French public sectors strike against the Juppe Plan 1995

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Timing
Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
Nationwide strike is called in mid September following Juppe's announcement of austerity measures in early September. Most palpable effects of the strike starts receding from 15 December when most of the rail workers return to work.
September
1995
to
December
1995
Location and Goals
Country: 
France
Location City/State/Province: 
Nationwide
Location Description: 
Strikes especially prevalent in Paris
Goals: 
Withdrawal of the Juppe Plan
 

Jacques Chirac became president of France with a majority 53 to 47 vote in a close May 1995 presidential election. Chirac had little time to celebrate, however. Chirac faced the daunting tasks of fixing France’s waning economy and addressing widening social inequality. At the time, France’s economy was limping along with unemployment at 12.3% - higher than any other leading industrialised nation.

In his first address to the nation on the fiscal policy, Chirac’s prime minister of choice, Alain Juppe angered the powerful public sector by announcing pay freezes for 1996. He also declared postponements of previously promised tax cuts. France in 1995 suffered from not only soaring unemployment, but also heavy government deficit. At the time, the deficit loomed at $64 billion and without further intervention, was only expected to grow further. The deficit posed a dilemma for France, which had prioritised the formation of the Eurozone. To realise the dream of a single European currency, France had to reduce its deficits and to do that, Juppe relied on cutbacks to spending in the public sector. Almost a quarter of the French population worked in the public sector, and government expenditure amounted to almost 51% of the GDP. Public wages accounted for almost 40% of government spending, and for France to cut back, decrease in public funding was seen as inevitable.

The announced pay freezes and tax increases drew the wrath of the public sector unions who, despite having struggled to unite over most issues, now banded together against Juppe. His policies were swiftly condemned by the union leaders who called for a national strike in mid-October to protest the pay freeze. Almost 57% of civil servants participated in the national strike on 10 October, and the union leaders led a march of approximately 50,000 workers and public sympathisers in Bastille square. Despite such strong showings, Juppe refused to negotiate salaries until the next summer. Unions warned of additional strikes.

The strikes resumed in November. Tens of thousands of mainly transportation workers came out on 14 November, causing major train, ferry, and airline service disruptions. Demonstrations were reported in almost 80 cities nationwide. Despite the strikes, Juppe announced the details of his austerity measures on the 15 November that only further stoked union anger. Amongst others, the bill called for 0.5% increase in income tax for all but the poorest demographics, and increased the years of contribution for the pension plans of public sector workers. Juppe also announced specific measures within industries. Notably, the railway workers became worried that the planned closure of many unprofitable routes would induce numerous layoffs.

Unions promptly denounced Juppe and called for additional nationwide strikes. Two strikes were organised: 24 November by the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) and on the 28 November by the Force Ouvriere (FO).

While fewer civil servants attended the strike on the 24 November compared to the one held in October, the massive overloading of Parisian highways caused by the striking transportation workers made the effects of the strike more palpable. Transportation workers’ strikes shut down most modes of transport for commuters such as trains, subways, buses, and ferry. Recognising the severity of the strike to the French economy, the government opened roundtable discussions on the 26 November for the rail employees, but the talks broke down. Almost 60 000 union workers and public sympathisers participated in the nationwide general strike on the 28 November, further swelling the growing protest. On the same day, rail workers agreed to continue the strike indefinitely. Juppe hired private buses and ferries to mitigate the impact of the transport workers’ strike, but otherwise withheld comment on the protests, determined to push through the austerity measures with the majority his party enjoyed in the parliament.

From late November, the protests started to snowball quickly to represent a huge swelling of discontent. Utility workers agreed to join the rail workers on an indefinite strike on the 30 November, and French domestic airline, telephones, and tax agencies also agreed on solidarity from the 4 December. While the strikes were having a devastating impact on the economy and on the lives of all ordinary French citizens, they still enjoyed public approval. According to polls, 62% of the French public supported the strikes, and additional polls indicated that the public blamed Chirac for the ongoing strikes. While there were citizen groups that protested the disruptive strikes, with almost 3 000 rallying on the 4 December, they mostly urged immediate negotiations between the government and the unions, and did not seek to undermine the strike itself. Beginning to sense danger, Juppe convened an emergency cabinet meeting on the 4 December and also employed a mediator to reach an agreement with the railroad workers.

In the second week of December, postal, telephone, hospital, and gas workers joined the protest. Teachers and airline employees also joined in, and unions estimated that almost 1 million workers participated in the 12 December stirke. Recognising that the strikes now posed existential threats to the government, Juppe agreed to meet directly with union leaders for negotiations, withdrew plans to change the pension system, and delayed measures to overhaul the railway network. When the government also agreed to pay the workers who had been on strike, most rail workers became satisfied and voted to return to work on the 16 December. While protest continued with other public sector employees, the government made no further significant concessions, and the Juppe Plan remained relatively untouched save for adjustments to placate the railroad workers.

Research Notes
Influences: 

Memories of the May 1968 strikes struck fear into government officials and the public of another massive shutdown.

Sources: 
Anon. 1995. “350,000 Workers Protest Austerity Measures. French Leader Seeks Talks as Huge Strike Cripples the Nation Prime Minister Dubs as Liars Those Who Criticize Budget.” NewsBank. Retrieved April 29, 2015 (http://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/0EB82937F5F92E3C?p=AWNB).

Anon. 1995. “French Protests Fall Short of 2 Million Goal \ Police Say Marchers Fewer than Half That State Workers Join Strike.” NewsBank. Retrieved April 29, 2015 (http://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/0EB632B1ACFC0487?p=AWNB).

Anon. 1995. “French Trains Running Again - Some Unions Call for Strikes to Continue.” NewsBank. Retrieved April 29, 2015 (http://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/0EB04AC5433C1F30?p=AWNB).

Barber, Tony. 1995. “Hot Autumn' Tests Juppe's Will to Fight.” NewsBank. Retrieved April 29, 2015 (http://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/131FED821CE4C638?p=AWNB).

Chaddock, Gail R. 1995. “Parisians Take to Rollerblades And Bicycles as Strike Spreads - Strikers Win Public Support, Threatening French Government.” NewsBank. Retrieved April 29, 2015 (http://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/0EB41EBBDC7B1B19?p=AWNB).

Cohen, Roger. 1995. “French Miners Fight with Police as Strikes Go on.” NewsBank. Retrieved April 29, 2015 (http://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/0EADF88B7886BDF2?p=AWNB).

Cue, Eduardo. 1995. “More Agencies Join Civil Service Strike in France - Frustration Grows as Work Stoppage Enters Second Week.” NewsBank. Retrieved April 29, 2015 (http://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/0EAD97BEF1BA75A6?p=AWNB).

Dejevsky, Mary. 1995. “France Brought to a Standstill by Strikes - Social-security Protest: 'People Power' Surprises Juppe as Thousands March and Many Air, Sea and Rail Links Are Paralysed.” NewsBank. Retrieved April 29, 2015 (http://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/131FED8EAF13E910?p=AWNB).

Dejevsky, Mary. 1995. “Juppe Appoints Mediator to Placate Striking Railmen.” NewsBank. Retrieved April 29, 2015 (http://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/131FED9202454898?p=AWNB).

Macintyre, Ben. 1995. “French strikers win delay in rail shake-up.” NewsBank. Retrieved April 29, 2015 (http://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/0F9248A8D81A6002?p=AWNB).

Ridding, John. 1995. “French Prime Minister Unveils Welfare Shakeup.” NewsBank. Retrieved April 29, 2015 (http://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/0EB7B0BF9C4B09DB?p=AWNB).

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Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Dong Shin You, 01/02/2015