France Should Take a Lesson From Ronald Reagan: Fire the Strikers


A massive strike is underway in France where disruptions are a way of life.

French President Emmanuel Macron wants to reform pensions. In response, unions staged a massive strike.

If you depend on trains or busses, forget about it.

A year ago Macron imposed a a gas tax to help save the environment. That led to "yellow vest" protests and riots that lasted months.

This strike? Who knows?

No Trains and No Compromise

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The Guardian reports No Trains and No Compromise as France Faces a Winter of Discontent.

Transport chaos continued this weekend and unions have called for another day of industrial action on Tuesday, putting further pressure on the government. As hardline union leaders vowed to continue striking indefinitely, there were warnings that the country was entering a dangerous period.

Caroline Janvier, who entered parliament as one of Macron’s La République en Marche “citizen” MPs in the 2017 general election, denied the government was panicked but admitted it was “a moment of apprehension for everyone”. “Everyone in the country is still traumatised by the gilets jaunes (yellow vest protesters) and concerned the violence will start again,” she said. “Nobody wants a repeat of that.”

In the town of Joigny – 93 miles (150km) south-east of Paris in Yonne, the heart of the outer commuter belt around the French capital known as la France péripherique – the local railway station, like many in rural France, was deserted last Thursday. Notices announced that no trains would be stopping there.

In nearby villages, school buses continued their rounds, carrying only a handful of pupils to classes not cancelled by striking teachers, as thick fog descended over icy fields.

Transportation Grinds to a Halt

As transportation grinds to a halt, Macron Vow to Proceed with Reforms.

Four days after at least 800,000 people took part in one of the biggest demonstrations of trade union strength in a decade on Thursday, transport remained virtually at a halt over the weekend as the president, Emmanuel Macron, held talks with ministers at the Elysée Palace on how to diffuse growing tension.

The pro-business president, who has promised to deliver the biggest transformation of the French social model and welfare system since the postwar era, sees his pension reforms as a key test. He has staked his political credibility on refusing to buckle in the face of street protests, accusing previous presidents of lacking the bravery to stand strong. With Macron potentially aiming to run for a second term in the 2022 presidential election, backing down would be to risk losing his support base.

The prime minister, Édouard Philippe, has been pushed to the front to insist the pension reform will go ahead, but after months of gilets jaunes anti-government protests earlier this year, the executive knows that to calm tensions, it must be seen to consult and negotiate rather than force things through in a top-down way.

“The reform we’re putting into place is fair,” the economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, added on Sunday, saying people must work longer to keep the pensions system afloat.

An Ifop poll on Sunday showed 53% of French people supported the strike. Polls earlier this month showed that a majority of French people support pension change but do not trust Macron to do it fairly.

The three main rail unions are calling for strikes to continue this week, with services already virtually at a standstill. In the Paris region, rail operators warned of potentially dangerous overcrowding on the very few trains that would be running.

Emergency Sunday Meeting

The strikes started Thursday. Just one in six trains are running.

France24 reports Macron Meets Key Ministers for Talks on Contentious Pension Reform.

French President Emmanuel Macron will on Sunday meet ministers involved in his radical pension reform which has prompted a nationwide strike and brought key transport services to a standstill.

The strikes, which began on Thursday over the plans for a single points-based pension scheme, recall the winter of 1995, when three weeks of huge stoppages forced a social policy U-turn by the then-government.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe insisted his government would not abandon the plan.

"If we do not make a far-reaching, serious and progressive reform today, someone else will make a really brutal one tomorrow," Philippe was quoted as saying by Le Journal du Dimanche.

25 Years Later

The battle still rages.

Pension System is Broken

The pension system is broken. Whatever reforms Macron proposes, even if he gets them, won't fix the problem.

The pension system is broke in the US as well, but president Ronald Reagan showed us the way to deal with strikes.

PATCO vs Reagan

On August 3, 1981, 13,000 air traffic controllers walked out after talks with the Federal Aviation Administration collapsed.

On August 5, President Ronald Reagan Fired all the Striking Workers.

Those who did not return to work lost their accrued pensions and were ineligible for rehiring.

In October 1981, the Federal Labor Relations Authority decertified PATCO.

Job Well Done, Almost

That was a job well done, almost.

Reagan should have ended collective bargaining of all public employees.

Instead, we still have militant teachers' unions, police unions, and fire unions holding citizens hostage.

France Compared to US

Pension plans across the US are in dire straits because in the US, like France city and states are in bed with unions.

