France’s divided unions failed to prevent President Emmanuel Macron from pushing through an overhaul of the country’s labor law. Now, they’re hoping that by presenting a united front they can weigh on government plans to limit spending on civil servants.
The eight largest unions have called on France’s 5.4 million civil servants to stay off the job Tuesday and take part in 130 protest marches across the country. On Monday night, union leaders will meet in Paris to discuss whether to call for further actions to protest what they say are Macron policies that benefit the wealthy.
“Our goal is to call a concerted day of action to fix what’s not working in this country,” Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT union, said on France Info radio Monday. “We are going to remind him that there’s the bubble he lives in and there’s the real world. We are more effective when we are united than when we are divided.” Martinez, whose union is France’s second largest, is pushing for a general strike over the hesitation of some other unions.
Tuesday’s civil service strike will be felt most in schools, hospitals, and government offices. France’s civil aviation authority called on airlines to cancel 30 percent of their flights. Air France says it expects to run all long haul flight and 75 percent of short- and medium-haul.
Some unions representing railroad workers have called for strikes, even though their employees are not officially civil servants. Those strike calls may not be heeded to because both the national railroad and the Paris public transport authority say trains, metros, and buses will be running as normal Tuesday.
Tuesday’s strike was called to protest a pay freeze and tighter rules for sick days. Union leaders say the strike is also meant to express general unhappiness about work conditions and staffing levels, especially in hospitals.
“Civil servants feel they are considered just a cost, and not an asset for the country,” Laurent Berger, head of the CFDT, the country’s largest union, said Monday on RTL Radio. “They face serious issues of purchasing power.”
French unions were divided on their reaction to Macron’s use of decrees in September to push through changes to labor laws that included limits on severance pay and a simplification of worker representation boards. The CGT called for a series of poorly attended protests. The CFDT and Force Ouvriere declined to take part because the government had held several rounds of negotiations with the unions before the decrees were written.
But the CFDT and FO have been critical of Macron’s overall economic policies, and agreed to the CGT’s invitation to discuss further days of protests, even if they haven’t committed to backing a general strike.
‘Issue of Justice’
“When you cut payments to the poor and then eliminate the wealth tax, you have a serious issue of justice,” the CFDT Berger said on RTL. “There have been too many gifts to the rich and not enough economic efficiency. Justice and efficiency can go together.”
Meanwhile, Macron’s popularity is recovering after the summer’s steep slide. His approval rating rose three points to 40 percent in September according to Elabe’s monthly poll released Sunday, with gains mostly coming from elder voters.
Also according to an earlier Elabe’s poll, 45 percent of the French say Macron’s policies are centrist, 40 percent say they are too far to the right, and 14 percent say too far to the left.