Good Grève: Exploring the Idea of Labor Strikes in France

-Naomi Johnson

Before coming to Toulouse I tried to prepare myself for what I thought French life would be like. I knew that dinner would be later and the teaching style would be different. But, there are things that I simply never considered at all, aspects of lifethat you need to live in the country in order to really understand them. The main things that stand out to me are the labor strikes. They have had a surprisingly prominent effect on my life and shaped my understanding of French culture.

As an American, the idea of labor strikes are rather foreign to me. In the United States labor strikes seem to be much rarer, and when strikes do occur they are usually confined to a single city or company. The only strike that I really remember is the Chicago Teacher’s Union strike in response to unfair treatment of teachers. However, this strike did not have much of an actual effect on me as I live just outside Chicago.

Strikes at Compans-Caffarelli against the Labor Law. Photo by Naomi Johnson.

Strikes at Compans-Caffarelli against the Labor Law. Photo by Naomi Johnson.

So, as I stood near the Compans-Cafarelli metro stop last Thursday and watched an enormous procession of protestors marching as part of labor strikes across France, it left a big impression on me. It was interesting to see such a large demonstration from people of different jobs all protesting the same thing.

I learned that these strikes are in response to labor reforms proposed by the government with the goal of making the economy more efficient by increasing the ease of hiring and firing employees. However, many French people believe that this proposal will decrease workers’ rights. If these reforms came to be, the work week could be lengthened. More insulting, the bill came during the presidency of Francois Hollande (who supports the bill), a left wing politician who many thought would protect workers’ rights.

The other day I was coming back from the airport after travelling over weekend. I had heard that there was a strike targeting airport transportation. In order to get home I had to take two buses, the tram and both metro lines. It was a time consuming and frustrating process, but left a lot of time for me to reflect on the labor strikes. On the tram I heard several other English speakers talking, complaining really, about the strikes. One man paternalistically stated that the French only have all these strikes because they do not understand the importance of working. Whether it was meant as a joke or not, I found it rather insensitive. He hadn’t considered the importance of these strikes in French culture or the complexity of the issues. As a person that currently resides in Toulouse, I challenge myself to not condemn things that can be inconvenient, such as the strikes, as a problem with French society, but rather participate in conversations about them.

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