There are a couple of differences.

  • Grievances in the US are at the city level, not the national level.
  • Union protests tend not to be as messy or violent.

In France, farmers routinely dump "merde" in the street in protest. In the US, such an action would land a person in jail.

Root of the Problem

The basic problem is public unions and public servants are totally incompatible.

Please consider a few key snips from FDR's Letter on the Resolution of Federation of Federal Employees Against Strikes in Federal Service, August 16, 1937, emphasis mine.

All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations.

Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees. Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of Government activities. This obligation is paramount. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable. It is, therefore, with a feeling of gratification that I have noted in the constitution of the National Federation of Federal Employees the provision that "under no circumstances shall this Federation engage in or support strikes against the United States Government."

Union Lies

Teachers' Unions demand money "for the kids". School boards are padded with teachers demanding more money "for the kids".

Unions can and have shut down schools. The unions do not give a damn about the kids.

Notice I said "unions" do not give a damn. Many, if not most, teachers do care for the kids, but the union does not. The unions can, and do, protect teachers guilty of abusing kids. It is nearly impossible to get rid of a bad tenured teacher or a bad cop.

Unions also threaten to shut down mass transportation.

None of this is in the public interest.

Recommended Steps

  1. National right-to-work laws
  2. Abolishment of all prevailing wage laws
  3. Ending public unions ability to strike
  4. Ending collective bargaining by public unions

Points one and two need to both be in place before either is completely effective.

Consider Illinois' prevailing wage laws: Prevailing wages are union wages. Municipalities and businesses have to pay prevailing wages. If they do not hire union workers, they get picketed.

Why bother hiring non-union workers if you have to pay union wages in the first place? As a direct result, municipalities and businesses must overpay for services in Illinois. National right-to-work laws alone cannot fix Illinois.

Supreme Court Ruling, Thanks to Trump

On June 27, 2018, the US Supreme Court, in Janus vs AFSCME, made one of its best rulings ever.

The court ruled in favor of Mark Janus who was forced into paying union dues against his will.

The case would have been decided in 2016 but unexpectedly and unfortunately Justice Scalia died while vacationing at a Texas ranch. The eight remaining justices voted 4-4 which allowed the current law to stand.

Trump placed Neil Gorsuch on the court. And Gorsuch was the deciding vote. So if you think Trump has not done anything right, please think again.

Opt-In, Not Opt-Out

The unions had this coming big time.

They forced people into paying union dues, made political contributions people did not like, then made it damn near impossible to opt out.

Janus changed all that.

The ruling not only ended agency fees for public employees, but it required, for the first time, that union membership for new public employees be “opt-in” rather than opt-out.

Illegalities Continue

Unions in California defy the ruling. They still forcibly collect union dues.

Please consider Spate of Lawsuits Challenge Teachers’ and Other Unions’ Dues Collections.

Some teachers and other public employees are complaining their unions are wrongly continuing to collect union dues — despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision last June that said public workers are no longer required to pay fees to the unions representing them.

“Members can drop out (of the union) at any time. But, like a gym membership, they still signed a contract to maintain paying dues,” said Laura Juran, the CTA’s chief counsel. “I am confident we will prevail.”

Even before the conservative Supreme Court’s Janus decision, the CTA and other unions in California adopted a strategy to mute the expected decision’s impact. They created a new membership form to enroll new and current members in annual, renewable dues arrangements. The contract commits members to full-year dues and automatically re-ups membership unless a worker signs a letter opting out within 30 days of the anniversary date of signing. Other unions in California and nationwide, like the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of Teachers locals representing college instructors, allow only a 15-day opt-out; some unions tie the continued payment of dues to bargaining agreements covering two or more years. The National Education Association alone faces four-dozen Janus-related lawsuits nationwide, Juran said.

Only One Solution

There is only one way to fix this problem for good: Abolishment of all public unions and all prevailing wage laws.

Ironically, it's one of the few things that FDR got right.

Proud Union Hater

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

Comments (25)
No. 1-20

These guys look pretty peeved. If they're all fired, they can just take up raising hell full time.



Have to be smart about it.

Reagan gave them two days to go back on the job or be fired.

Macron needs to explain the setup, how they are out of money, how he wants to equalize things (those currently on the losing end ought to be happy), then give them the same "offer".

Return to work and keep your pension. Don't and you lose it. Yes, their could be hell to pay but ultimately France would be far better off.

