As strike ends, will France face more radical forms of protests?

French transport users breathed a sigh of relief on Monday as services went back to normal after 46 days of uninterrupted strikes over the controversial pension reforms.

Yet a number of incidents over the past few days suggest that the social movement has all but come to an end.

On Monday, hardline CGT union members invaded the more reformist CFDT’s headquarters and briefly cut off power in the building.

On Saturday, authorities said they suspected arson in La Rotonde, a restaurant in the French capital where Macron celebrated his victory after the first round of the presidential election in 2017.

On Friday, dozens of protesters blocked the entrance to the Louvre museum and forced the famous Paris landmark to close.

A few hours later, protesters tried to force their way into a theatre in Paris where President Emmanuel Macron attended a show with his wife.

As France is getting over the strikes, is the country headed towards more occasional and radical forms of protests? Euronews takes a look.

What’s the situation in French public transports?

A weekend announcement by UNSA (National Union of Autonomous Trade Unions) saying workers would resume their jobs produced a marked improvement in services in Paris on Monday.

For the first time since December 5, services were completely or almost back to normal on 11 of Paris’ 16 subway lines, said the RATP company that runs the metro system.

But not all strikers voted to return to work. Unions are split over whether to accept the government’s compromise proposals or to continue pushing for a complete withdrawal of its plans to reform the pension system.

On four subway lines, services remained disrupted, the RATP said.

What are unions planning in the coming days?

UNSA’s subway wing said that while its strikers had opted to return to work, the union plans to continue protesting against the “unfair” pension reform.

“A majority of general assemblies of the rail network have decided to shift from the unlimited strike to orient themselves on another form of action,” UNSA-RATP said in a press release.

Many railway workers are going back to work for financial reasons, but they are also planning mass strikes – in particular, this Friday when the cabinet will officially introduce the pension reform bill.

“Let’s make January 24, 2020 a true tidal wave of strikes and demonstrations,” said CGT, the main union among French rail workers. “No train should run (…), no station should be open, no machine should leave the workshops,” the CGT said.

Historian Stephane Sirot, a professor at Cergy Pontoise University, told Euronews industrial action will accompany every stage of the legislative process until the adoption of the reform.

What have strikers obtained?

The French government aims to blend scores of separate pension systems and rules into a universal French pension.

Meanwhile, transit workers, who now can sometimes retire earlier than the official age of 62, don’t want to lose this right and French workers, in general, fear the government will raise the pension age.

“The key question is, how do you finish a strike, in particular when the movement appears to be losing,” said Dominique Andolfatto, a professor of political science at the University of Burgundy.

The expert noted the movement still obtained minor compromises from the government, including the temporary scrapping of the new legal retirement age at 64 or specific regimes for particular corporations ranging from police to opera dancers.

Yet many strikers remain unsatisfied and are trying to keep the media spotlight on the movement, the expert told Euronews.

Can we expect more radical forms of protests?

“A few hardliners are therefore trying to expand their repertoire of action,” Andolfatto said, noting that incident such as the intrusions at CFDT union were at the same time more radical and more “schoolboyish.”

Andolfatto doesn’t expect such forms of mobilization to continue in the long-run, nor that they will change the face of the movement.

“One can think that those will gradually extinguish. They are just few flashes before the lights go out”

But according to Danielle Tartakowsky, a History Professor at Paris 8 University, more radical forms of action are a logical consequence of the government’s uncompromising attitude.

“After the yellow vests movement, the government could have realized the importance of intermediary bodies” such as unions, the scholar told Euronews. “But the government’s policy has been to ignore them,” she added.

Sirot told Euronews that a violent drift could not be ruled out outside traditional industrial actions under the supervision of unions’ security staff.

“But at the moment, we cannot say it has happened,” he said, insisting that there were no physical aggressions involved in recent incidents at the theatre or at CFDT unions Headquarters.

“This movement is looking more and more like the yellow vests,” Sirot said, “with a mobilisation that looks like it will never end.”

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