT and FSU. Demonstrations and strikes are smaller than on 24. But the whole railway network is at a complete halt nationally, as well as the entire transport system in Greater Paris.
29 Nov - Strike spreads to post office, with 17 sorting offices occupied (out of a total 130). Employers' organisations organise large fleet of trucks to move goods around. Three main unions respond with call for indefinite strike in the road transport industry (more symbolic than effective)
30 Nov - The CGT invites "visiting squads" to focus on private sector companies. In Rouen, 300 railway strikers "visit" the Renault Cléon assembly plant: car workers are sympathetic but not yet ready to strike). Strike spreads in post office with half the sorting offices occupied, and in electricity and gas company, particularly in power stations and large distribution centres outside Paris. Strikers stage hundreds of local marches across the country. Beginning of road blocks by strikers in various parts of France. 160,000 students in specific marches called nationally by student co- ordination.
1 Dec - Strike is complete in public transport, half of post office sorting offices, half of nuclear power stations, 2/3 of classical power stations. The strike keeps spreading but now mostly through the national calls issued by unions, either for indefinite strike (France-Telecom, ordnance factories, navy shipyards, Inland Revenue, some hospitals) or limited action (airports and aircraft companies, seamen and fishermen, Sécurité Sociale offices). "Visiting squads" become a link between strikers. FO's call for indefinite strike in the Health service gets poor response. More "visits" are organised to private companies, but results are usually poor.
2-3 Dec - Strike keeps high profile over the weekend, with additional action by air traffic controllers, airport workers and seamen. FO rallies CGT's call for a "demonstration day" on 5/12. Education minister announces new package of "fresh" money for universities (which turned out to be a con since, but appeared as a concession at the time). An "angry customers" demonstration held in Paris attracts 700 mostly far-right marchers. Results of the first round of seven parliamentary by-elections: large losses for right-wing candidates, benefitting CP, SP and, to a lesser extent, NF.
4 Dec - Strike grows in Post Office (80 sorting offices occupied). It spreads to bus companies in main towns outside Paris. Half of Paris primary schools are closed down by FSU strike. More "snail" operations by strikers on motorways and blockades. Many local demos across the country. Substitute transport is set up by government in Paris: 800 buses hired to run services from Paris suburbs into town in morning and return in the evening, plus eight pleasure boats on the river Seine. A mess for several days, and a mere drop of water in an ocean. Gandois, the CNPF president (equivalent of CBI) speaks on TV to urge the government to drop all his plans against public sector workers, on the grounds that they are obviously unworkable and preventing the country from working.
5 Dec - Demonstration day": 700,000 demonstrators in 247 different marches. Strike is almost total in Post Office. For that day, new sectors join the strike: taxis, central finance, radio and TV, firemen, prisons, some insurance companies, met office, air transport. Another "demonstration day" called for 7/12 while teachers are called out on indefinite strike from that date. Juppé starts giving signs of retreat: in a TV talk at 8pm, he says that the 20% increase in income tax is dropped. Invites the union leaders to discuss with his minister of Social affairs about the way his plan will be implemented.
6 Dec - Strike spreads nationally to water workers and refuse collection workers. New wave of local demonstrations.
7 Dec - Demonstration day": 1m demonstrators nationally in 320 marches. Strike spreads to Bank of France, 600,000 teachers, Lorraine coal miners. Limited action in airports. There are scuffles in a few demos. In Lorraine, violent confrontation between coal miners and riot police. Juppé says in Parliament that an independent arbitrator is to be appointed to open discussion about the railways plan and that there will be discussions about the future role of the unions in managing the national state social funds. New "demonstration day" called for 12/12.
8-10 Dec - One-day strike in banking sector (poorly supported). Local demos everyday all over the country. Public Sector minister meets unions one after the other, except FO who refuse to meet anyone other than Juppé. On the other hand FO no longer demands that the Juppé plan should be dropped as a preliminary. Industry Minister announces an all- round discussion with Juppé and the unions on the civil and public service. (another opening to union leaders). In a sudden turnaround, Juppé announces that he will meet all unions on 11/12 and that the railway's "contrat de plan" is shelved as well as changes to pension arrangements for drivers in the tube, railways and buses. A "social summit" is to be organised bringing together all unions, bosses organisations and the government to discuss job creation and cutting working hours. Another "angry customers" march attracts a mere 1,000 marchers.
11 Dec - Strike grows in local government while the coal board grant the striking Lorraine miners a wage increase. Juppé meets all unions during the day. Declares in the evening that he is in favour of a reduction in working hours for all. Extends his retreat on pension arrangements to all staff in public transport. Announces that financial taxation will become progressively liable to CSG tax (did not pay it before).
12 Dec - Demonstration day": 1.7m marchers in 271 marches. One-day strike in newspaper printshops throughout the country (no paper comes out); strike spreads to SNCM, a semi-public ferry company linking France to Corsica and North Africa. Another "demonstration day" called on Saturday 16/12 (this time FEN and CFDT do not join this call). A government statement stresses that all plans to bring about changes in pension arrangements are shelved for the whole of the public sector (not just transport this time).
3 Dec - A call to end all strikes issued by the CFDT is ignored with contempt. But some strikers begin to feel that the strike is coming to a close due to Xmas approaching and lack of success in private sector. Besides, Juppé has already caved in "on something for everyone". Juppé announces planned "social summit" for 21/12.
14-15 Dec - During the night, CGT branches in rail depots receive instruction to suspend the strike. Has little effect on the strike initially, but there are very stormy meetings. In most cases the issue is either not raised at mass meetings or its discussion postponed till after the 16/12. Large demonstrations on both days in the major towns and in Paris suburbs. A huge media campaign announcing a massive return to work is launched. Trains are made ready by managers in railway and tube stations. But they remain empty for lack of drivers.
16 Dec - Demonstration day": participation similar to the 12 outside Paris and slightly less in Paris. But the participants are different: a lot more teachers coming with their families and fewer people from the core striking sectors (although still make up the majority). New demos called by CGT for 19/12, this time after working hours. FO does not support the call.
17/21 Dec - Return to work: by the 21st not all depots have resumed work in the transport industry; some have returned and gone out again, over local issues. Besides, even when the return to work is voted, the first few days are usually devoted to all sorts of urgent "work" like: organising a banquet to celebrate the victory; going round to other workplaces; and, above all, the all- important daily mass meetings... Public transport in Marseille, Toulouse and Bordeaux are still solid on strike over local demands this time (Marseille still not back to work on 5 January). On 19, demos attract only the union activists, meaning a few thousand in each of the large towns. Another call on 21 during the opening session of the "social summit" attracts the same answer. The "social summit" produces a long series of negotiations planned for the coming months on a variety of subjects: youth unemployment, social provisions for families, reduction of working hours are the main ones. At the same time the government announces a few measures in terms of taxation, one of which is favourable to workers in large companies (public or private) where a profit-sharing system exists (it allows them to get their money immediately instead of having to wait for five years).