French public transport was partially shut down for several weeks recently due to strikes. Air France flights were cancelled because of industrial action, and tens of thousands marched in Paris on 1 and 5 May against President Macron’s reform policy. What prompts the French to protest so much? Louise Courtois believes it has to do with hierarchy and tradition.
‘Indeed, striking is very common in France. I see striking as deeply embedded in the French mindset. The main underlying reason for this is the big distance between directors and their employees: there is a very strong hierarchy. Because of that, workers are unable to voice their concerns in a conversation and feel that striking is their only option. At the same time, the directors are rather isolated at the top. This creates an elite that has little understanding of the workers’ lives.
In my view striking is a bit of an arbitrary way to have leverage as employees, because some sectors can naturally have more impact when striking. For instance, the public transport workers were able to affect so many people by their strikes in the past weeks, mostly ordinary people just like them. My friends in France, who travel between their parents' homes and university, were quite annoyed by the few overloaded trains that were running.
Although a lot of people are annoyed by the strikes, in France this way of dealing with problems is completely normal, especially among the older generation. They remember the events of May ’68, when a protest movement nearly stopped the national economy. I think that people of our generation, who travel more abroad, are realizing that other countries are better off with fewer strikes. For me, this has changed since I have been studying here. However, I think it will take many years for this strike-oriented mindset in France to change.’