French Unions at Critical Point as Strikes Continue, Says Historian





The French strikes and demonstrations over a proposed increase in the retirement age have lasted for weeks and attracted wide sympathy in a society whose work force is less than 10 percent unionized. But the proposal will soon become law, setting the stage for confrontations with France’s unions, which continue to starve the country of gasoline, diesel and other petroleum products, and are pressing for demonstrations afterward....

“Since 1995, on the national level, the unions haven’t brought home a victory against the state,” said Stéphane Sirot, a historian of the labor movement at the University of Cergy-Pontoise. “One can say the unions have been in a crisis for the last 20 years.” Still, he said, the protests today, with popular sympathy and student involvement, “shows there is still a certain vigor.”...

Mr. Sirot, the historian, said that union membership, which was legalized in France in 1884, 60 years after Britain did so, rose above 10 percent of the work force only in the 30 years after 1945, but then declined again to 8 percent today. But union influence, he said, “has been based more on action than percentage of membership.”...



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