France is currently in the grip of the worst industrial action in recent times, with strikers and police clashing on picket lines up and down the country. The issue which has promped the strike is the government’s plan for trade union reform, which would make it easier for bosses to remove employees, if underperforming.
The far-left Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT) Union has been spearheading the action against the reforms. The CGT has successfully managed to block roads and restrict fuel supplies to petrol stations, which has seen nearly 20 per cent of France’s petrol stations run out of fuel, with supplies being further drained.
The action by CGT hasn’t just affected fuel distribution – the majority of the French transport network has subsequently ground to a halt. Air traffic controllers, train drivers and the Paris Métro went on strike last week, with the union promising to escalate strike action during the Euro 2016 football tournament.
However, the CGT leader Philippe Martinez has blamed Hollande’s government for the strike, arguing that this situation could be solved if Hollande capitulates to the Union’s demand. For Hollande, this cannot happen. He has already scrapped the majority of the reform bill, leaving it decidedly weaker than proposed, meaning giving in to the CGT would be a significant show of weakness.
As Hollande is facing a poll rating crisis, with support now at 14 per cent (unprecedented for a serving French president), he deseperatly needs to show that his government can perform.
Hollande may have a saviour, however the reformist Prime Minister Mr Valls has refused to yield. He has attacked the CGT for trying to dictate French law and has vowed to stay the course of reform. Some French commentators are skeptical, but optimistic.
Now it has become a battle of both political and economic will. France’s labour laws have long been a problem and no French government has adequately tackled the problem.
However, one thing is clear: Hollande is facing a rather tough time.