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The language of strikes

'Two in five' is the phrase du moment, with SNCF workers set to strike for two days out of five for the next three months - but what other forms of protest could they use?

SNCF workers may be banned from staging so-called 'Free Strikes', in which they operate services as normal but do not charge passengers for using the trains, but there are numerous other forms of protest that they could employ.

The current protest, in which rail union members strike for two days in every five has become known as a "deux en cinq", or a "two in five". Here are some of the other strike options that you could hear about if you live in France.

Une grève générale: A general strike involving workers in all or most industries. A rail strike in December 1995 in protest over planned restructuring of SNCF and a loss of certain employee benefits developed into a general strike involving metro personnel, postal workers, school teachers and others.

Une grève surprise: Strikers in France are supposed to give a notice before they stage a walkout. It's not always the case, though, and a 'surprise strike' in which workers suddenly down tools is the result

Une grève sauvage: A wildcat strike - action undertaken by workers without union leadership's authorisation, support, or approval; this is sometimes termed an unofficial industrial

Une grève tournante: A form of strike in which departments or staff take turns to be on strike. The idea is that business is affected by a sustained period of action, but salary losses are kept to a minimum as staff strike only for a portion of the walkout period.

Une grève sur le tas or grève avec occupation: Effectively a sit-in protest, in which striking workers occupy business premises.

Une grève du zèle: Translates directly as a 'zeal strike'. It's a work to rule, in which protesting staff work strictly to the letter of their contracts and any other requirements, such as health and safety, in order to slow down business as much as possible.

Une grève perlée: Literally, a 'beaded strike'. This type of work-based protest is illegal in France - and is not, according to the law, a strike. Workers engage in a co-ordinated series of short, sharp stoppages or slowdowns

Une grève solidaire: Solidarity strike, in which workers walkout in support of protesting staff at another place of business or sector.

Une grève politique: A political strike is aimed at satisfying not professional, but political demands and putting pressure on the authorities.

Une grève de la faim: A hunger strike is the prolonged refusal to feed oneself in order to draw the attention of the authorities and public opinion to a particular situation or claim.

Other terms you might hear include:

Un piquet de grève: A picket line.

Un / une gréviste: someone who is on strike (note the change of direction of the accent over the e between grève and gréviste)

Le droit de grève: the right to be on strike

Un préavis de grève: strike notice (public sector unions must give five days notice before going on strike)

Language expert Camille Chevalier Karfis, of French Today, who writes a weekly language column for Connexion, has posted a longer blog entry on the vocabulary of strikes that you might find useful.

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