France is facing its worst labor crisis since the 1968 uprising of workers and students that forced President Charles de Gaulle from office.
For the last three months strikes and street demonstrations opposing changes to the country’s labor code proposed by France’s Socialist government have rocked the country.
Most recently strikes by rail workers, dock workers, nuclear power plant workers, trash collectors, oil refinery and fuel transport workers, and others have disrupted transportation, electricity generation, and fuel delivery.
Street demonstrations against the code changes have become a daily occurrence.
All of this is taking place while France prepares to host the Euro 2016, a soccer (football) tournament of national teams that will determine the championship of the Union of European Football Associations.
“Everywhere in France tens of thousands of striking workers have been joined by unemployed workers, pensioners, and students at more than 150 rallies and demonstrations expressing their opposition to the proposed labor code and demanding new rights for all,” reads a statement by the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT), the labor federation that has been leading the protests.
The proposed changes are meant to make the French labor market more flexible by ending many labor standards that have been written into law. These legal protections have been won by the working class through decades of hard struggle.
Among other things, the proposed changes will make it easier for company’s to fire workers, ignore the standard 35-hour work week, bypass unions when setting terms of employment, reduce overtime pay for some worker, and pay workers less than union negotiated wages.
The proposed changes would also reduce France’s generous family leave benefit.
France’s President Francois Hollande says that the labor law changes are needed to reduce the nation’s unemployment rate that has hovered around 10 percent.
Hollande took office in 2012 by attacking the austerity measures implemented after the 2008 the financial crisis and the subsequent recession.
Since 2012, however, the austerity measures have remained in place and France’s high unemployment rate has persisted.
President Hollande’s response has been to implement more austerity measures in the form of his proposed labor code changes.
CGT and other unions opposing the changes have argued that more austerity is not the answer to France’s problems.
Their view is shared by many others. The proposed labor code changes have been opposed by a growing number of young people, who have joined union demonstrations and initiated protests of their own.
Many of these young people have joined together to form Nuit Debout (Standing Together Through the Night), an Occupy-like movement of young people.
Public opposition to Hollande’s law is even broader. CNN reports that a recent poll found that 46 percent of those polled opposed the the current labor code changes and 40 percent want them modified.
Left-wing members of Hollande’s Socialist party also oppose Hollande’s code changes. Their opposition made it impossible for the proposal to pass out of France’s National Assembly.
But Hollande circumvented the National Assembly by invoking a little-used section of the country’s constitution, which allows a bill to pass out of the National Assembly without a vote if the President’s cabinet votes in favor of the bill.
On March 10, Hollande’s cabinet voted to pass the bill along to the Senate for debate.
Senate debate on the bill will begin on June 13. If the Senate approves the bill, it will be sent back the National Assembly for further consideration.
After Hollande bypassed the National Assembly, CGT and other unions called strikes in key industries to protest the action.
At one point, workers at most of France’s refineries and fuel depots were on strike causing shortages at gas stations.
Most of those strikes have ended but two refineries remain on strike.
Seven days ago, union members at SNCF, the state-owned national railway system, went on strike disrupting train service around the country.
On June 2, they were joined by dock workers at Le Havre, one of the largest ports in European.
Workers at sixteen of France’s nuclear power plants, France’s main source for generating electrical power, also walked off the job.
Metro workers and trash collectors in Paris are also on strike.
Airline pilots have said that they plan to walk off the job on June 11.
All of this comes at a time as France prepares to host millions of soccer fans for the month-long Euro 2016, which begins on June 10.
President Hollande has been working to contain the labor unrest and limit its impact on Euro 2016 by offering deals to strikers and potential strikers in an effort to get them back to work, but he said that he will not withdraw his labor code changes.
CGT for its part has said that is willing to talk with Hollande and his administration to find a way out of the crisis but will continue to call strikes and organize demonstrations.
It plans for a one-day national strike and demonstrations against the proposed law on June 14.
“We call on wage earners to amplify their opposition to the new labor code,” said CGT in its most recent statement. “The new labor code is dangerous, and we’ll continue to strike until we can achieve a new labor code that protects workers rights.”