Update France: strikes and protests intensify, government resists

By Pam Barker | TLB staff writer

Here in France you have to be prepared to wait in long lineups to get your gas and battle traffic jams around your local gas station. This comes amidst several consecutive days of rolling strikes launched by the unions against the French government’s Khomri Law, and two months of general unrest. The law aims to reform and modernize workplace regulations and was passed earlier this month by executive order, but is facing stiff opposition in a country that generally values an established way of doing things, especially in the workplace.


It has been reported here how the pressure to make these reforms is actually coming from the unelected powers of the EU in Brussels, by Germany and by the Washington-based IMF. We’ve watched as Greece has been systematically decimated by the austerity economics of these institutions, but it is France who is really the target of these lethal economic reforms according to ex-Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis.   While this is not being reported in the mainstream media here, it is clear that the stakes are very high for France to stay on course with its tabled reforms that have so far met with approval from Brussels.

A fifth of France’s gas stations have been reported as being short of gas which has caused panic-filling and long line-ups because of union-initiated blockades around oil refineries and ports. Rationing of gas to 20 litres at some stations has resulted in violent altercations among motorists. The government, however, says it has large enough fuel reserves to deal with the crisis.

The proposed reforms to the Labour Code or Code de Travail which The Liberty Beacon reported on here  continue to be staunchly opposed by one of the country’s main unions, the CGT. Rolling strikes have been happening across the country involving strategic sites such as oil refineries, nuclear power plants, and public transport. Air traffic has been affected and almost all national newspapers could not be printed yesterday. This is set to get worse as the unions just today announced an upping of the ante in response to Prime Minister Vall’s predictable intransigence in the French Senate yesterday. And from the G7 summit in Japan today, Hollande has said he will stand firm on the changes to the law.


This is coming at a particularly delicate time for France as it is set to host the UEFA Euro 2016 football championship, which will take place in 10 French cities spread across the country between June 10 and July 10.

The Khomri Law, which is making changes to the Labour Code, contains 52 articles but article 2 is the one causing the biggest problem right now. It basically changes the bargaining relationship from the professional organization or union working on behalf of the the employee to the individual worker facing his or her employer alone. So parameters concerning how long an employee works, how much overtime they can put in, their holiday time and breaks, etc. would be negotiated by the employee and the company, not by the professional organization or union behind the worker. The individual employee would thus lose the bargaining weight of the organization.


Meanwhile, Prime Minister Valls has insisted that whatever subsequent changes might still be made to the bill, that concerning the power of the unions over workplace rules will not change.

It could be a long and difficult summer.


About the author

TLB image Pam

Pam Barker is a TLB staff writer/analyst based in France. She has an extensive background in the educational systems of several countries at the college and university level as a teacher and administrator.