Can France adopt the British method of rolling strike?

In Great Britain, a day without strikes was rarer than a month without rain. Since the end of the health crisis, unions have opted for a very well-established rotation system. Thus, the country has never been under the influence of a general strike as happened this Thursday in France, but not a day goes by without this or that sector going on strike. This Thursday, it’s the British nurse who’s gone. Last Wednesday was the paramedic. The day before, teachers in Scotland. By January 6, the highway agency had died down. Etc.

The move, unprecedented for decades in the UK, was driven by record inflation among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations. Price increases reached 10.5% in December across all channels, compared to 5.9% in France. The consequence: the country was plunged into a social and economic crisis and demands for salary increases increased.

French mismatch

Can such mobilization be reproduced in France? Guy Groux, a sociologist specializing in trade unions, doesn’t really believe it. “In the UK, unions find it easier to coordinate because they band together around Trade Union Congress (TUC), a federal organization,” explained the researcher. The British maneuvers were also the result of constraints inherited from the Thatcher years: strikes could only be organized after a secret ballot by employees., must be announced in advance and must have an expiration date. Formal prohibition to leave the frame.

“This limit makes attacks easier to coordinate because we automatically know when each one stops. It also encourages unity: striking is expensive and a long process. All this explains the preference for many small attacks, ”continued the specialist. Lastly, this rotation system allows each sector to have a say. “In order for their particular demands to be heard, each trade likes to demonstrate itself, this allows them to have a bigger impact”, analyzes Marc Lenormand, lecturer in English studies.

Believe it or not believe in the attack

In France, the union culture is very different. “In the face of ultra-centralized power, unions prefer an immediate balance of power: a number of people on the street at the same time”, explains Joël Sohier, lecturer and author of the book Labor unions in France. The solution was found: an event, “much more visible in the media and with a strong visual impact. However, the specialist notes, “in France, we no longer believe in the general strike”. The latter managed to bring private and public together on May 1968. Let’s face it, it was a long time ago. Even in 1995, only the public had truly disengaged.

Across the Channel, union members also tend to be far more moderate and seek consensus. Two reasons for this: first, the profiles of the members. Unionizing is mandatory in some companies in the kingdom, which makes it much less politicized, says Guy Groux. “This is not the case in France, where union members are elected, pay contributions… We are on a much stronger and more determined profile,” he said. Second, certain lessons can be learned from the failure of the 1984 miners’ strike, particularly the lack of democracy in certain decision-making and movements that may be too radical to work in the long term, continues Marc Lenormand.

Attack too soft?

While France is unlikely to change its method from explosiveness to gentle but longer British slowness, the reverse could happen. In the private sector, the “rotational” method appears to be working. “Many companies are raising wages, says Marc Lenormand. Those who win the raises drop out of the movement and their success makes the other employees want to go on strike. On the other hand, public services are struggling to get a boost in line with inflation. To the extent that the method might be a bit redundant smooth from England was questioned at home.

“Until now, UK unions preferred to act in a dispersed order: by never harassing users too much, they maintained the popularity of the strike, which is necessary in their long-term balance of power,” explained Marc Lenormand. But on February 1, the situation may change: more than 100,000 civil servants will go on strike for wages, jobs and working conditions, announced the Public Service and Commercial Union (PCS). Biggest public service strike day in years. On the same day, TUC also called for a strike action to defend trade union rights. An ordinary day for the whole country. Not heard of since the 1980s.

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