More Strikes In France As Unions And Government Square Off

Anyone who travels in Europe regularly knows workers in France like strikes, particularly the French air traffic controllers. While those who are not regularly affected may see these strikes as something that only affects flights in and out of France, these strikes affect much more as so many European flight plans include French airspace. Unfortunately for Europeans and those traveling to the European Union, it appears that France’s air traffic controllers are not going to be the only ones on strike this summer.

In an article published on May 25, Travel Weekly reported that France’s air traffic controllers have two strikes planned for June with the first scheduled for June 3 through June 5 and the second scheduled for June 14. These strikes will follow one that took place on Thursday, which resulted in budget airline RyanAir canceling 70 flights, according to a recent report on the discord in France from RTÉ.

Additional strikes in the transportation sector are affecting Europeans as well. An article on the summer strikes in The Telegraph reported that union protesters were blockading France’s fuel depots, which is expected to cause a shortage of fuel over the upcoming weekend, which is a holiday in several neighboring countries, including the United Kingdom. As a result of the blockades, British drivers have been advised to fill their tanks prior to entering France.

With the air and roads affected by strikes, some travelers may turn hopefully toward France’s rail system. Unfortunately, they are not likely to escape the effects of the unions’ strikes either. A strike by railroad workers is planned for May 31, and June 2 is slated as the start date for a week-long strike expected to affect Paris’ metro service and the commuter trains that serve Paris’ suburbs. The Telegraph also reported that the railway strikes are not expected to affect Eurostar travel within France, but that assumption is one that only time can confirm.

With air traffic strikes, fuel shortages, and railway interruptions, is travel by sea the answer? Apparently, the answer is “not necessarily.” Ferry operators and port workers have also been known to strike, so if the transportation industry’s fever continues to spread, it is possible that traveling to and from France by sea could bring its own challenges.

Also affecting travel through France are strikes outside of the transportation sector. According to an article published yesterday in The Wall Street Journal, workers in multiple industries are expressing outrage over France’s proposed labor reforms by using strikes to convey their discontent. In one such instance, a protest in Paris brought nearly 20,000 irate workers to the streets, blocking traffic and causing increased congestion in an already busy city. That particular labor protest left five civilians and four law enforcement officials injured as the clash became violent. As a result of the violence, police detained 36 people.

The labor reforms are leading to discord among workers because companies are being given more power to negotiate freely with employees instead of forcing them to negotiate with labor unions on employees’ behalves. French President Francois Hollande initially had major reforms planned for France, but the backlash from the unions in the form of strikes has forced him to moderate the new legislation, making his current option only a shadow of what he wanted for the country.

With the recession that began in the United States in 2008 still affecting large parts of Europe, labor reforms have become a necessary evil in many European countries as part of austerity measures required by the leaders of the European Union. Although France is in good shape compared to many of its neighbors, Hollande feels that labor reforms could be a boost to the French economy. Unfortunately, the strikes currently affecting the country are causing just the type of economic stress that Hollande wanted to avoid, as they are affecting not only transportation but also France’s power grid and its fuel supply.

With so many unknowns, the next few weeks are guaranteed to be interesting in France if the strikes continue. Only time will tell if the strikes mainly act as inconvenient disruptions, or if they end up seriously affecting France’s economy by putting stress on the products and services upon which the entire country is reliant.

[Photo by Bob Edme/AP Images]