LATEST: Flights, trains, ferries and buses - your questions answered about France's December strikes | With major disruption hitting public transport across France from Thursday December 5th, we have been answering readers' questions on how their travel

LATEST: Flights, trains, ferries and buses - your questions answered about France's December strikes

LATEST: Flights, trains, ferries and buses - your questions answered about France's December strikes

LATEST: Flights, trains, ferries and buses - your questions answered about France's December strikes

LATEST: Flights, trains, ferries and buses - your questions answered about France's December strikes

LATEST: Flights, trains, ferries and buses - your questions answered about France's December strikes

LATEST: Flights, trains, ferries and buses - your questions answered about France's December strikes
LATEST: Flights, trains, ferries and buses - your questions answered about France's December strikes
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Unions representing rail workers, city public transport employees, hauliers, teachers, airline ground crew, air traffic controllers and postal workers are all involved in the strikes, meaning that travel disruption is widespread.

How long the strikes will last is not certain, some unions -including teachers - went back to work after one day, but trabsport workers look likely to strike for longer. On Thursday Paris transport workers announced they would continue their strike until Monday December 9th and it's highly likely that SNCF rail workers and air traffic controllers will follow suit.

Public transport will be heavily disrupted with:

If the strikes continue transport operators will generally publish detailed timetables 48 hours in advance.

So here are the answers to questions sent in by readers of The Local.

Paris public transport is badly hit, as all six unions that represent staff on the RATP network are joining the strike. 

The majority of Metro lines are not running at all and services on buses, trams, RER is badly disrupted. We know this will continue at least until Monday, December 9th and possibly longer.

Paris traffic, petty bad most days, gets massively worse as many people try to do the daily commute by car and the price of Uber and other VTC taxis shot up thanks to very high demand.

RATP are looking to concentrate their resources on getting commuters to work and back and will therefore 'sacrifice' the weekend of December 7th and 8th, meaning there are likely to be very few services.

Fortunately Paris has lots of alternatives for getting around - there's an increasing number of cycle tracks so you can cycle to work. If you don't have a bike, there is a city wide bike-sharing scheme - Vélib'. And there are also electric scooters available to hire.

As a fairly compact city, walking is an option for most journeys as this map shows.

There have been strike notices issued from public transport unions in most major cities including Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Toulouse, Marseille, Lille, Nantes, Rennes and Bordeaux.

Transport there was severely disrupted on Thursday, but on Friday in most places the disruption is looking less severe. In Lyon the tram system is running as normal and the city has put on extra extra buses to cater for the thousands of people visiting the city's famous Fête des Lumieres.

Bordeaux saw vastly reduced services on Thursday and there is expected to be more disruption on Friday.

In Poitiers there was an early morning blockade of the city bus depot. 

The tram will only be operating services every 15 minutes and only between 6.30 am and 20.30pm.

In Toulouse the two metro lines will run as normal but tram and bus services are likely to be disrupted.

In Montpellier and the surrounding Hérault region there is still some disruption - click here for full details.

Strasbourg, Lille, Nantes and Rennes have also seen limited disruption. For more details, click here.

Three of the unions representing ground crew for Air France have joined the strike, along with some of the air traffic control staff so any flight going through French airspace could potentially be disrupted. Around 20 percent of flights are cancelled on Friday, December 6th, mostly short haul.

Airline employees have to give at least 48 hours notice of how many intend to strike, so airlines can contact customers about any changes.

Also if you're flying in to Paris, bear in mind that the RER B services between the city and Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports will only be running during rush hour - and will likely be extremely busy - while cabs are likely to be more thin on the ground than usual and prices will likely rise if you are using anything other than an official Paris taxi.

There are numerous bus services from both airports to the centre of Paris although journey times will likely be longer than usual if traffic on the roads is clogged and it will definitely be wise to book in advance.

Major disruption is certainly going to hit all rail services with the least affected TGV services managing about one train in 10 and other services less than that.

Hiring a car would certainly offer more peace of mind (although there may also be road disruption, see below) and if you cancel a pre-booked ticket because of strike action you will get a full refund. If you don't drive, there are ride-sharing apps like BlaBlaCar that offer a cheap trips between major cities if you don't mind a long car trip with a stranger.

