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Macron's Reformist Victory

And What It Says About the Future of Unions in France

Employees of the French state-owned railway company at a demonstration in Paris in May 2018 Benoit Tessier / Reuters

When French trade unionists strike, the public pays attention. Industrial actions in Paris are traditionally accompanied by manifs, or demonstrations—theatrical, festive events that often involve beating drums, flares, and barbecued meat. Tales of stranded commuters and packed train stations fill the airwaves, and the world’s media turns its gaze, fleetingly, to the French streets.

But few foreign observers are still watching by the time a strike fizzles out. On April 3, the unions at the French national railway, the Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français (SNCF), initiated a series of strikes, and the public lost interest even more quickly than usual. What is most newsworthy about these strikes, however, is not why they began, but why they ended. French President Emmanuel Macron has refused to bend to long-standing taboos in French culture against defying the SNCF’s unions, as indicated by his insistence on reforming the

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