Macron is Winning Against the Unions

June 11, 2018 Europe , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS

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Tom Arms



Attempts by successive French presidents to reform the country’s archaic economy have repeatedly encountered a seemingly impenetrable brick wall—French trade unions.


It looks as if Emmanuel Macron may just—may be possibly—poking a hole in that wall.


The cause for optimism (pessimism if you are a staunch trade unionist) is his handling of his 11-week dispute with the railway unions.


On the surface, some will disagree. On May 26, for instance, there were some 190 rallies and marches across the country against President Macron and his economic reforms and in support of the rail unions. Also, the train drivers are due to continue their rolling strike of two days out of every five until the 28th of June.


But that is not the full story. There may have been more marches, but the numbers that took to the streets was way down on the expectations of the organisers. Next, the number of railway workers actually participating in the strikes has dropped from 77 percent at the start of the dispute to just 14 percent in the latest walkouts.


A major threat to the government side in this battle was the possibility of an alliance between the traditionally radical French students, left-wing politicians and the trade unions. It was such an alliance in 1968 that precipitated the fall of Charles de Gaulle. But it seems that 50 years later the students are more concerned about exam results than political activism.


With the unions apparently in retreat, President Macron pulled a conciliatory ace out of his sleeve by proposing that the government take over three-quarters of the national rail company’s $50 billion debt. Two of the three unions involved have welcomed the offer. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the deal was conditional on the strike ending and reform of railway labour practices such as opening French rail to competition and ending early retirement and other rail workers’ perks for future recruits.


The battle for the railways is a test case for President Macron. He has a wide-ranging reform programme on the cards which includes: Changes to the law involving short-term contracts; greater emphasis on in-house labour negotiations as opposed to negotiations at sector-level; a set scale for wrongful dismissal damages; more flexibility for employers to fire workers and less red tape for firms with more than 50 employees.


The French president still has a long way to go, but he has—so far—gone further down the economic reform path than any of his predecessors.





Tom Arms

I am a journalist, entrepreneur and historian with extensive experience in print, web and broadcast journalism. I started as a diplomatic correspondent, wrote several books (The Falklands Crisis, World Elections On File and the Encyclopedia of the Cold War), and then in 1987 started my own business (Future Events News Service, which over 25 years established itself as the world and UK media’s diary. Our strapline was: “We set the world’s news agenda.” I sold FENS in December 2012 but retained the exclusive broadcast rights to all of FENS data. To exploit these rights I set up LookAhead TV which produces unique programmes which “Broadcasts Tomorrow Today” so that viewers can “Plan to Participate.” LookAhead has appeared regularly on Vox Africa, Radio Tatras International, The Conversation and Voice of Africa Radio.

In addition to being a syndicated broadcaster and columnist on global affairs, Tom is also available for speaking engagements and can be contacted on TwitterLinkedin and email[email protected].

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