[France] Public Funds For Unions Behind Strikes

Last Monday, as strikes entered their 26th day some in the country were wondering whether the labour unions driving the stoppages have too much power, The New York Times reports.

Popular landmarks have been closed, small businesses have been impacted over the crucial festive season and public transportation has been crippled. But still, the unions' close relationship with those in authority gives them the power they need to prevent change.

Unions represent less than 10 per cent of France's salaried workers yet receive money from 100 per cent. The French state, local governments and employers reportedly contribute to union coffers too. In an attempt to buy peace from the government’s so-called “social partners.” 

Nevertheless, the strikes continue and President Emmanuel Macron has not rescinded his promise to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 and end special benefits for some categories of workers.

As yet the country’s struggling population have not turned against the strike. Doing so would undermine union claims of public support and damage their negotiating position.

Philippe Martinez - leader of the CGT union - said, "The mobilization is still there. That's a real message for the government,” following a march in Paris which attracted thousands last Saturday.

It is not easy to gauge public support. But a "day of action" on January 9 protest might make the picture clearer. The 1995 record of a 22-day action over pension reform before a government rethink has already been broken.

Online crowdfunds for needy strikers offer some insight into public feeling. The largest fund - started by the CGT union's information and communication branch - tweeted an announcement that it had raised over 1 million euros ($1.1 million) by December 26.

"I think...people feel protected by the union organization," Olivier Lefebvre - a maintenance worker at a Peugeot automobile plant and a top official of the Workers' Force union at PSA Peugeot - said, "It's stable. It's always there, just in case." He also pointed out that deals negotiated by unions are “applicable to everyone,” whether unionised or not.