Protests against Macron's pension reform have been stirring for weeks, as here in Paris on May 1. © João Daniel Pereira/Imago
There have been fierce protests against Emmanuel Macron's pension reform for weeks. France expert Johannes Maria Becker is not at all surprised.
On Tuesday, the trade unions protested with new strikes against President Emmanuel Macron's pension reform. Authorities expected up to 600,000 people to attend strikes and demonstrations in various cities. The controversial reform to gradually raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 has now been passed and is due to take effect in September.
While there are regular outbreaks of violence in France, strikes in Germany are peaceful, as the comparatively silent collective bargaining agreement in the public sector recently showed. Figures show that the clocks tick differently in France: On average, 1,000 French employees go on strike for a total of 123 days a year. In Germany, it's only seven days. This was discovered by the Institute of the German Economy (IW) in Cologne in a study for the years 2007 to 2016. France is followed by Denmark (118 days), Canada (87 days) and Belgium (79). There are also few strikes in the USA (six days). In Japan, there are almost no work stoppages (0.2 days).
Strikes in France: Radical trade unions set the course
There are two explanations for the French desire to strike, said Johannes Maria Becker in an interview with IPPEN. MEDIA a few weeks ago. The political scientist helped establish the Center for Conflict Research at the University of Marburg. France is at the heart of his research. Becker lived in Paris for three years.
The institutional explanation goes like this: "The trade unions act much more radically than in Germany," Becker said. "There are political trade unions there, for example a social-democratically oriented, a communist-oriented trade union and even a sometimes Trotskyist, Maoist trade union."
In addition, there are cultural differences between Germany and France, which are also reflected in the strike behavior. Becker: "In addition to cultivating the victorious revolutions, the French people have a collective awareness of injustice. Something is going wrong? Then you are more likely to blame the central authorities and take to the streets – and everyone, not just those who are directly affected. Germans tend to blame themselves, they don't doubt the macrostructures."
Different right to strike in Germany and France
This different perception has grown historically. In France, the right to strike was first introduced, followed by the trade unions. Protesting comes before negotiating – this has a long tradition in France. Since the end of the Second World War, the right to strike has even been included in the preamble to the constitution. In principle, anyone is allowed to strike in France – including civil servants. In Germany, civil servants are prohibited from doing so.
The definition of a strike also differs. If at least two workers stop work in France, it is considered a strike. It's not so easy in Germany. Here, only trade unions are allowed to call for a strike. For both countries, on the other hand, strikes are only permitted when it comes to demands that can be regulated within the framework of the collective agreement. For example, it must be about salary, working conditions or protection against dismissal.