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So why are the French always on strike?

So why are the French always on strike?

With hundreds of flights grounded last month due to strikes by Air France, it seems the country is doing little to contradict the cliché that the French are always on strike…! While France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls called the strikes “unbearable”, it seemed that most French citizens (apart from those who had their holiday flights cancelled) simply shrugged and got on with their lives. Sure, the strikes cost Air France 26 million dollars a day, but over here you simply don’t question the right of unions to go on strike. The French see it as a fundamental question of human rights.

And there are more strikes on their way this month. Just type “grève 2014” into your search engine, and you’ll see a long list of all the unions who are dropping their tools, leaving their computers or parking their buses in order to apply pressure to their bosses…Take Thursday October 16, for example, when there’ll be a civil servants’ strike. Expect transport cancellations/delays, and a lot of kids to be off school.

But why is this? What’s with the explosive relationship between French employees and their bosses?

A Revolutionary History

You can hear it right from the moment you arrive in Paris: cars honking and people yelling. Here, if something isn’t ok (a guy cut in front of you, the car in front took too long) they throw up their arms and make a noise about it. The same goes for work. If employees aren’t happy with conditions, they strike during negotiations.

A credible theory is that this attitude comes from France’s political history. The French won the right to strike in the 19th century – 20 years before winning the right to create unions. This created a “culture of workplace struggles” (Cecile Dehesdin). So employer-employee disagreements would start with a power struggle first (the strike) and negotiating only started once the two sides had shown their strength. And of course, France has a rather bloody ‘history’ with figures of power… Perhaps it was something about beheading the monarchy that made them innately revolutionary!

That being said, France hasn’t topped the list for strikes for a while now. South Africa and Canada, for example, are on strike more than France. But, because of how much media coverage strikes are given, and the disruption caused, France comes across as being constantly up in arms against the government, their bosses, everyone.

If you’re planning a visit to France, it’s a good idea to check that there aren’t any strikes planned. Also, be aware that there are often demonstrations in central Paris during the weekend, especially on Sundays, which can totally disrupt traffic. Don’t get stuck in a taxi at the Bastille on a Sunday during a “manif”, for example!

If you do hear about a big strike taking place during your visit, why not escape the city and take a trip to the stunning Palace of Versailles – you can even book an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour!

If you’re interested in learning more about France’s revolutionary history, book our French Revolution Walking Tour today!

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A family by the eiffel tower.