Yes. Although staff from these services will generally not be striking, strikes from signal workers will affect all trains travelling through France.

Eurostar has said that it will be running a reduced service on December 5th and 6th, and possibly afterwards if strike action continues. The service has published a list of which trains are cancelled, which you can check here and is not selling new tickets for December 5th - 8th. Trains between London and Paris Gare du Nord are affected, along with some onward services to Brussels and Amsterdam.

The same applies to the international routes between France and Switzerland - run by Lyria - and France and Belgium - run by Thalys.

Lyria says that its services are likely to be very disrupted with just one return service scheduled for December 5th and is advising people not to travel. Full refunds can be obtained - even on non-refundable tickets - between December 5th and December 11th. For more information click here

Thalys, which operates services between France, Belgium and the Netherlands, is also advising passengers not to travel on December 5th and 6th, when it will be running one in three of its normal services. Free ticket refunds or exchanges are available for people with pre-booked tickets - more information here.

A spokesman for the Eurotunnel said their services would continue to run normally.

Although workers on the ferries are not striking, there is some industrial action among dock workers in St Malo and Dieppe which means that some ferry services are being cancelled - customers are advised to check with the operator if they have ferry crossings booked.

When public transport in France is hit by strikes then there is a knock on effect on the roads, especially around big cities.

With many commuters facing no option but to use their car to get to work we can expect big rush hour traffic jams in the greater Paris region. Roads leading into other cities such as Bordeaux will also likely be far busier than usual.

Two of the unions that represent hauliers have announced they are joining the strike.

Although they don't represent all drivers by any means, when French hauliers strike they do sometimes create blockades and rolling roadblocks to make their feelings known. Although nothing like this has been announced, it's worth bearing the possibility of delays in mind if you have a tight schedule.

Roads in and around cities are likely to be much busier than usual as commuters who usually use public transport take their cars instead.

Some 'yellow vest' protesters have also said they will join the demonstrations, which could involve demos at péage (toll stations) on the motorway - a frequent target of 'yellow vest' anger over the past year.

And if you are driving you need to be careful to fill up with petrol in good time - some strikers are blocking oil depots which means that filling stations across France are running dry. Click here for an interactive map of which stations are closed and which have short supplies.

Unconnected to the strike but likely to be disruptive are rolling roadblocks that one lorry drivers' union has announced it will be staging on Saturday, December 7th. These are in protest over fuel tax.

 

 

December Strikes in France: 'Expect major disruption that could last until New Year'

December Strikes in France: 'Expect major disruption that could last until New Year'

The first declared strike day was December 5th, but many unions say they are planning to stay out longer, for weeks if necessary. How long it will last and who will blink first are the questions that dominate the discussion, with some saying that things could become as bad as 1995.

Strikers hope to evoke the 'spirit of 1995'. Photo: AFP

In that year - the very first year of Jacques Chirac’s presidency - the government tried to push through a pension reform. The reform, which would do away with certain special regimes and increase the retirement age some public sector employees, became wildly unpopular. But the government had not foreseen the stir it would cause. The French would have none of it. Hordes of people took to the streets in mass-protests of sizes unseen since the May 1968 movement. 

After weeks of organised walk-outs, the government dropped the plan. Since then, no French government has dared to radically overhaul the country’s complex retirement system. 

Then came Emmanuel Macron.

“This is a very difficult situation for Macron because he has put so much political weight into this reform. Going back on it would be an enormous loss,” said Bruno Cautres, a political scientist who researches political behaviour in France at the think tanks CNRS and CEVIPOF and teaches at the Paris Campus of the Sciences Po University.

Since the workers on the Parisian public transport system (RATP) called for the December 5th strike, one union after another announced that they too will join the walk-out - and that they intend to stay out if need be.

“This is an explosive moment. So much is at stake for both sides,” said Stéphane Sirot, a French historian who specialises in strikes and unions. 

