After World War II, one in four French workers was a union member, according to the French national statistics bureau. But union membership has slowly dwindled.
Today, less than 8 percent of all French workers are unionized, one of the lowest percentages in Western Europe. Scandinavian countries, by comparison, have union membership above 60 percent, according to the Office of Economic Cooperation and Development.
The decline in France is partly explained by the fact that, unlike other European nations, joining a union in France does not necessarily give a worker more benefits. Rather, the agreements negotiated by a union apply to all employees regardless of union membership.
Equally important, however, are the divisions among union members today, with some unions willing to accept the government’s new labor measure and the C.G.T., one of the country’s oldest, standing firm against it and railing against what it sees as a sellout by the government.
A former head of the C.G.T., Louis Viannet, denounced the government for perpetrating an “aggression that is antisocial, anti-democratic, and I would say also anti-republican,” an insult in France where to be a republican implies a loyalty almost to the concept of France.