As you learned in your textbook, the French have a long tradition of joining together in defense of their jobs. Unions, called syndicats, carry a great deal of social and political clout. The largest of these, the CGT (Confédération générale du travail), is linked to the communist party. The syndicats are responsible for the infamous French strikes, grèves, which can immobilize the country. In 1995, a strike by SNCF workers effectively halted transportation in the country. It was followed by a strike by sanitation workers; Parisians were trapped for days in a city piled with rotting garbage.
The political strength of French unions is tied to another long tradition in France, that of very public protest. The most famous public revolt, the French revolution of 1789, left the country in a state of instability. Throughout the 19th century, the country flip-flopped between the authoritarian regimes of old and a newer democratic form of government. Each change was marked by revolts and street fighting, notably during the revolutions of 1830 and 1848. As critic John Russell puts it, “Paris is a place where things happen on the street, rather than behind closed doors. Social passions are acted out; faction faces faction … Young and old alike climb out of the windows and join in with whatever is nearest to hand.”
In May of 1968, university students exercised their political power: Protesting against the overburdened universities, students barricaded the streets and fought police with paving stones. They were joined by the unions, who called a three-week strike that devastated the nation and forced the government into taking reform measures. In 1994, young people joined in protest against the proposed SMIC jeunes, or minimum wage. The government was once again forced to back down. In 2001, young workers at McDonald’s held a successful strike to better their wages. They were soon joined in protest by workers at department stores and fast-food chains such as Fnac, Monoprix, Pizza Hut, Quick, and even Disneyland Paris. The movement centered on the Champs Élysées, home to many of these businesses.
The sight of a Parisian manifestation is an inspiring one: thousands band together to march down the glorious avenues, holding signs and chanting slogans, and are generally met by police sporting full riot gear.
Comparez le système de revendication (protest and making demands) des travailleurs en France et dans votre pays. Est-ce que la résolution des conflits sociaux se fait (is done) de manière plus publique dans un pays que dans l'autre?