Striking a balance in France

The 1st May is the Fête du Travail, or Labour Day as it’s known in the English-speaking world. Since it was designated a bank holiday back in 1919, it has been a symbolic date for protests and strikes.

Although the Gilet Jaune movement is continuing, you’ve probably noticed dwindling numbers of the high-vis vests on roundabouts and at peages across the region.

According to the ministère de l’Intérieure, numbers for last Saturday dropped to an all-time low of 23, 600 across France.

The gilet jaunes themselves placed the number much higher, at 60, 132, but this still represents the lowest turn out since the protests began back in November 2018.

Presence on social media would suggest, however, that the movement is planning to harness the power of the Fête du Travail, to relaunch its message.

Converging with union strikes and causes such as the fight against climate change, Wednesday could see big crowds take to the streets across the major towns and cities in France.

As far as we know, no plans for protesting in Perpignan have been registered but be prepared to see a higher presence of gilet jaunes around the region and perhaps longer delays when travelling.

Did you know...?

Grève also means sandbank or pebbly beach and actually comes from Place de Grève, a flat and sandy area on the banks of the River Seine in Paris (now Place de l’Hôtel de Ville)?

Out of work Parisiens would gather there every morning to ‘faire grève‘ in front of the town hall, in the hope of being offered work, maybe loading or unloading boats transporting goods up and down the river.

Today, ‘faire grève‘ refers to stopping work to make a point to the boss and strikes, demos, and protests are part of the French way of life.

Here’s a bit of vocab to make it a little easier to understand in the news…


To go on strike – se mettre en/faire grève

A general strike – une grève générale

A (hunger) strike – une grève (de la faim)

A (peaceful)demo – une manifestation (pacifiste)

A go-slow (when vehicles block roads by driving very slowly) – une opération escargot

Strike notice – Un préavis de grève (unions must give 5 days notice before calling a strike)

A march/parade – un défilé

A banner – un étendard/une banderole

A placard – une pancarte

A meeting/gathering – un rassemblement

A demand/claim – une revendication

To demand that – exiger que (+ subjunctive)

To change things – faire bouger les choses

To support… – apporter son soutien à….

A day of action – une journée d’action

A blackleg – un jaune

A leaflet – un tract

Union – un syndicat

Picket line – un piquet de grève

(A feeling of) unease – (Un sentiment de) malaise

Social unrest – les troubles sociaux

To solve a conflict – résoudre un conflit

To express one’s concern about… – Exprimer son inquietude concernant…

The People

A crowd – une foule

A striker – un(e) gréviste

A demonstrator – un(e) manifestant(e)

A sympathiser/supporter – un(e) sympathisant

A state representative – un(e) representant de l’etat

A tax payer – un(e) contribuable

A pensioner – un(e) retraité

A union member – un(e) syndicaliste

The police – les forces de l’ordre, la police

A lorry driver – un(e) camionneur/-euse

When tempers fray

To use violence – avoir recours à la violence

A riot – une émeute

A rioter – un(e) émeutier/-ière, un(e) casseur/-euse

An activist – un(e) militant(e)

Riot police – la police anti émeute (les CRS)

To chant – scander

Tear gas – le gaz lacrymogène

A petrol bomb – un cocktail molotov

A water cannon – un canon à eau

To ransack – saccager

To provoke – provoquer

Angry – en colère

To throw projectiles – lancer des projectiles

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