December 5 strike grows as Macron warns against unrest

Many transport unions including those with SNCF workers have announced they will join the strike

More organisations in France are planning to join the planned strike on December 5, as President Macron has said that “there is no freedom without public order”.

So far, unions from train company SNCF, transport firm RATP, heavy goods lorry drivers, airline Air France, public hospitals, and electricity giant EDF have added their support to the planned strike.

The movement’s major grievance is against pension reform, but other issues are likely to be highlighted on the day.

SNCF

On the train lines, four unions at SNCF have called for strike action. These include CGT-Cheminots, Unsa and Sud-Rail, who have all signed a call to “defend the retirement of most workers”, as, they said,“special arrangements [such as those held by the cheminots] are being targeted by the government”.

The unions have said that the public will be able to find out which trains will be running on December 5, by the afternoon of December 3.

The CFDT-Cheminot union has also announced plans to join the strike. Secretary general Didier Aubert said: “The government has underestimated the cheminots’ expectations [and we] need to be reassured.”

Head of the CGT-Cheminots, Laurent Brun, said: “We will start [the strike] on December 5, and continue on the 6. This will be a huge day of action, everyone mixed up together. [There is] very high dissatisfaction about retirement.”

RATP

Paris transport company RATP has also confirmed it will join on December 5, with the CFE-CGC, the CGT, and Unsa adding their voices to the movement. They have promised action on a par with the September 13 strike, which has been described as “bringing Paris to a standstill”.

Fabrice Ruiz, from the CFE-CGC, said: “December 5 will be as large as September 13,”; while Bertrand Hammache, from the CGT, said: “This will be a big day.”

Transport unions across France

The FO and CGT unions have called for an “unlimited” strike among their workers, across urban and cross-country services. This will also include ambulance drivers, taxis, and even removal van workers, and affect major cities including Lyon, Montpellier, and Bordeaux.

Patrice Clos from FO Transports and Logistique, said: “We are doing what we need to ensure it happens. For urban transport and road transport, fairly numerous notifications of strike action have been confirmed.”

Air France

At the national airline, the strike call has applied to ground staff only. So far the pilot and stewards’ unions have not joined.

Individual ground staff members will need to declare their strike intentions 48 hours before December 5, to allow the company to organise around them, and inform passengers of any disruption.

Similarly, the major air traffic control union SNCTA has not joined the strike, in contrast to the second-largest union, USAC-CGT. A minimum service is set to go ahead, but action could cause delays or flight cancellations.

Barristers

National barristers’ union Le Conseil National des Barreaux (CNB) has also joined the action, branding December 5 “a day for dead justice”.

In an open letter to the justice minister, it said that it was showing “solidarity with those who are suffering from the lack of listening by the government, and its dogmatic reforms”. It added that relations between the government and lawyers were at a “historically critical point”.

The letter also said that it was opposed to the government’s pension reform, which it said was calculated on the assumption that a barrister’s career would start at the age of 23, when in fact, the “average age of entry into the profession is 28, and that in 2018, no lawyer entered the profession at the age of [23]”.

EDF

Unions of workers at the electricity giant have also joined, including the CGT, Force Ouvrière and Sud; but the CFDT Chimie-Energie has said it has no plans to call for strike action.

Yet, the CGT has called for “a drop in electricity production, and power cuts to public State buildings (except healthcare establishments)”, and to increase supply to those who have been “unfairly cut off”.

Police

Some police stations are likely to close, after unions Alliance and UNSA said that they would join the strike if the minister for the Interior “does not reply to our wishes”.

On strike day, they plan to launch “action from 10h to 15h in all police services”, especially the “symbolic closure of stations” and “refusal to take part in extra check at airports on at motorway péages”.

Education

Three education unions have announced they will join: SNES-FSU, SUD-Education and Unsa-Education, as well as others as part of the wider union group Education.

Hospitals

At least one nurses’ union has said it will join on December 5. Some staff remain unconvinced by the government’s recent budget announcements on healthcare, and will join the movement.

A statement from the CGT, FO and CFDT said that the government is “not replying to the gravity of the situation”.

Hospital staff have also stated plans to strike on November 30, and again on December 17, with interns and other staff also on strike on December 10.

Public services and beyond

Public service groups la Fédération FSU and the Fédération CGT have called to join the strike. Some firefighters’ unions have also announced intentions to join, as have some workers from La Poste.

Representatives of the gilets jaunes movement have also said they plan to join, with a recent vote held in Montpellier returning a majority in favour.

A statement said: “The time has come for us to join with the world of work and its network of unionists, who like us, do not accept [the situation]. We call on the gilets jaunes to be at the heart of this movement, with their own demands and hopes...and their very visible vests.”

Student union Unef has also come out in support of the strike, and called for students to “maintain pressure” on the government when it comes to university loans and grants. Other young people’s unions including FIDL, MNL and the UNL have also added their support.

Macron: “No freedom to vandalise”

The movement’s growth comes as President Macron spoke at Amiens (Somme) yesterday (Thursday November 21).

He called on social partners and unions to condemn any type of violence ahead of the December 5 action, and said that the government will remain strong in the face of any unrest.

Mr Macron also spoke out against recent violence across the country as part of continuing protests associated with the gilets jaunes movement.

He said: “When you are defending freedom, whatever the age of the citizen, we have a responsibility; and in a democracy, that is to condemn hatred, and any form of action that would reduce the freedom of someone else.

“There is no freedom without public order. There is the freedom to protest, to express one’s opinion, but not the freedom to break [and vandalise].”

He added: “We have the impression, if we listen collectively, that if we turn on the radio or the TV, that everything is terrible. At this moment, our country is - I find - too negative about itself.”

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