Macron’s reform, which aims to simplify the complex French retirement system by fusing 42 different regimes into one single regime, will have consequences for the public sectors who until now have enjoyed special retirement regimes to compensate for difficult working situations. 

Sirot, who lectures in political and social history at the University of Cergy-Pontoise, said the current situation resembles 1995 more than anything else seen in France over the past years.

Who will win the battle depends on whether or not strikers manage to make use of the December 5th momentum and transform the protest into a national, lasting movement. Sirot refers to the phenomenon known as “proxy striking,” a decisive factor during the 1995 strikes. Back then the majority of French people supported the strikers, even if they didn’t themselves participate. 

Sirot says the government will do its best to sow division, painting a picture of the strikers as selfish in an aim to turn the public opinion against the movement.

On Friday, Macron referred to the December 5th movement as “dominated by employees of big transport businesses” with “categorical demands that would penalise the society at large.” 

But the government’s pension reform won’t only affect those working in public sectors and who are currently enjoying special benefits.

“This reform will have a very negative impact on a lot of people,” said Cautres.

Today, public sector workers’ pensions are calculated on the basis of what they earned during the last six months of their career. For the majority working in the private sector, the pension is based on the 25 best years of their career. With the new system, every year of work will count

This means that a teacher who worked years with a low salary will see their pension significantly decrease. The same will be the case for someone who went through a period of unemployment, or had to work part-time for a period of time.

For unions the key to success is to convince the broader French population that they too will suffer from this reform. So will they manage to force Macron’s hand?

“Right now it’s not looking good for the government,” said Cautres, pointing out that French opinion today is dominated by a feeling that “everyone will lose” as a result of the reform. 

Six out of 10 people said they support the December 5th strike, according to a poll published by La Tribune, Orange and RTL last week. The most avid supporters were manual workers (74 percent) and those working in the public sector (70 percent). Among executives and those highest educated, respectively 45 and 42 percent saying they support the strikes.

Although public opinion is currently in favour of the strikers, this could change as soon as people start feeling the direct impact the strike has on their daily lives. But both Cautres and Sirot said that if the strikers are to be successful, they will need to keep up the pressure. 

French people strike more than any of their European neighbours. Between 2010 and 2017, the number of French strike days was 125 per 1,000 employees, according to a study by the European Trade Union Institute. As a comparison, the UK, Germany and Sweden had 20, 17 and 3 respectively. 

The reason - according to Cautres - is that the French model lacks a system of dialogue and bargaining that exists in other countries. This partly explains why everything points to full-on conflict in December. The unions, who have fought the reform for two years, insist the strike is a ‘last resort’ to force the government to the negotiating table.

“We can expect a period of major transport disruption that could last until the New Year,” said Cautres.

“Protesters know that if they push very hard, they might change the government's mind.

Sirot too said he expects an ‘all or nothing’ strategy - either maximum pressure or talks. This excludes the tactic of ‘interval striking’, where unions organise walk-outs on selected days for a certain period of time. Transport workers employed this strategy last year, but according to the historian the largely unsuccessful tactic that hasn’t worked for 25 years. (It didn’t work last year either.)

Sirot, who is hoping the parties will go into negotiations soon after the 5th, said the best outcome is a compromise between both parties, where no one loses face.

“None of them will want to give in,” Sirot said. The government because it has invested so much political prestige into the pension reform. The unions because they have put an enormous effort into mobilising against it. 

The other option (a full-on conflict) he sees as more dangerous.

“No one can win this, he said. 

“If people lose trust in unions, we lose an important buffer between the power and the street,” he said, pointing to last year’s 'yellow vest' protests, where the protesters originally declined all forms union representation. 

France is the country with the highest number of trade unions but the lowest percentage of union membership. In France the number of workers in unions stands at around 8 percent whereas the average in the rest of Europe is around 25 percent.

Cautres points to another factor: how violent will it get? A high level of violence could decrease the level of sympathy towards the protesters, but it might also increase the public resentment towards the government.

“It’s a very delicate situation,” said Cautres. 

Only one party, currently hissing from the sidelines, would benefit from a long-lasting conflict.

“In the long run, the only winner is the far-right,” Sirot said.

