October 21, 2019
Philippe to brace for more union protests
The French government is bracing itself for massive social mobilisation against pension reform. A prelude has been the Paris metro strikes in September and the wildcat strikes of SNCF trade unions last weekend. The spontaneous strikes were called after a train accident in eastern France. The one-conductor-per-train policy introduced a decade ago meant that a train driver, who was himself injured in the accident, was forced to walk for miles to call for help for eleven injured passengers in the train. All trade unions united in strike actions on Friday and over the weekend. They now also consider to join the RATP for their unlimited strike against the pension reform early December. Imagine no trains and metros in the pre-Christmas period, a nightmare!
Can the government keep public opinion on its side under these circumstances? At the moment Edouard Philippe says all cards are still on the table. He tuned down the expectations about the reform timetable. There also seems some flexibility about when it will kick in, in extremis the new regime could start with the generation that is just entering the labour market. But Emmanuel Macron will be keen to deliver what he considers to be a-make-or-break-reform. Also, while the gilets jaunes protests dissipated, the rebellious mood in society has not. The pension reform may not on the public radar screen just yet. At the moment, the trade unions are just seen as fighting for their own generous pension systems. But once the public faces the consequences for their own pensions, public opinion could well shift.
The confrontation with the trade unions has just started. Philippe may threaten legal actions against the illegal strikes last weekend, but he hardly can afford to radicalise trade unions ahead of the pension reform talks.