Strikes in France in 1996: return to normal levels?

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The number of working days lost through strikes in France in 1996 decreased sharply from the number recorded in 1995, according to figures published in late 1997. Rates are now back to levels registered in the early 1990s.

The French Ministry of Employment publishes annual strike statistics, which are calculated in terms of of working days lost due to industrial action. These figures allow a comparison to be drawn between changes in strike levels in the civil service and those in private and nationalised companies. In the latter case, in addition to information on the length, purpose and outcome of disputes, the figures provide data on those who initiated strike action.

According to the latest figures, strike activity in 1996 returned to a relatively low level, indicating a return to levels recorded at the beginning of the 1990s. The widespread protest strikes late in 1995 led to a figure for the year of almost 6 million days lost (all sectors included.) This figure fell back to barely 1.1 million in 1996. Generalised disputes involving more than one company were less common - 3,700 days lost in 1996 compared with 1.3 million in the private and nationalised sectors in 1995. Furthermore, the level of participation in strikes by the workers involved has declined to 27% in 1996 from 55% the previous year. These figures are comparable with those recorded before 1995.

In the private sector, there has been a reduction in the length of disputes - 73% lasted less than a week in 1996 and 34% lasted one day or less. Disputes were also more often confined to individual work units. Pay demands were the cause of a good third of strikes, but almost as many disputes arose from problems relating to employment and working conditions. One-fifth of disputes were triggered by the workers themselves, whereas four out of five arose on the initiative of one or several unions. The figures for some sectors are inflated by certain disputes such as the lorry drivers' strike in November and December 1996 (FR9711177F), which led to 16,000 lost working days within a period of 12 days.

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