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Travel, schools, doctors: France braces for national strike on Friday

A ‘general strike’ has been called by all eight major unions. Workers in the private sector area are also being called to join the action

It is still not known if mass demonstrations will also take place on Friday. This sign reads ‘listen to the anger of the people’ - the photo was taken from anti-pension reform protests in February Pic: HJBC / Shutterstock

A ‘general strike’ has been called by all of the eight major unions in France for this Friday (October 13) with action set to heavily impact services, particularly in the public sector.

Transport workers, including air traffic controllers, teachers, doctors and civil servants are expected to participate en masse. Workers in the private sector are also being called to join the action.

The movement, which will align with mass protests and strike action across other European countries, aims to win pay increases in the wake of increasing inflation levels. 

“Purchasing power and increases in wages, pensions and minimum social benefits are still the demands of the working world,” said inter-union spokespeople in a shared statement posted on social media. 

Alongside salary increases, the unions are calling for gender equality in the workplace and, due to the recent wave of bedbug infestations, better workplace safety against these new threats.

Whilst some sectors – such as Air Traffic Controllers – have already filed strike motions, for others the details are yet to be revealed. 

Unions must announce their intentions to strike and detail the areas which will be affected up to 24 hours before any action. 

This means for some sectors, such as the train network, more information will only be made available on Wednesday evening or Thursday morning. 

Strike has been planned for months

Unions in France confirmed plans for a general strike on this date in August, but information has been scarce since. 

France’s second-largest union the confédération générale du travail (CGT) posted an announcement of the strike in collaboration with the other major unions on their social media accounts in August.

In the last few days union leaders reaffirmed the position and strike motions have been filed in several sectors. 

“I think the French are very angry… [they know] that their wages are totally insufficient to live on,” said head of the CGT and key inter-union spokesperson Sophie Binet.

“That's why I am calling on all employees to strike, to demonstrate… to win these pay rises, to win gender equality,” she added.

Continued inter-union action

The movement will be the first major nationwide strike action in the country in four months, since the final day of protest against the pension reform bill. 

As with the pension protests it is an inter-union call for action – something that up until this year has been rare in France. 

The extended period of inter-union action during the pension reform strikes, which brought together all eight of France’s major unions as well as some smaller groups, was also unusual in how long the groups coordinated their actions. 

The fact that the unions are again combining forces to make a single day of action as disruptive as possible is a potential sign that this new tactic will become the norm in France. 

For the second time this year major strike action is not taking place on the traditional days of a Tuesday or Thursday – another sign that the unions may be shaking up long-established traditions. 

Read more: Most strikes in France are on a Tuesday or a Thursday. Here’s why

Do we exactly know who is striking? 

Whilst we do not know the exact disruption in all sectors yet we know that transport, healthcare, and education will be strongly impacted. 

Around 40% of flights from Paris-Orly airport will be cancelled, France’s civil aviation authority (Direction générale de l'aviation civile) announced.

The authority also confirmed 20% of flights from Marseille, and 15% from Beauvais (Paris’ third airport) will be cancelled, and that more airports could be affected. 

Travellers coming for the Rugby World Cup quarter final matches on Saturday (Wales vs Argentina and Ireland vs New Zealand) could therefore see their travel plans disrupted.

France’s rail operator the SNCF is likely to see strikes on both TGV and local TER services, but the announcement on which routes is not likely to be made until Wednesday October 11. Early indications are that disruptions will be numerous.

This is also the same for Parisian public transport services run through the RATP, and other public transport operators in French cities, which are also expected to strike.

Teachers both at primary and secondary level are being called by their unions to strike but exact announcements have yet to be made. 

Unions supporting university researchers and lecturers have also backed strike action and called for members to “mobilise against austerity, for [higher] salaries and gender equality,” but exact details are still scarce.

For these groups further information is expected to be made available on Wednesday. 

Students may join in protests, particularly at universities, as they did during the pension reform strikes earlier this year. 

Self-employed doctors such as GPs are set to join the action, however many unions are calling for a ‘renewable’ rolling strike with no end date due to ongoing concerns regarding medical consultation fees.

Doctors and other healthcare workers employed in the public sector at hospitals will also join the strike, with the medical wing of the major unions taking up the call to strike on this day. 

“Austerity policies are undermining public services, particularly hospitals,” said the CGT Santé, FO Santé, SUD Santé Sociaux and UNSA Santé & Sociaux unions in a joint announcement. 

In addition, civil servants (fonctionnaires) working across public services are expected to strike. 

"Public services are a source of wealth for all [but] the careers and pay of civil servants have been downgraded to the point where [it is] compromising the quality of public service for the benefit of all citizens and undermining our social model," an inter-union group for civil servants said a joint press release.

Related articles: 

Covid boosters, train ticket deals: Dates to note in France in October

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