I suspect most would return to work. It would blow over in a year or so.


Only if they also stop feeding the invaders.


My experience has been that it is VERY difficult and VERY expensive to fire an employee in France for any reason. Maybe Macron could change the employment laws to make this a more reasonable proposition, but he does not seem to be in the strongest position. As I recall, Reagan was riding a landslide first term election and had the law very much on his side when he fired the air traffic controllers.


You can't fire them! Most of them have a guarantied job for life. Or rather until they retire with a full pension at 55! What you need to do first is bankrupt the unions by removing all their sources of income other than membership fees. Then remove any obligation for worker to belong to a union. Given their already low level of membership outside the public sector and their propensity for corruption and waste, most unions wouldn't survive long.

Only once the major historical unions are gone can you implement any reform without much opposition.

As an added bonus you'd remove a major pathway and source of income for leftist politicians.


yea, i think France needs to take a tougher line, Seems France just gets paralyzed strike after strike. First the yellow jackets now this. This isn't peaceful but disruptive


Ronald Reagan was a neoliberal. He was the part of the deep state


It was illegal for the air traffic controllers to strike, thereby providing the basis for firing. I highly doubt it is illegal to strike in France and it's probably just the opposite. You probably can't fire or replace striking unionized workers.



France has rules making it difficult to fire employees. So does Italy and so does Greece.

Result: Companies are very reluctant to hire workers once they get to a certain size.

Yes, that needs to change.


Stellar article. It is difficult to diminish the benefits granted to such a large workforce. public unions are probably a oxymoron. but reduce the size of government and the problem might resolve itself. Of course France is plugged into the "whatever it takes" enabling EU central bank. 1 out 5 people are employed by french government. here is some ancillary data hopefully not gleaned from surveys.



When my wife was a teacher in The State Where the Governors Make the License Plates (Illinois) she HAD to join the union. But she could ask for a refund of her dues used for politics (we did not agree with the union's political donations). She was afraid to do so because the pro-union advocates she worked with would have given her so much flak.


Present system without unions in the US is nothing great. It is rigged in favour of those who can rig it. Essentially make it like bandits for those who can and others can go pound sand. In case of systems with strong unions, the unions tries to rig it in their favour.

In both cases it is a win-lose situation, only the winning and losing side is different.

Essentially I favour a collective bargaining system where it works to everyone's benefit, a win-win situation that works to everyone's benefit and also society as a whole.


You are too obsessed with unions. Unlike Americans, the French will riot if they are fired in mass.


Firing them won't solve anything. The fired will collect welfare for the rest of their lives and the people who replace them will be lazier, less productive and more likely to strike. Europeans have a different mindset than Americans. They would rather live humbly and not have to work hard than the converse.


"If we do not make a far-reaching, serious and progressive reform today, someone else will make a really brutal one tomorrow," Philippe was quoted as saying by Le Journal du Dimanche.

That somebody is named math.

1+1 always =2, no matter how many French want it to equal 3.


"Illegalities Continue

Unions in California defy the ruling. They still forcibly collect union dues."

Where is Nancy Pelosi? She said no one is above the law.


Actually, the protests are not about gas or pensions at all.

The people see Macron as the enemy, not as somebody who will save their pension scheme. After being told a thousand times that There Is No Alternative the past decades, but seeing that they are the ones that are being forced to skimp, while the ceo's always see their remuneration leap by double digits, the playing field is always tilted so the money flows downhill to those who need it least. People will not believe anything the authorities say, even if it is true. They have heard TINA to many times, and they are deeply convinced that all the reasons given are more rationalizations for giving them the role of chumps.

In Europe they don't have closed shop. Not every country has the same union traditions and history. People have every right to pool their labor, just as much as they have the right to pool their capital.


"A gas tax to save the environment" uh huh.


“In France, farmers routinely dump "merde" in the street in protest. In the US, such an action would land a person in jail.”

In the US, such an action would land a person, San Francisco.


Regarding France, such large public protests in the past have overthrown the government. In other countries such as Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina such large protests in recent years have overthrown the government.

Plainly, what these demanding people want goes against what is possible. The government is bankrupt and there isn't money to pay what they want. Perhaps they deserve success, overthrowing Pres. Macron and the Fifth Republic. Then establishing the form of government they want. Then entering a 'City of Detroit'-like downward spiral that soon sees food shortages and starvation in the capital city, like the French experienced during the French Revolution. How long can their demands last in the face of economic collapse?

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