French Language Blog

The French Love to Strike Posted by on Nov 18, 2008 in Uncategorized

I remember when I was living in Paris, it seemed like there were always grèves all around the city.  We would have to walk every so often in the mornings to class as the metro was not running (the SNCF loves to go on strike).  The American Embassy would constantly warn us that we should not get caught up in them as they can often become violent…I’m not so sure they get violent as often as the Embassy would have liked us to believe, but the French do in fact sometimes become violent strikers…turning over cars, setting things on fire and such.  And they shout and whistle a lot.  It’s not like they just picket around their office building or factory…they parade through major streets, even shutting them down so they are sure they are heard and seen.  And the thing is, most often, these are not workers from private companies, but rather public servants.  Since the government has a stake in so much, strikes usually work.

I was just now reading Le Monde when I saw that there was an announcement made today that 70% of primary school teachers MUST be on strike on Thursday the 20th as ordered by the largest primary school teacher union in order to protest their deteriorating working conditions and the elimination of job posts.  That’s a lot of teachers!  So, what happens to all the kids who obviously should be in school as it’s a regular school day??  Well, there’s something that by law the unions have to make sure of…that there is a minimum reception service.  A minimum what?  Well, it is an agreement between the State and volunteer towns where the State pays these collectives up to €90 ($114) per group of 1-15 students for the six-hour school day to host the students on teacher strike days.  Parents usually find out about 48 hours in advance when and if their children’s school will be on strike, but some don’t until they arrive at the school door to drop off their children in the morning.  Often, that notice will also tell parents whether or not there will be a ‘minimum reception service’ in their town.  The school and town hall websites often also provide this information. Then, parents take their children to schools or community centers as assigned to basically have a fun day.  There are just enough staff members to ensure the safety and security of the students…but no teaching.  So, no wonder the French love to strike…they learn from a young age that it’s fun!

On fait la grève, alors!

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  1. Julie:

    I loved this article. I also spent a year living in France while I was studying at the Sorbonne and one more than one occasion did I have to navigate the French subway system in midst of a strike. Your article made me chuckle and brought me back to the days of living in Paris, greves and all.

  2. Sarah:

    Here are some other useful words involving French civil disobedience:

    une manifestation – a demonstration OR a protest
    manifester – to demonstrate in protest of something
    un syndicat – a trade union

  3. Chanda:

    Thanks so much Sarah for the extra vocabulary words!