November 18, 2007


Sarkozy turns France against rail strikers (David Harrison, 18/11/2007, Daily Telegraph)

The proportion of strikers is down from more than 60 per cent a few days ago to 32 per cent. One union, the CFDT, has recommended calling off the action and many more employees are expected to return to work tomorrow. Train drivers earn up to €3,200 (£2,500) a month after tax.

Opinion polls show that around 60 per cent oppose the strike; sympathy, once all but guaranteed for public sector workers, is ebbing away.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, sensing that the tide is turning, has issued a firm warning that there will be no negotiations until the action is halted, although an adviser said last night that a "gradual" return to work could be enough. [...]

With magistrates, civil servants and Air France workers planning industrial action, President Sarkozy's battle with the powerful Left-wing unions is far from over.

The ambitions of previous French leaders have foundered on the rock of trade union power. In 1995, a similar move to end special pension rights for public sector workers forced President Jacques Chirac into a humiliating climbdown. The rights allow some employees, including rail workers, to retire at 50.

President Sarkozy's clash with the unions has been described as his "Thatcher moment" - a reference to the former British prime minister's curbing of union power in the 1980s.

Michel Dreyfus, of the National Centre for Scientific Research, believes that he may be on the verge of succeeding, as Mrs Thatcher did. Mr Dreyfus says Mr Sarkozy has been "clever to adopt the tactics of his adversaries, launching the reform process and then fixing a deadline for negotiations".

The point of any successful negotiation is that when the other side comes to the table it has lost already.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 18, 2007 3:46 PM


Chirac's "humiliating climbdown" raised the retirement age for the workers in most unions, but spared the railway unions and a few other powerful ones. Sarkozy's cleaning up the leftovers. It's unsurprising that the railway workers aren't getting that much sympathy for special privileges lost by other employees.

Posted by: John Thacker at November 18, 2007 7:44 PM