“They are the only ones left who haven’t yet been in power yet.”

 
15 French phrases to use if you get caught up in a strike

15 French phrases to use if you get caught up in a strike

While the French certainly strike less than their reputation suggests - in fact France doesn't lose a significantly higher number of work days to strike action than many other European countries - strikes certainly do happen in France.

And when they do, they are often targeted at the public sector - so are highly likely to impact your life.

If you do find yourself caught up in one, here are the French words and phrases you will need.

- Let's start with the basics, a strike is une grève and a worker who is taking strike action is en grève - on strike. The collective term for striking workers is les grévistes.

 - This is another phrase for any type of industrial action or social movement that you will frequently see on announcement boards to explain the reason for a closure or delay.

- The unions. France has a number of different unions even within the same professions, so for example railway workers can be represented by several different unions. In general there is only very severe disruption if the unions coordinate their strike action.

- Disrupted. One reason France seems to have so many more strikes than anywhere else is that the strikes that do take place tend to target public services, particularly transport so are highly visible and very disruptive. You will frequently see and hear announcements on public transport networks that services are perturbé en raison d'un mouvement social - disrupted because of strike action.

- Cancelled

- Usually translated as deleted or removed, if you see this on a notice board it means that your train or plane has been cancelled.

- Delayed. If you train/bus/plane is delayed you will see retardé on the notice board, or more specifically xx minutes à tard or xx minutes retardé -  xx minutes late.

- If you have been delayed by strike action you can claim compensation, and helpfully the word is the same as in English.

And moving away from the practicalities, you might also want to discuss the strikes or express your feelings about them. If you're staring up a notice board blithely informing you that your flight/train/bus has been cancelled, you might need someone to vent at.

- Chaos or a shambles. You may find that in contrast to foreigners, the French are fairly phlegmatic about strikes. Yes they happen and yes they are annoying but you're unlikely to see many French people going totally beserk about them. This could be because they are aware of the link between strong unions and the protections and social support that employees in France enjoy. Nevertheless, grumbling is always fun and if you want to describe a situation as a total shambles, this is a good word. For example La grève a semé la pagaille à la gare Montparnasse - The strike has caused chaos at Montparnasse station.

- It's really annoying. A slightly slangy verlan expression, this is a good one for describing something as really annoying or 'that sucks'. Tous les vols sont annulés, c'est relou - All the flights are cancelled, it sucks.

- and of course if you're enormously inconvenienced by a strike (for example you have just learned that all the trains available to get you home in time for your own wedding have been cancelled) you could use the best (and rudest) French word of them all. If you're getting all sweary, you could also refer to the situation as bordel - fucked up - or bordel de merde - totally fucked up.

Once you've finished swearing about it, it might be time to get into an interesting political discussion about the issues raised by the strike action.

- pension reform. If you want to move on from complaining to discussing the situation in more depth then you will need to know this, as it is the cause of the unlimited strike action in December. French president Emmanuel Macron (Manu to his friends, probably ça connard - that dickhead - to some of the strikers) wants to reform the system of regimes speciaux (special regimes) and create a systèm universele de retraite (universal pension system).

- to strong arm somebody or to stand firm during a conflict. At strike time, newspapers will frequently use this to refer to the positions of the strikers or the government eg Bras de fer sur la réforme des retraites -  [The government is] standing firm on the pension reform.

- more or less the opposite of bras de fer is faire machine arrière, which means to make a machine go backwards or to backpedal. If you hear that le gourvernement avait fait machine arrière (the government has backpedalled) then the strike will probably be ending soon.

 - Slightly controversial addition this. You might hear people using it but we wouldn't advise using yourself as it can be a sensitive subject in France. The word means 'strike culture' and people sometimes use it to grumble about a lot of strikes, but the phrase has some baggage.

 

 

QUIZ: Are you a connoisseur of French beers, wines and spirits?

QUIZ: Are you a connoisseur of French beers, wines and spirits?

From fine wines to fiery and possibly hallucinogenic spirits, France is well know for its vibrant drinks industry. 

See how many you can recognise in our ultimate French booze quiz.

 

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